Oct 24, 2009

Irish Barm Brack: Take 2!

When I tell people that Halloween is a more Irish Holiday than St. Patrick's Day, they usually look at me with that same blank stare as when I say that Ireland has it's own language. Halloween (Oíche Shamhna), has its roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain, and this year I'm hoping to bake up a more authentic Irish Oíche Shamhna celebration with a little divine–and divining–barm brack, a.k.a. barmbrack, or báirín breac.
The barm brack is a light fruitcake, into which
a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin, and a ring are placed before baking. Each item, when received in the slice, carries a meaning to the person concerned: if you get the pea, you won't marry that year; get the stick, and you'll have an unhappy marriage or continually be in disputes (or you can interpret the stick as a walking stick which suggests you will travel far); if you get the cloth or rag, you will have bad luck or be poor; get the coin, and you enjoy good fortune or be rich, and if you get the ring, you will be wed within the year. I remember eating my way through a loaf of barm brack to find the ring, so that I could relax in the knowledge that I'd be wed within the year.

I was only six years old.

Note: I did not include my lucky tokens in this second attempt; they will be included–wrapped in parchment paper–in my third and final baking, because, third time's a charm!

1 1/2 cups golden sultanas and raisins (add candied citron if you like)
1 cup brewed black tea (warm)
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

1. Combine sultanas and raisins in a teapot with tea and brown sugar, and refrigerate overnight.
2. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

3. Pour the raisin and tea mixture into a bowl; add lightly beaten egg and then the flour and baking powder.
4. Mix gently so that you don't burst open those juicy raisins and sultanas.
5. Pour mixture into a greased pan. If you're adding charms, wrap them in parchment paper, and distribute them evenly in your pan now, tucking them into the mixture. Bake for about one hour and a half. Tip: Check your brack at one hour; if it seems to be browning too fast, tent it loosely with aluminum foil. Do not take it out of oven early!
6. Leave it to cool in pan for (a painful) thirty minutes.

7. Sing this Irish song to the tune of Frère Jacques while you cross your fingers, toes, eyes, and knees hoping the inside of your bread is done (and if so, that you get the coin and ring!):
Oíche Shamhna, Oíche Shamhna,
báirín breac, báirín breac,
úlla agus cnónna, úlla agus cnónna,
báirin breac, báirín breac.

8. Butter and eat. Make sure you don't choke on a prediction!

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