My Halloween Tradition – Barmbrack

Barmbrack – Speckled Loaf or Speckled Bread

I would like to share with you a traditional recipe for Irish Barmbrack. In Irish it is bairín breac or Aran Breac. There are two different explanations for where this traditional name originated – some say:

  • Bairin is a loaf and breac is speakled which are the sultanas and raisins in the loaves.
  • Others say it is a mispronunciation of ‘aran’, which means bread. Aran Breac would have meant speckled bread – personally I would back this explanation

Barm Brack is a traditional Irish Halloween cake. This cake fits in with all of the fun games we grew up on to celebrate ‘All Souls Day’ – including dunking apples & snap apple – those were the 2 favourites in my house.  Bonfires were not a tradition for me but dressing up and calling to houses was a must!

Traditionally small items are mixed into the brack before it is baked, each with a message or prediction for the person who gets it in a slice. These items always include a ring, which predicts a wedding within the year, but any or all of the following are sometimes included.

  • a coin for wealth
  • a rag for poverty
  • a pea for plenty – though some say that the pea meant the person would not marry
  • a thimble for a spinster
  • a button for a bachelor
  • A stick – that was pretty miserable – meant you were always going to be beaten


Ballyknocken Barmbrack

As a child, I remember my brothers, sister and I cutting all sorts of strange angular slices from the Brambrack in order that we would have the slice with the trinket in it!

350 ml / 12 ½ fl oz cold water or tea

540g / 1 lb 2 oz sultanas

275g / 9 oz sugar

275g / 9 oz butter

400g / 14 oz self raising flour

1 tsp / 5 ml mixed spice

3 – 4 beaten eggs

Optional: Chopped nuts, glace cherries mixed into cake

22.5cm / 9 inch square cake tin

  1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C / 300˚ – 350˚F / Gas 4
  2. Line the cake tin with greased parchment paper
  3. Wrap trinkets such as coins, rings in parchment paper (as tightly and neatly as possible)
  4. Put the water, fruit, sugar and butter in a saucepan and bring to boil.
  5. Boil for 5 – 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  6. Sieve flour and mixed spice into a large bowl.
  7. When boiled mixture has cooled, pour into the flour and mix well.
  8. Add beaten eggs and beat well.  Pour into the prepared cake tin.
  9. Push the wrapped trinkets into the cake mixture (i.e. below the surface so there is no trace of them when the cake is cooked)
  10. Bake in a preheated moderate oven for approximately 1 ½ hours. After 30 minutes reduce oven temperature to 160˚C / 325˚F / Gas 3 for the remainder of the cooking time.  Test with a skewer – if skewer is dry, the cake is ready.)
  11. This cake can easily be made without the trinkets.  If you are putting the trinkets in, don’t forget to forewarn your guests.


If you didn’t want to add all that sugar what would you do? Use 2/3 of the sugar and add 4 to 5 tbsp of puree apples or even pears for that sweetness without all the calories.

I know that it wouldn’t be traditional but what other ingredients could you add if you didn’t really like too much dried sultanas and raisins? Finely diced dried apricots halves or some figs would be great and would keep the loaves very moist.Dried cranberries are fab in the loaves as well. Add orange or lemon zest or even some chopped dates.

How do you bake these little objects or “charms”?  Wash them well and wrap tightly in parchment and place them evenly through the cake, just before the cake is placed in the oven

 C x


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