Saturday, October 08, 2005
Bara Brith - a Welsh fruit cake
Welsh language for beginners:
Bara means bread, and brith means speckled. So, Bara Brith means speckled bread. 'Os gwelwch yn dda' is 'if you please'. With your new linguistic abilities you can go into any bakery in Wales and order this national classic. The name Bara Brith was originally used in north Wales only. In the south, the name Teisen Dorth was used (teisen means cake, and dorth/torth is loaf). Bara Brith is eaten throughout Wales and is readily available from tea-rooms, cake-shops and food markets. I lived in south Wales for a few years, so have sampled one or two in my time!
Although Bara Brith is referred to as a cake, it is, as its name suggests, a bread. In the days before baking powder and other chemical raising agents most 'cakes' were in fact fruited breads. In this instance the bread is 'speckled' with currants, sultanas and dried peel.
My recipe comes from a book called 'Welsh Country Cooking', by Chris Grant. This book record recipes handed down from the author's great-grandmother to grandmother to mother. I was a bit put off by the idea of including lard, but for authenticity used this instead of butter. When I weighed it out I realised that most cakes I make use a much greater weight of butter, so 20g of lard is not such a big deal. Maybe it's just the word I don't like - lard - say it aloud and clearly it is a substance that is heavy, joyless and cholesterol inducing.
Makes one large loaf (900g/2 lb tin):
275g strong white (bread making) flour
1 level teaspoon salt
25g sugar (I used golden caster)
1/2 teaspoon of mixed spice (I didn't have a jar of mixed spice, so used allspice)
1 large beaten egg
1/4 pint/150ml warm water
20g fresh yeast (I used a 7g packet of dried yeast)
25g mixed peel
1. Grease your loaf tin.
2. Sieve flour and salt into large mixing bowl, add the dried yeast if using. Rub in the lard with your fingertips. Make a well in the centre.
3. Mix the sugar and spice together and put into the well.
4. Add the beaten egg to the warm water. If you are using fresh yeast use 3 tablespoons of this mixture to mix the yeast to a thin paste, before adding the remainder of the liquid.
5. Pour the egg and water (and yeast) mixture over the sugar in the well. Mix the dry ingredient in with the liquid, then knead to form a smooth, elastic dough.
6. Mix your fruit in with the dough. (I had soaked my fruit overnight in tea to plump it up, and although I had drained it well mixing in wet fruit was a bit of a messy challenge. I had to use extra flour to lessen the stickiness of the dough.)
7. Put your dough into the loaf tin (or you can make a free-form loaf on a baking sheet), cover and leave to rise for 1 1/2 hours.
8. Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4.
9. Bake for 30/35 minutes, covering top with a foil hat after about 20 minutes. Loaf is done when underside sounds hollow when tapped (I just guess, as I have problems turning a piping hot loaf out of a tin).
This cake/bread gave off spicy and delicious smells whilst baking, and whilst cooling on a baking rack scented the rest of my flat with the same hunger inducing scents. Please only bake this after eating.
Fortunately my guess that the loaf had cooked fully was correct, and after waiting an age for it to cool it was ready for photography and sampling.
The loaf had a good weight, and felt moist rather than dry like a unfruited loaf. The slices cut neatly without the loaf crumbling away, demonstrating a good firmness. The crust on the top of the loaf was thin (rather than crusty) due to the fact that I covered the top up part of the way through the baking time. I have made fruit breads in the past and not shielded the top, ending up with a scorched crust with embedded charred currants - not so good. The Bara Brith was delicious, and didn't really need the addition of butter, however the butter currently in my fridge is Welsh so it seemed to make sense use it.