Friday, July 10, 2015

Barm Brack Bread

Here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the middle of a typically hot July afternoon, the very last thing I should be longing for is fruit cake but I am.  No food that I already had in the house seemed satisfying at all, and I didn't know what to do until I realized that I wanted Barm Brack, so I stopped at the grocery on the way home from the Post Office to pick up some dried fruit.  The most affordable stuff was raisins (typical and a little boring) and cranberries (nice enough but just okay) but I knew that I had some candied orange peel at home to add to the batch to give it a little extra character.  I happily told the cashier, "I'm making fruitcake!"  She looked at me like I had two heads (both ugly)  and said, "here's your change."  :::::sigh:::::  Some people just don't what is good for them!

The only problem is that even though I started the recipe this afternoon, I will have to wait for teatime tomorrow to eat it because this is a 26-hour recipe!  Waiting for good things is such a chore.

1 pound mixed dried fruits (apples, pears, apricots) cut into bits 
    or 1 pound raisins
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup strong, cold tea
1 egg, well-beaten
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt

Rinse the cut-up fruit or raisins in cold water.  Drain well and add sugar and tea.  Cover and let stand 24 hours.  Pour off the liquid and set it aside.  Add the egg to the fruit and stir well.  Add the sifted dry ingredients alternately with the tea liquid, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Grease two 8-inch loaf pans. Divide the batter between the two pans.  Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour.  Invert on wire cake rack to cool.  When completely cooled, slice in very thin slices or just break off into pieces.  Serve with coffee or tea.

from The Attic Cookbook, 1972,  by Gertrude Wilkinson

Of note:  I admit that I do not wash the fruit because I just don't see the point in doing so, and my Barm Brack has never appeared to suffer for it.  Also I will use very nearly any dried fruit that presents itself whether the recipe mentions it as an option or not.  I've never come up with a bad combination, although some things are a bit chunkier than others (like the time I added a bunch of at-the-end-its-Use-By-date citron).  I have even added mistake-ridden homemade marmalade that had far too much peel in it to make it palatable for use on toast.

I'm making this batch using Earl Grey tea--4 tea bags steeped for an hour until cooled in a glass measuring cup.  Oversteeped tea adds a hint of bitterness that contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the fruit and the brown sugar, and the bergamot flavor from Earl Grey lends a gentle undertone of fragrance to an otherwise hearty concoction.  

I didn't have dark brown sugar but I've successfully used light brown sugar before, and sometimes I've added a little molasses or dark corn syrup if I thought it wanted a little help.

(In case you hadn't noticed, I'm a fan of the good old habit of remembering to cook the way our great-grandmas did:  using up what you have without waste and making things do where you must.)

Barm Brack is dense and sweet and a bit chewy.  It's everything that a good fruit cake for teatime should be.  Put a dab of butter or cream cheese on a thin slice, and you have something truly satisfying.

When I lack energy for going on with life, Barm Brack is just what I need to give me a bit of heart.  Good stuff, definitely.  

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