|Barm Brack. Photo by fordmadoxfraud, |
found on Wikimedia Commons
Barm brack is an Anglicized spelling of the Irish Gaelic term bairín breac. Barm brack is a quick bread made with self-rising flour, which typically contains baking powder. Unlike Irish soda bread, barm brack contains dried fruit--raisins, sultanas, currants, candied peel--as well as sugar and spices like cinnamon. Recipes contain different amounts of dried fruit. Some contain so much dried fruit that barm brack has been referred to as "Irish fruitcake".
The Halloween connection comes from the fact that this bread (or cake, as the Irish were wont to refer to a sweetened baked good) was, like the King Cake of Mardi Gras, baked with a surprise inside. The surprise in a King Cake is a bean or figurine and finding it in your slice earns you a temporary, small privilege.
Barm brack contains multiple trinkets, and the nature of the trinket you find supposedly tells your fortune in the coming year. Wikipedia reports that a barm brack could contain:
a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin (originally a silver sixpence) and a ring. Each item, when received in the slice, was supposed to carry a meaning to the person concerned: the pea, the person would not marry that year; the stick, would have an unhappy marriage or continually be in disputes; the cloth or rag, would have bad luck or be poor; the coin, would enjoy good fortune or be rich; and the ring, would be wed within the year.
The Welsh make a similar bread called bara brith or "speckled bread," from all of the raisins or pieces of dried fruit inside. Unlike barm brack, it does not seem to have fortune telling or Halloween associations. The Irish and Welsh breads both involve soaking the dried fruit in strong tea before adding it to the dough.
I've long had a weakness for raisin bread. Which is why I seldom buy it--I have no desire to become even more loaf-shaped than I already am. But barm brack and bara brith sound distinctive enough to be interesting. I might make some for experimental purposes, sometime.