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. It can easily be made eggless or vegan (instructions below).
It’s a tasty treat by itself or toasted and slathered with butter. There are two styles, barmbrack made with yeast which results in a drier more bread-like version, or the style made with baking soda which is more popular with home bakers and makes a moister more cake-like brack.
This version is the latter style (I’m not a fan of dry bready barmbrack). I also add some whisky, which is not strictly traditional, but you can leave it out if you prefer.
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 recipes, you might also want to try:
- Easy vegan soda bread
- Vegan gur cake
- Herbed tomato bread (vegan)
- Easy vegan boxty
- Vegan Irish christmas cake
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 at the back of a cupboard or in the fridge (honestly it never lasts long enough to make it to the fridge in my house).
Do make sure it’s tightly wrapped or it will dry out.
When I was a kid I’m fairly sure my nan fed us brack she had made months ago and kept wrapped in a biscuit tin, but better to err on the side of food safety and eat it within a week.
There are actual ITEMS that are usually included in brack, especially close to Halloween.
Traditionally a stick, a pea, a piece of cloth, a ring, and a coin would be included in barmbrack but that was a long time ago and I’ve never had a brack with those items included in it. I even polled all my family and friends back home and they had never heard of them being included.
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.
Nowadays, we either put in a ring and/or a coin, or several coins, all wrapped up in baking paper. I keep a plain silver ring I use every year (don’t use a plastic ring or a ring set with jewels).
If you bake your barmbrack with a ring or coins in it, I don’t advise giving it to small children as they could possibly choke, and always advise guests that there are items in the brack.
I’m allergic to eggs so I usually make a brack without eggs. You can simply swap out the egg in the recipe for 1/4 cup (about four tablespoons) of apple sauce, or three tablespoons of aquafaba (the liquid in a jar of chickpeas).
I find that the apple sauce makes a tastier lighter barmbrack which is still really nice and moist (I’d say it’s better than the version with an egg) while the aquafaba yields a more compact loaf.
To make this barmbrack vegan just swap out the egg for apple sauce or aquafaba as indicated above, and swap out the milk for a plant-based milk.
I bake a lot of vegan items as my son is also allergic to eggs, and dairy, and find that soy milk gives better softer results in baking than other types of plant-based milk. Try using an unsweetened version, if at all possible, and make sure it’s full-fat.
How to make it
This is a really easy recipe. I’ve included some photos in this section to make it a bit easier to check that everything is going smoothly.
Make up the black tea quite strong (I sometimes use two teabags and leave it at least ten minutes). You can use whichever type you prefer, I usually use breakfast tea. 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 (if using), and mix. If you have issues finding either raisins or sultanas you can substitute either with the same amount of the other dried fruit, e.g. all raisins or all sultanas.
Then either leave the dried fruit to soak overnight or quick-soak it.
To quick-soak, place the bowl in the microwave, blast on high for four minutes, and leave to soak for at least one hour while you mix together the dry ingredients. I am never organized enough to soak the dried fruit ahead of time, so I definitely end up quick-soaking the dried fruit a lot at my house.
Mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon. Drain the sultanas and raisins and mix them into the dry ingredients.
If you’re adding a ring and/or a coin or several coins, now is the time to do so. Make sure they’ve been washed and dried properly and wrapped with baking paper.
You can actually drink the reserved liquid as a tasty whiskey raisin tea! (If not, you don’t need to reserve it).
Make a well in the center and whisk the egg and add in with half a cup of the milk (or add the apple sauce/aquafaba and plant-based milk).
Mix very well. This dough is sticky and difficult to mix properly and if it seems too dry you can add in the remaining half cup of milk a little at a time until the mixture “flows” as in the picture below. Pour or dollop into a greased 3/4lb (8 inches by 4 inches) loaf pan.
Dampen your hand slightly with water to prevent the dough from sticking, and smooth the top of your brack.
Bake at 355F (180C) or 320F (160C) fan-assisted for one hour in the bottom third of your oven (to prevent the top from browning too much). Check on your barmbrack in the last fifteen minjutes and loosely cover with aluminum foil if it looks like it’s getting too brown.
Remove and pierce the middle with a wooden or metal skewer. If the skewer comes out batter-free, your barmbrack is done. If it’s coated with dough place back in the oven uncovered for another 15 minutes.
Let cool completely before removing from the loaf tin and slicing. Eat alone or I highly recommend toasting it and slathering it with salted grass-fed butter (like Kerrygold) or a good plant-based spread (Earth Balance or Flora) and serving with a hot cup of tea.
Did you make this recipe? Let me know how much you loved it with a star rating in the recipe box, review, or comment below.
Or take a picture and tag me on Instagram (@the_fiery_vegetarian), I love seeing all your creations!
- 1 1/3 cups raisins(200g)
- 3/4 rounded cup sultanas (125g)
- Scant half cup of whiskey (optional, 75 ml)
- 1.5 cups strong black tea (340 ml)
- 1 2/3 cups (225 g) all-purpose 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 cup whole milk, divided (plant-based or regular, 100ml)
- 1 egg (or 1/4 cup applesauce/3 tablespoons aquafaba)
- Make the tea quite strong. As soon as it's ready, pour it over the raisins and sultanas, add the whiskey if using, and mix. You can leave the dried fruit to soak overnight, or quick-soak. To quicksoak, place the bowl in the microwave, blast on high for four minutes, and leave to soak for 1 hour while you mix together the dry ingredients.
- Mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon.
- Drain sultanas and raisins and mix into the dry ingredients, along with baking paper wrapped ring, coin or coins (if using).
- Make a well in the center and whisk and add in the egg (or substitute) and the milk. Mix well until combined 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).
- Bake in a preheated oven at 355F (180C) or 320F (160C) fan-assisted for 1 hour in the bottom third of the oven.
- Remove and check it's done by inserting a skewer into the middle of the loaf. If the skewer comes out clean, it's done, otherwise return to oven for 15 minutes more.
- Let cool completely before removing from the loaf tin. Slice and serve with margarine.
- Wrap any leftovers tightly in foil or cling film and keep in the fridge or at the back of a cool dry cupboard. Will keep for one week.
Keep the rest of the reserved liquid and heat it up for a yummy spiked raisin tea!
Amount Per Serving Calories 209Total Fat 1gSaturated Fat 0gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 0gCholesterol 15mgSodium 191mgCarbohydrates 45gFiber 1gSugar 28gProtein 3g