Halloween is almost upon us, with all the opportunities it offers for tacky costumes, lurid masks and giant quantities of sugar-laden mass-produced sweets…a marketing opportunity to fill the gap between Father’s Day and Christmas.
Halloween and its equivalent festivities all over the world have their origins centuries before our modern-day interpretations. This is the night when the boundaries between this world and the next are fluid and thinner…that the souls of the dead are believed to walk the earth, a setting for supernatural encounters…
Ireland’s version is based on the Celtic festival of Samhain, derived from the old Irish, meaning Summer’s End.
Traditionally, this loaf was baked under a terracotta dome, rather than a tin, and is still made in a round boule shape. Barm is the term for the yeast filtered out of beer in the last stages of production; a cheaper form of yeast.
You can use any tea you like to soak the fruit, I used T2’s wonderful French Earl Grey, as the floral flavours really complement the dried fruit – I use cranberries and raisins, but you can use any combination of dried fruit you prefer.
A central part of the Irish tradition calls for several things to be included in the dough, a little like the sixpence in a Christmas pudding, but with slightly different meanings…
Tradition has it that if your piece of barm brack has a ring you will wed within the year; a thimble signifies that your single state will remain unchanged for another year; a stick indicates either an unhappy marriage and/or continual disputes in your life; a piece of cloth unfortunately predicts a year of bad luck and poverty; and a small silver coin, such as a sixpence, foretells good fortune and riches.
- 250g mixed dried fruit (I use cranberries and raisins but use whatever combination you prefer)
- 250ml strong black tea (I prefer T2's delicious French Earl Grey but again, whatever you prefer)
- 350g white bread flour
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast (I prefer Fermipan, but use whatever you have to hand)
- 25g soft unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon rapadura sugar
- 1 large free range egg
- 80ml warm milk (I prefer almond milk but dairy milk is fine)
- approximately 50ml lukewarm water
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground mixed spice
- The day before you plan to make the bread:
- Place the dried fruit into a bowl, cover with the hot tea and leave to steep overnight.
- Magimix CE method:
- Add flour to main bowl, then yeast on one side and salt on the other.
- Add the softened butter, along with the sugar, egg, milk and ⅔ of the water.
- Select Bake Bread/Brioche and run for 2 minutes on speed 10 - add more water if necessary.
- Drain the fruit well and add to the bowl, along with the spices.
- Run the bread/brioche programme for a further 3 minutes until fruit is incorporated and dough is smooth and fruit well combined.
- Using a mixer with the dough hook:
- Add the flour to the main bowl, then add the yeast on one side and salt on the other.
- Add the softened butter, along with sugar, egg, milk and ⅔ water.
- Begin mixing on slow speed, adding more water only if necessary.
- Mix on medium speed for 4-5 minutes, until the dough comes together and is smooth and elastic.
- Both methods:
- Remove dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling film.
- Leave in a warm, draught-free place for 2-3 hours or until doubled in size.
- Gently scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently until the dough is smooth and tender.
- Transfer the dough to a baking tray lined with baking paper.
- Cover with a lightly floured cloth and leave to rise once again until doubled in size.
- In the meantime, preheat the oven to 220c.
- When the dough is ready, your finger will leave an indentation when gently pressed.
- Bake the loaf for 20-25 minutes until the loaf is deeply golden and sounds hollow when tapped underneath.
- Allow to cool before slicing and serving buttered or plain.
This loaf will keep well for several days, wrapped in a breathable cloth.
All Souls’ Night
Midnight has come and the great Christ Church bell
And many a lesser bell sound through the room;
And it is All Souls’ Night.
And two long glasses brimmed with muscatel
5 Bubble upon the table. A ghost may come;
For it is a ghost’s right…