Post by Alison Hein.
Well Brian B, this is your cake!
Since I couldn’t think of anything new, I fell back to something old – Barm Brack – a colorful fruit-filled yeast cake traditionally baked at Halloween. It is customary to hide small metal charms in the brack. A coin means wealth in the coming year; a ring foretells upcoming nuptials; a thimble signifies spinsterhood; and a piece of cloth indicates poverty. If you plan to bake anything into your cake (I did not), be sure to wrap the tokens in large pieces of foil, forewarn anyone having a slice, and do not serve to young children or people with dental problems!
The word “brack” stems from the Irish “breac”, or speckled, due to the dried fruit strewn throughout the cake. The word “barm” means yeast.
Most barm brack recipes call for candied fruit peel in addition to dried fruit, but in this version I used a combination of currants, dark and golden raisins, and dried sweet cherries. Some people also like to soak the dried fruit in tea, cider or whiskey overnight before baking for intense flavors and to add moisture to the cake.
So feel free to experiment. Bake your brack the night before, then slice, toast and butter it for a Halloween morn breakfast in bed.
I wish you good fortune in the year ahead…
1½ cups milk
¼ cup (½ stick) butter
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 packet yeast
4 – 5 cups flour
¼ teaspoon each of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups mixed dried fruit (such as currants, raisins, golden raisins, dried cherries)
Grated rind of one lemon (or substitute orange)
Add milk to small, heavy saucepan and place on stove over medium heat. Allow to heat, without stirring, until tiny ripples begin to form across the surface of the milk (scalded milk). Remove milk from heat and add butter, brown sugar and salt. Pour milk mixture into food processer. Allow to cool until tepid, then sprinkle yeast lightly and evenly across surface.
Let yeast rest about 10 minutes, until it begins to activate and resembles wet sand. Add 1 cup of flour, spices, and most of beaten eggs, retaining about 1 tablespoon of eggs to glaze the cake before baking. Gently pulse the food processer, adding flour about 1 cup at a time, until dough is compressed and begins to pull away from side of bowl. Stir in the dried fruit and lemon rind. Transfer to a well-greased 8-inch round cake pan. Cover with a light tea towel and set in warm, non-drafty place to rise. Let dough rise for about one hour, until doubled in size.
Fifteen minutes prior to baking, preheat the oven to 400°. Brush the top of the barm brack with remaining beaten egg. Bake 30 to 40 minutes until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve warm with butter.
NOTE: If adding charms, wrap them in foil and push them into the dough after mixing in fruit, but before dough is set to rise.