Barmbrack is a fruit-filled, slightly sweet bread that is traditionally served In Ireland on Halloween, but is also enjoyed on St. Patrick’s Day. Originally, it was leavened with the frothy foam produced by fermenting beer, but since I don’t make my own beer, I used good old active-dry yeast instead. In keeping with the “spirit” of the thing, though, I did soak the dried fruit in beer.
Guinness is lovely…dark and rich, with a hint of coffee and chocolate. You can, of course, use any beer. Or milk. Or brewed tea. It’s all up to you.
This isn’t a difficult recipe, but it is time consuming. The fruit needs to be soaked for at least 2 hours, then it needs to rise twice, and since the dough is rich, this can take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours each time. The good news is, the bread tastes even better the next day, so you can make it ahead of time.
And if you’re really rushed, I have an easier recipe for Tipsy Tea Brack that uses baking powder instead of yeast. It’s much faster, and aside from being just a little sweeter, the two breads are very similar. Both were a hit in my household, but I have a weakness for yeast breads, especially when toasted, and didn’t mind spending a day babysitting the dough. Mmmm.
1½ cups dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, fruitcake mix)
zest from 1 lemon
½ cup very warm water with a pinch of sugar added
1 packet (1/4 oz) active-dry yeast
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or ½ teaspoon. cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon each: clove, ginger, allspice, nutmeg)
4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons melted butter (if using unsalted butter, add an additional pinch of salt)
In a small pan, heat liquid until steaming, but not boiling. Remove from heat.
Add dried fruit and lemon zest. Cover tightly and let fruit sit for at least 2 hours. Strain into a bowl,. Press firmly on fruit to remove excess liquid. Reserve 1 cup of liquid, discarding any remaining. If necessary, add water to bring the amount to a full cup.
In a small bowl or cup, combine the warm water and yeast. Let it sit until foamy - about 5 minutes.
In a large bowl (a sturdy stand mixer is recommended), combine the cup of reserved liquid, ¼ cup sugar, egg, vanilla, spices, yeast mixture, and 2 cups of the bread flour. Beat until well combined.
Switch to a dough hook and add remaining flour and salt. Knead by machine for 3 minutes, then drizzle in the butter and knead for an addition minute. Add fruit and mix until combined. (If kneading by hand, add the butter along with the last 2 cups of flour, then move dough to a floured surface and knead 6 minutes, working the fruit in at the end.)
Transfer dough into a large greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow dough to rise until doubled. This may take 1½ hours or more, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.
Grease a 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times to distribute the fruit evenly. Form into a ball and place in prepared pan. Cover and let rise until almost doubled.
Heat oven to 375 F. Bake bread for approximately 50 minutes. The top should be dark brown. Turn the bread out onto a cooling rack. The bottom should sound hollow when tapped. (If in doubt, give it a few more minutes in the oven.) Allow the bread to cool completely before cutting.
Here’s the photo I entered in the CuttingBoard.com photo contest.
I have spent the last three days arranging and rearranging a variety of meats, cheeses, and accompaniments on a bamboo cutting board. I stepped out of my happy little baking world to dabble in the art of charcuterie when I was inspired by the Cutting Board and John Boos Photography Contest to try my hand at something other than taking photos of cookies and cakes.
What began as a fun project for a contest may have turned into a new obsession. Trust me, when you look at the cutting boards on Cutting Board’s website you’ll understand my sudden fascination with cold cuts and the many ways of displaying them.
Don’t worry, it’s not all about salami and cheese. I also created a super yummy bread to use in my photo—one that has swirls of garlic, olives, and cheese. The bread dough is made with pumpkin ale, and is chewy on the outside and soft on the inside. Killer!
You’ll find the recipe at the end of this post.
For my first effort, I used a light box and photographed a lovely collection of goodies. It was very attractive and (I think) appealing. But instructions for the contest said that they appreciated “originality and humor”, which my photo didn’t exactly express.
Haha, do you like the way I used camo duct tape to hold up the tablecloth in the background? Claaaaaaassy.
Well, shoot. I’d have to try again.
I pulled out the paper mache bears I made for a fair display this year and put them to work. I’m almost embarrassed to tell you how many photos I had to take to get one I liked. It took me two days and three separate setups and photo sessions. The lighting was off, the light outlet under the window showed, the bear’s ear was wonky, the salami was blurry. I like to use the natural light in my dining room when I can, or my lightbox when I can’t, but these bears had to be looking through the window.
The window with the screen removed, of course. And in case you should try this at home, here’s a tip: if the photographer gets involved with reviewing her photos and forgets to close that window, a whole lot of moths will see it as an invitation to visit. Gah!
This was a real learning experience. I’m used to taking photos of baked goods, and can usually get something I like in one session. But this? Wow. I am going to dig out that Canon Rebel T3 for Dummies book and figure out my camera if it kills me.
Throughout this ordeal, I was sending photos to my daughter, asking her which ones she liked. Begging for suggestions. After hearing me complain about overexposed cheese, blurry salami, and depth issues, she finally asked me if I used my F-stop.
It seems there are other options on my little Canon Rebel T3 than Auto Focus. Who knew? Well, actually, I knew. I’d read that Dummies book, and some of it actually made sense at the time, but at my age (don’t ask) retention is sometimes problematic. So I usually use Auto Focus or sometimes play with manual and A-Dep (for when I want everything in focus). This time I played around with the AV option too, to try to get the bear heads a little out of focus so the board of food would stand out.
To be completely honest, I don’t even know which photos were the result of which methods. There were literally hundreds of photos to go through when I was done.
I was through with the second session, thinking I had a couple of good shots when The Man mentioned that I should have put smoked salmon on the board, as a bear attractant. Why didn’t I think of that? We live up in the mountains, and a trip to the store usually just has to wait for my regular weekly jaunt to town, but under the circumstances, I made an exception and raced for smoked salmon and some Prosecco. (I felt that sparkling wine would be a good addition.)
So much for that. I waited until the sun went down so the light coming through the window wasn’t glaring. I set up the lights and camera. Again. Loaded up my cutting board with goodies. Again. Added the salmon and the wine. Took a ton of photos, put away the meat and cheese. Again. And then realized that:
I’d piled too many things on the board. It looked cluttered. Note to self: less is more.
I should have flaked a piece of the fish so it would look like fish. It looked like ham! (Trust me, it cost more than ham!)
By the time I stopped fussing, it was almost dark, which turned everything muddy.
I briefly considered one more try the next morning, but just didn’t have it in me. The photo without the salmon and wine would have to do.
Behind the scenes
We’ll be eating a lot of salami, nibbling on a lot of cheese, and noshing on olives for the next week or so. Or maybe I should open a deli? But it was worth it; I learned a lot, and (with the exception of a few frustrating moments) enjoyed the experience thoroughly.
And hey, in case you were wondering, sparkling wine doesn’t last. Someone had to drink it immediately, right? But I shared it with my friend.
Here’s that recipe for you. I used pumpkin ale, but any beer will do.
This soft bread with a chewy crust and delightful swirl of garlic, olives, and cheese will be the talk of your charcuterie board! Makes two small baguette-type loaves.
¼ cup warm water
½ teaspoon sugar
1 package active-dry yeast
1 bottle (12 oz.) beer. I used Pumpkin Ale
1 tablespoon olive oil
3½ - 4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 cup grated cheese - cheddar is great, or add in some strong cheese too (Asiago, Parmesan, Romano).
1 cup chopped olives (A mixture of green, black, Kalamata)
3 large cloves garlic, minced
In a small bowl, combine warm water, sugar, and yeast. Allow yeast to soften 5 minutes, or until bubbly.
In a small pan, gently warm beer on low heat just until lukewarm.
In a large bowl, combine yeast mixture, beer, and olive oil.
Add 3½ cups bread flour and salt. Mix with dough hook for 3 minutes. If the dough is still very sticky, gradually add additional flour until just slightly tacky to the touch. Continue to knead by machine for another 3 minutes. (If kneading by hand, after stirring in the 3½ cups flour, drop dough onto well-floured surface and knead 8 minutes.)
Place dough in greased bowl, turning to coat the dough. Cover and allow to rise until double, approximately 1 hour.
Punch dough down and roll into a 9x18 rectangle. Brush lightly with melted butter. (You won't use it all. Save some for the top of the baked bread, for a softer crust.)
Sprinkle the cheese, olives, and garlic on the dough and roll up from the long side. Pinch the seam and ends to seal. Cut the roll in the middle, creating two long loaves.
Pinch the cut ends closed, and roll each loaf gently to achieve an even size.
Place both loaves on prepared sheet and let rise for about 90 minutes, or until they feel puffy. (They won't double but should come close.) Slash the tops several times with a very sharp knife or razor blade.
Place pan of water on lower rack of the oven. Heat oven to 450 F.
BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN YOU OPEN THE OVEN. THE STEAM IS HOT!
Bake approximately 25 minutes, or until bread is rich golden brown. Brush with butter for a softer crust. Cool on rack.
Place dough in greased bowl. Turn to coat and let it rise.
Combine chopped olives, garlic, and cheese.
Dough is ready to go!
Roll dough into a rectangle, add filling, and roll it up
Cut roll in half and pinch the ends shut
Place loaves on baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal
Slash and bake
Yes, I’ll be experimenting with more real food in the future. Possibly more healthy food, though I will never be able to stop baking. Nevah! Maybe I’ll have to change the blog to “The Rowdy Baker Reconsiders”, or maybe “The Reformed Rowdy Baker”. Once the Prosecco wears off I may laugh this idea off. We’ll see.