Irish Barmbrack with Whiskey

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Ah barmbrack, what memories you bring! As a child in Ireland, I always knew Halloween was near (or that there had been a really good sale on barmbrack) when slices of buttered barmbrack appeared alongside your cup of tea when visiting family.

We normally shorten it to brack, and in Irish it’s known as bairín breac. It’s most often associated with Halloween but is normally around in the shops or people’s kitchens for most of Fall in Ireland.

Along with the brack, apples, little mandarin oranges, nuts, and raisins would appear for snacking on, standard Irish Halloween fare back in the day (my day!).

This barmbrack recipe has all the traditional flavors of my childhood, but it’s vegan! If you like Irish baking recipes, you might also want to try:

Is barmbrack cake or bread?

A sliced brown loaf with raisins in it and two halloween decorated mandarins in the background

People are in two camps when it comes to brack, there is no in-between.  It’s one of the great unsung dividers of the world, in the same category as Marmite and licorice.

You either liked a more bread-like drier brack, sliced toasted and slathered with butter, or a moist more cake-like version – delicious both with and without butter. I belong to the barmbrack cake camp, so this recipe is perfectly moist and sweet like, well, cake!

In other words, the answer is yes – BUT it depends on which recipe you use to bake it.

How is barmbrack served?

Once cooled, the barmbrack can be thickly sliced and eaten. It does, however, taste better after a night tightly wrapped in cling film or aluminum foil in the fridge (honestly it never lasts long enough to make it to the fridge in my house).

You can eat brack by itself or toasted and slathered with a thick buttery spread. It’s delicious either way, but toasting it and adding a creamy plant-based spread is definitely better. Any exposed raisins will get beautifully caramelized.

A slice of dark brown bread with melting spread on it and two mandarins with jack o'lantern's on them in the background

Last but not least, Barmbrack must be washed down with a cup of hot tea. I’m fairly sure this is actually a law somewhere in Ireland. We are a nation of tea drinkers, and even those of us who drink coffee will also welcome a good cuppa.

What is put in barmbrack?

Yeah, I’m not talking about the ingredients here. There are actual ITEMS that are usually included in brack, especially close to Halloween.

My two grandmothers would ply us with this stuff when we were kids. One would always get us a premade loaf with a ring in it from the shop, and the other would make a tasty loaf up and hide coins wrapped in brown paper in it.

Whoever gets the ring will be the next person to get married (out of all those eating the brack who are single I guess).

Personally, I’m neither about to dump my prized jewelry into a cake nor trust that a plastic ring will survive baking without leaking some dangerous substance, so a few coins wrapped in baking paper do my kids just fine. But hey, you do you!

1 cut brown raisin studded loaf with a slice on a plate slatered with melting spread and a dark grey background

Apparently, “traditionally” several other items are sometimes placed in brack. A stick, a pea, a piece of cloth, a ring, and a coin. I say “apparently” because Wikipedia told me so.

I have never seen or had such a brack in my lifetime, although it’s entirely possible that it was traditional many years ago.

The stick is supposed to symbolize a bad marriage (ominous!) over the coming year, the pea that you won’t get married, the cloth that you’ll be poor, the ring that you’ll get married after all, and the coin that you’ll be rolling in dollar bills.

How to store barmbrack

Brack was also enjoyed after Halloween, tightly wrapped in tin foil and kept in empty biscuit tins, but honestly, I doubt this recipe will last that long uneaten.

I doubt there is enough whiskey in this recipe to keep it safe in a biscuit tin like the brack of yesterday, so I would give it five days max in the fridge, tightly wrapped or placed in a Tupperware container so it doesn’t dry out.

How to make barmbrack

This is a really easy recipe. Simply make the black tea quite strong (I sometimes use two teabags). Although not traditional, chai tea is also a great choice.

As soon as the tea is ready, pour it over the raisins and sultanas, add the whiskey, and mix. Sometimes, I have not been able to find sultanas in Madrid where I currently live and have just made this with raisins without any issues. You can then either leave the dried fruit to soak overnight or quick-soak it.

Raisins soaking in liquid in a blue bowl

To quick-soak, place the bowl in the microwave, blast on high for four minutes, and leave to soak for at least 15 minutes while you mix together the dry ingredients. I am never organized enough to soak the dried fruit ahead of time, so I definitely quick-soak a lot at my house.

A mixture of flours and spices in a blue bowl

Mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon. Drain the sultanas and raisins (reserving the liquid) and mix them into the dry ingredients.

Make a well in the center and add in the aquafaba (aquafaba is the liquid that canned or jarred chickpeas are stored in) and soy milk.

You can actually drink the reserved liquid as a tasty whiskey raisin tea! (If not, you don’t need to reserve it).

A dough studded with raisins in a blue bowl

Mix very well. This dough is sticky and difficult to mix properly but keep at it, then turn into a greased 3/4lb (8 inches by 4 inches) loaf pan. Dampen your hand slightly with water to prevent the dough sticking, and smooth the top of your brack.

A prepared batch of dough in a cream ceramic pan

Bake at 180C or 160C fan-assisted for 1 hour in the bottom third of your oven (to prevent the top from browning too much). Remove and let cool completely before removing from the loaf tin.

Slice and serve toasted with margarine. Wrap any leftovers tightly in foil or cling film and keep in the fridge. Will keep for one week refrigerated.

Yield: 12-14 slices

Irish Barmbrack with Whiskey

Irish Barmbrack with Whiskey

Delicious traditional barmbrack - vegan style! Serve yourself a toasted slice with melting margarine this fall or Halloween.

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 2/3 cups raisins(200g)
  • 3/4 cup sultanas (125g)
  • Scant half cup of whiskey (75 ml)
  • 1.5 cups strong black tea (340 ml)
  • 1 2/3 cups (225 g) plain white flour
  • 2.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/8 cup brown sugar (125 g)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (100 m)l sugar-free plant-based milk
  • 3 tablespoons aquafaba

Instructions

  1. Make the tea quite strong. As soon as it's ready, pour it over the raisins and sultanas, add the whiskey, and mix. You can leave the dried fruit to soak overnight, or quick-soak them. To quicksoak, place the bowl in the microwave, blast on high for four minutes, and leave to soak for at least 15 minutes while you mix together the dry ingredients.
  2. Mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon.
  3. Drain sultanas and raisins (reserving the liquid) and mix into the dry ingredients.
  4. Male a well in the center and add in the aquafaba and plant-based milk. Mix very well and turn into a greased 3/4 lb (8 inches by 4 inches) loaf pan, patting down to smooth with your hand (wet your hand with water to prevent the dough sticking).
  5. Bake at 180C or 160C fan-assisted for 1 hour in the bottom third of the oven.
  6. Remove and let cool completely before removing from the loaf tin. Slice and serve with margarine.
  7. Wrap any leftovers tightly in foil or cling film and keep in the fridge. Will keep for one week refrigerated.

Notes

Keep the rest of the reserved liquid and heat it up for a yummy spiked raisin tea!

Nutrition Information

Yield

14

Serving Size

1

Amount Per Serving Calories 215 Total Fat 1g Saturated Fat 0g Trans Fat 0g Unsaturated Fat 0g Cholesterol 1mg Sodium 187mg Carbohydrates 48g Net Carbohydrates 0g Fiber 2g Sugar 30g Sugar Alcohols 0g Protein 3g
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5 thoughts on “Irish Barmbrack with Whiskey”

  1. Thank you so much for this recipe, I’m going to try this. I do remember from my childhood in the 70s and into the 80s having a brack sent over from Ireland with the coin, curtain ring, piece of rag and pea and stick in it. I think it probably got vetoed owing to health and safety.

    Reply
    • Oh that’s great, such a lovely childhood memory! I think you’re right, I would imagine that health and safety might have not been on board with the objects in it….a pity though sounds like it would have been more fun!

      Reply
    • Hey Susan, great question, you can substitute the whiskey with brandy, or alternatively remove it all together and just soak the dried fruit in tea.

      Reply

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