Monday, February 4, 2008

Mrs. Kincaid's barmbrack bread

The irrepressible Mrs. Kincaid—aka Kinky—is the invaluable housekeeper-cook-guardian angel for Ballybucklebo’s Dr. Fingal O’Reilly in An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor. She is famous for keeping her gruff, big-hearted employer in line, for her advice to young lovers, and for the hearty tea cake called barmbrack. The cake, a specialty of Dr. Taylor’s native Ulster, derives its name from Irish Gaelic, aran breac, which means “speckled bread.” Traditionally served throughout Ireland on Halloween, it is enjoyed anytime for breakfast or with afternoon tea, and it's especially good toasted and buttered. Here is Mrs. Kincaid’s own recipe–until now a jealously guarded secret.


The traditional Ulster version of this recipe uses yeast, but the version below is easier. Barmbrack also freezes well.

2 1/2 cups golden raisins
2 1/2 cups raisins
2 1/4 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
3 cups brewed black tea
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, beaten
3 teaspoons baking powder
3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (optional)
2 tablespoons honey, melted (optional)

In a large bowl, combine the golden raisins, raisins, brown sugar, and tea. Stir until the sugar is dissolved; allow to soak overnight. The next day, preheat the oven to 300ºF. Fold the flour and beaten eggs into the fruit. Finally, stir in the baking powder and pumpkin pie spice, if desired. Divide mixture between two greased 8 x 4 x 2 1/2-inch loaf pans. Level the surface and bake for 1 1/2 –1 3/4 hours, or until firm. The bread is done when a cake tester inserted into the center of each loaf comes out clean. Cool the loaves in their pans for 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely. When cool, brush with melted honey for a fine glaze, if desired.

Yield: 2 loaves

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