International Recipes and Cooking Around the World


Loaves of freshly baked barmbrack

(Irish fruit bread)

Average: 4.1 (17 votes)

Barmbrack is a tea bread popular in Ireland, especially around Halloween. This lightly sweet bread, studded with dried fruit, is best served toasted with a good smear of butter and a hot cup of Irish tea.

At Halloween, barmbrack is used to tell fortunes for the coming year. A pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a coin and a ring are all baked inside the bread. The one who gets the pea will not marry. The one who gets the stick will have an unhappy marriage. The piece of cloth foretells poverty. While the coin indicates riches. The finder of the ring will marry within the year.

Also known as barm brack, barn brack or baírín breac.

Makes one 8-inch round loaf


  • Strong black tea -- 2 cups
  • Dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, currants, candied peel, etc.) -- 2 cups
  • Milk, lukewarm (110-115°F) -- 1 cup
  • Active dry yeast -- 1 (1/4-ounce) package
  • Sugar -- 2 teaspoons
  • Flour -- 3 to 3 1/2 cups
  • Sugar -- 1/4 cup
  • Ground cinnamon -- 1/2 teaspoon
  • Ground cloves -- 1/2 teaspoon
  • Nutmeg -- 1/4 teaspoon
  • Egg, beaten -- 1
  • Butter, unsalted, softened -- 1/3 cup
  • Salt -- 1 teaspoon


  1. Place the tea and dried fruit in a bowl and let soak for at least one hour, preferably overnight.
  2. Mix the yeast, warm milk and 2 teaspoons of sugar together in a small bowl and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar and spices. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the yeast mixture, beaten egg, butter and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon to mix the ingredients and bring the dough together. Add a little more flour if the dough is too wet or a little more milk if it is too dry.
  4. Remove the dough to a floured work surface and knead for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth but still a little sticky.
  5. Drain the dried fruit and knead a little at a time into the dough until all the fruit has been incorporated.
  6. Remove the dough to a large, lightly buttered bowl. Cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap and set in a warm corner until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  7. Remove the dough to a lightly floured work surface and punch down to deflate. Knead lightly for 2 to 3 minutes. Form into a ball and placed in a buttered 8-inch cake pan. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise again until doubled in size, about an hour.
  8. Preheat oven to 400°F. Place the loaf in the oven and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the top is browned and sounds hollow when tapped. Remove to a rack and cool. Serve with a spread of butter and a cup of tea.

Barmbrack Variations

  • Substitute 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour for 1/2 cup of the white flour.
  • To give the loaf a dark, shiny crust, brush the top of the loaf just before baking with a mixture of 1 egg yolk and 3 tablespoons of milk whisked together.
  • Some recipes eliminate the yeast and use baking soda as a shortcut leavener. However, since barm is Irish for yeast, this method is more shortcut than authentic.
  • Many barmbrack recipes call for "mixed spice." You can make this yourself out of equal parts ground cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.


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