In the Irish tradition, a loaf of Barmbrack has various objects baked in the bread. These objects were when found in a slice were used as a fortune- telling game and carried a meaning depending upon what the object was. Traditionally, the objects were: a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin and a ring. It's not hard to figure out what each object signifies. The ring meant the person who received it would be married within a year and the coin, good fortune. The pea, stick and piece of cloth meant varying degrees of misfortune.
Barmbrack makes a lovely bread for tea time. A sweeter dough than sandwich bread, but not as rich as cake, the bread is usually sold in round flattened loaves. The sultanas, raisins and fruit are often soaked in hot black tea before being mixed in the dough. The Irish name for the bread is Barin Breac or Boreen Brack.
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup sultanas
1/8 cup dried chopped apricots
1/8 cup dried cranberries
1-1/2 cups strong, hot black tea
3-1/2 to 4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
30 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 to 3/4 cup warm milk or milk plus tea mixture
1 tablespoon caster sugar, plus 1 tablespoon boiling water mixed to glaze the top of the bread (optional, but gives the bread a lovely sheen)
Put the dried fruit in a bowl. Cover with the hot tea and leave overnight or for at least 4 hours until they plump up. Once plumped, drain the liquid and reserve it if you would like to use it for the milk tea mixture. Set the fruit aside. Be sure to drain the fruit well, otherwise it will make the dough too wet.
Using your favorite method of mixing the dough, place flour, instant yeast, sugar , spices and salt in a large bowl or the bowl of your machine. Whisk or mix together. Add the beaten egg and softened butter and mix well.
Now place the reserved tea into a 1 cup measure and top up enough warm milk to make 1 cup. Add this to the dry ingredients in the bowl and knead into a just sticky to the touch and elastic dough, adding more flour if necessary. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and flatten out. Sprinkle the drained fruit over the dough and fold in half and then fold once again. Then gently knead the fruit into the dough.
Shape into a ball and place in an oiled bowl. Turn the dough to coat well and then let rise, covered until it has doubled (about 1-1/12 hours. When doubled, gently knead the risen dough and divide into two portions. Shape each into a round and play on greased baking trays or into two greased 8" x 5"loaf tins. If using the ring and trinkets, place them into the dough before shaping. Let the dough rise for another 45 minutes to an hour, covered, until puffy. Bake at 350°F for about 35 to 45 minutes until the breads are golden brown and done. If necessary, cover the bread with foil if browning too quickly.
About 5 minutes before taking the breads out of the oven, brush with the optional sugar glaze. Return to the oven for another 4 minutes for a lovely finish. Cool breads on a wire rack. Cut into thick slices and slather with sweet cream butter.
Makes 2 medium loaves or rounds
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