That’s what Bara Brith means (bara – bread, brith – speckled) named thusly because of the plump, tea-soaked morsels of dried fruit that freckle it’s proud interior.
There’s a scenic route to Bara Brith, which a far better cook than I would take, which involves yeast and kneading and proving, therefore earning it’s bread status but here and I’ve opted for the tea cake version, which involves only self-raising flour.
Don’t side eye me, this is not a shortcut that I’ve decided to take out of idleness – the yeastless, more cake-like version of Bara Brith is much more often baked in Wales, so I feel as though I can be forgiven here. This isn’t a laziness vs. authenticity argument – I grew up eating more of the yeastless version than the bread version, so this version feels more authentic to me.
I know of a lot of different variations that some peoples Bara Brith can take. Some people like to use the grated rind of lemon in their batter (I find this brings a sharpness that I don’t particularly look for) and I also know that people like to be more specific with their spicing i.e. some nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger or more modernly, some ground coriander and cardamom (this is me for everything else, but for for a Bara Brith, I’m afraid).
Personally, I like to go a more convenient route and use a teaspoon of mixed spice. As someone who loves and is interested in cooking, there’s a lot of be said for control. On one hand I love the idea of being really specific with my spicing, adding more of one spice to balance or pep another, but to be honest, a teaspoon of mixed spice here does the trick for me and I never find myself seeking more or less of one than the other.
The real richness of flavour here, in my opinion, comes from the tea. Hours – preferably a day – before you bake Bara Brith, you need to drown some dried fruit in hot tea, let it go cold and then leave to infuse. The whole thing – fruit and tea – gets tipped into the batter (not just the fruit) meaning you get that intense, honeyed malt flavour in the bones of the bake, which also assist with moistness.
Every time I eat this it always takes me back to a day when a grandmother would make Bara Brith, wrap it in parchment, tie it with string and leave on the doorstep of a neighbour with a little note. I have no idea who’s grandmother this is, because it definitely wasn’t mine (or any of my neighbours, for that matter) but it has that cute, old-fashioned, bread-and-butter kind of charm to it that feels traditional but unfussy at the same time.
But sod my neighbours. One of them has just had a baby and I haven’t had a decent night’s kip in a week; so this Bara Brith was mine and mine alone.
Makes 1 loaf
250g mixed dried fruit
370ml strong, hot tea
40g caster sugar
40g soft brown sugar
340g self raising flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
- First, grate your orange. You want to do this first because you need the juice now and then the zest will go into the batter later and trust me, it’s so much easier to grate an orange while it’s whole. So grate the orange, and save the zest for later (in a Tupperware box or little bag or something) and then halve the orange.
- Squeeze the juice of the orange into a large, wide bowl and then add the dried fruit to the bowl.
- Pour over the hot tea – I do this simply by chucking the tea bags in the bowl and then pouring hot water over direct from the kettle – stir everything together, cover and leave to infuse overnight, but 6 hours minimum.
- When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 180c and grease/line a loaf tin.
- In a large bowl, combine the sugars, flour and mixed spice and then tip in the reserved grated orange zest. Fork everything together to combine.
- Tip in the soaked fruits – removing the bloody teabags first, of course. That’s a mistake I’ll only make once. Stir everything together until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed.
- Scrape the batter into the lined/greased tin, and bake for 55 – 60 minutes until it has risen, is firm to the touch and may have a gorgeous little crack on the top.
- Remove from the oven, leave to cool on a wire rack before carefully removing from the tin.
- Slice, butter, serve.