It's fall, and cold weather has started to creep into Michigan. The leaves are gorgeous shades of red and orange and yellow ... cider mills, offering their cinnamon-coated doughnuts, welcome families ... baseball play-offs are in full swing (couldn't help myself!) ... and we get nightly "cuddle alerts" from a local weather forecaster.
In other words, it's time to bring out an old favorite recipe: Barm Bread.
This is an Irish treat, traditionally served at Hallowe'en; but it's lovely at any time when there's a chill in the air, because a hot cup of tea or cocoa is the perfect accompaniment. Usually a yeast bread, this is a quicker version that relies upon baking powder.
According to Wikipedia: "In Ireland it is sometimes called Bairín Breac .... This may be from the Irish word bairín - a loaf - and breac - speckled (due to the raisins in it), hence it means a speckled loaf (a similar etymology to the Welsh bara brith)."
Regardless of the language, the occasion it's served for, or any other variable, this is just a fabulous sweet, spicy bread!
Featuring dried fruits, it's perfect when the fresh bounty of summer is tapering off. Basic ingredients that store well can be kept in the pantry for when the inspiration to prepare a loaf of this treat strikes you. And you can definitely make this your own by varying the fruits and the flavor of tea in which they macerate.
One of my very favorite authors, James Joyce, even refers to Barm Bread in his book Dubliners:
The fire was nice and bright and on one of the side-tables were four very big barmbracks. These barmbracks seemed uncut; but if you went closer you would see that they had been cut into long thick even slices and were ready to be handed round at tea.
Toast a slice of bread, schmear it with butter, offer a nice cuppa something warm and cozy, and enjoy!
(adapted from Angela Hynes' The Pleasures of Afternoon Tea)
1/2 cup dates, chopped
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 cups brewed Constant Comment tea
1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
Preheat oven to 350F. Generously grease an 8"x 4" loaf pan.
In a large bowl, combine apples, dates, raisins, brown sugar, and tea; let rest 8 hours or overnight.
Stir egg into fruit mixture. Combine whole wheat flour, flour, ginger, cinnamon, and salt; stir into fruit, then pour batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle top of batter with the sugar.
Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Let bread cool, then turn out of the pan.
Makes 1 loaf.