To call this desert BREAD is in my opinion a massive understatement. It’s so much more than that – it’s rich, fruity, moist and fragrant, yet incredibly easy to make. What goes by the name of bara brith in Wales and barm brack in Ireland, by most is simply known as speckled bread or tea fruit loaf. Dry fruit is soaked overnight in tea giving the bread a wonderful flavour and texture as well as a deep brown colour. In the past it used to be made with yeast but it has been simplified over the years and replaced with baking powder. Those who have baked with me will tell you that I love good old-fashioned recipes which require neither an electric mixer nor much experience and this one ticks all the boxes. It can’t get better than that!
If you have dry fruits such as raisins, sultanas, currants, mixed peel, cranberries, apricots or any other, a few tea bags, one egg, self-raising flour, sugar and mixed spice, you’re ready to rock! Note there’s NO BUTTER (in fact, NO FAT at all) on the ingredient list which makes speckled bread a fantastic diary-free treat.
I was going through our freezer the other day and found a small container of… wait for it, my home-made mince for Christmas mince pies! Since the content is mainly dry fruits and spices, I decided to defrost it and add it to my speckled bread fruit mix. It worked fine which just goes to show how versatile and easy this recipe is. I’ve also added some flaked almonds for an extra crunch and decoration but the traditional recipe doesn’t call for them so feel free to ignore me here. If you don’t have honey for glazing, just skip that part too, it’s not essential. As for the ground mixed spice, again – if lockdown has left you with none, use whatever you have – mix cinnamon with cloves, a bit of ground nutmeg, ground coriander and ginger. It says one teaspoon of mixed spice in the recipe but I like this type of cake really fragrant so I usually go for a heaped teaspoon or even a little bit more.
If you don’t have light brown soft sugar which in lockdown doesn’t seem to be readily available anywhere, use caster or golden caster or even granulated or demerara sugar. Once the fruit has been soaked overnight it literally takes minutes to make the batter. To soak the fruit I make my tea quite strong – three Yorkshire tea bags per 425 ml water. (No milk or sugar.)
Removing loaf-shaped cakes and breads from the tin can sometimes be tricky so to make life easier I first grease the tin with butter, then line it with baking paper which I earlier cut to create sort of handles. (See photo.) All you need to do is lightly pull up both sides of the paper and the loaf will pop out nicely. It’s a very simple way of avoiding turning the tin upside down and tapping the bottom thus risking the cake falling apart.
I love a slice of speckled bread with an obligatory strong cuppa as a mid-afternoon treat. Oh, and with butter if I feel decadent which I do a lot these days…😊 Similarly to carrot cake or lemon loaf, it’s best eaten the next day when flavours have completely infused. Who can wait that long though?!
Makes a 2lb/1kg loaf tin (24cm long, 13cm wide, 7cm high) which is about 12-15 slices
1. In a large bowl make strong tea, wait for it to cool, then add the dry fruit and sugar. Stir well, cover and leave to soak overnight on the countertop.
2. Next day grease and line the loaf tin. Set the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas mark 4. In a separate bowl combine the flour and the ground mixed spice together. Stir the egg into the fruit mixture, then fold in the flour with the spices. Add the flakes almonds, if using. Mix well with a spoon or spatula for about one minute or until all ingredients are combined.
3. Pour the batter into the tin and level it off for an even shape. Bake for about 1 hour and 15m minutes until the bread is well risen and firm to the touch.
4. Meanwhile, on a low heat warm up the honey. About 5 minutes before the end of baking time, brush the top with the warm honey and return to the oven. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove and sprinkle with the reserved flaked almonds. Cool again and put the kettle on! 🙂
* You can reduce the sugar without the risk of affecting the bread consistency.
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