Barmbrack (Irish: báirín breac) is a yeasted bread with added sultanas and raisins.
Usually sold in flattened rounds, it is often served toasted with butter along with a cup of tea in the afternoon. The dough is sweeter than sandwich bread, but not as rich as cake, and the sultanas and raisins add flavour and texture to the final product. In Ireland it is sometimes called Báirín Breac, and the term is also used as two words in its more common version. This may either be from the Irish word báirín – a loaf – and breac – speckled (due to the raisins in it), hence it means a speckled loaf (a similar etymology to the Welsh bara brith). The yeast used was said to be skimmed from the top of fermenting beer and, as beer would also have been made at this time, this is likely. This suggests an alternative etymology, from the use of barm as just such a yeast.
Barmbracks were famously mentioned in the Van Morrison song “A Sense of Wonder”:
“ Pastie suppers down at Davey’s chipper
Gravy rings, barmbracks
Wagon Wheels, snowballs.
Reference to barmbracks is made in Dubliners by James Joyce. The following example can be found in the first paragraph of Joyce’s short story Clay:
“ The fire was nice and bright and on one of the side-tables were four very big barmbracks. These barmbracks seemed uncut; but if you went closer you would see that they had been cut into long thick even slices and were ready to be handed round at tea. ”
This is our Barmbrack gently proving this morning made by my hubby’s own fair hands, the first of many I hope he is going to make! It was most delicious and just the thing to lift your spirits on a cold dreek winters day. Tomorrow I look forward to the toasting.