Sunday, March 1, 2008
Bara Brith is a Welsh bread that was suggested by Jeannette, who is Welsh herself. I never heard of it, and I have a hard time remembering its name. I keep wanting to call it B'nai Brith, which is something else altogether. And Jeannette has never made it herself, despite being Welsh, because she buys it at bakeries, like normal Welsh people do.
I had a few other projects ahead of this one, so I wasn't planning to try it for a while. And I got an email from Jeannette, saying she'd given this recipe a try and wasn't that impressed with it, so that moved it down a few places. But, quite by accident I discovered that March 1 (today!) is St. David's Day, so of course I had to make Welsh bread on St. David's Day.
As you may know, St. David is the patron saint of Wales, so St. David's day is a big deal. Men are supposed to wear leeks on their lapels (yes, that is correct), although apparently some wimpy men are now wearing daffodils instead of leeks. I asked Jim if he would be willing to have his picture taken wearing a leek, but he demurred. How about just a scallion? No, definitely not, he said.
Jeannette said that the recipe she had found needed something to give it more flavor--more rising time, or something. So I started looking around to see if I could find other recipes more like what she had in mind. There was a lot on the internet that didn't look especially good, but I found something interesting right in my own back yard. My newest cookbook--How to Bake, by Nick Malgieri, has a recipe for Bara Brith ("speckled bread" in Welsh) and variants for Barm Brack (speckled bread in Irish), as well as Selkirk Bannock (you-know-what in Scottish). Malgieri's version, from Maura Laverty's Traditional Irish Cook Book, has a sponge, a rise, a rest, and another rise--enough steps, I hoped, to develop some taste.
An immediate problem was that all recipes for Bara Brith call for something labeled "mixed peel." I figured this was something like what we generally call candied fruit, and put only in fruitcake at Christmas because we (Americans) don't much like it. It's not readily available in non-fruitcake season, although in Great Britain, the biggest consumer of mixed peel, it's apparently around all the time. I could have ordered some, but not in time for St. David's Day. I could have made my own, which I (briefly) considered. Or I could substitute. I decided to add some dried cranberries to the golden raisins and currants called for. Once I'd decided on that, the rest was easy.
First, I mixed up the sponge--just milk, water, yeast, and bread flour. While that was bubbling, I covered the dried fruit with boiling water, drained it, and set it on paper towels to dry.
Everything but the fruit is mixed together, and the dough does a first rise sans fruit, which is then added and mixed in after the dough has doubled in size.
It's a little hard to get an even distribution of the fruit by kneading and folding it--if I did it again, I think I'd just mix it in right away.
Jeannette's recipe made a big free-form loaf, but Malgieri says you should put it in loaf pans for an authentic Barm Brack. (Jeannette, is he just making this up?) I'm pretty sure that Malgieri is not a Welsh name.
Supposedly, the bread takes 45 minutes to bake. I baked it for 30 minutes, and it was very brown and completely done.
I had to pick off some burned fruit from the outside of the bread, but everything that was hidden inside stayed moist and tasty. In fact, this was a much better bread than I was expecting. It's quite lovely--very tender and soft, with a buttery, spicy taste--almost like a fruited, spiced brioche. British recipes call for something called "mixed spice," which we also don't have. Malgieri's recipe specifies a mixed of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice--if you wanted to do a mix, you could probably use a pumpkin pie mix.
You can see that the fruit isn't quite evenly mixed in, although that's not a critical error.
I know it's not comme il faut to use another recipe when we're all supposed to be doing the same project, but, after all, this is a No Rules Club. Happy St. David's Day!
6 oz. whole milk
4 oz. water
4 tsp. instant yeast
7.7 oz. bread flour
4 oz. golden raisins (or Sultanas)
3 oz. currants
2 oz. dried cranberries (or mixed peel)
3 oz. unsalted butter, softened
2.5 oz. light brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. allspice
2 large eggs
15 oz. all-purpose flour
1. Make the sponge. Heat milk and water until just warm. Pour into a small bowl, whisk in the yeast, and stir in the flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, 30 minutes or so.
2. Combine fruit in a saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Drain fruit and spread it in a single layer on paper towels.
3. Using a paddle attachment, beat butter with sugar, salt and spices until soft and smooth. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix in spounge and flour. With dough hook, knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about five minutes.
4. Put dough in oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow dough to rise until doubled, about one hour.
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Distribute the fruit on the dough and knead it in evenly. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.
6. Divide dough in half and shape to fit two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 loaf pans. Let rise another hour until doubled.
7. Bake at 400 until well risen and golden brown, 30-45 minutes.
8. Unmold and cool on rack.
While I am talking about Nick Malgieri, I must give a quick mention of another recipe from this book--his pecan chocolate bars. I had investment club at my house, and I wanted something delicious enough that we would forget the drubbing we've been taking on the stock market lately. These bars, with cocoa, bittersweet chocolate, caramel, and tons of pecans, were just the thing! We even bought some new stock at a bargain price, and were all quite cheerful at the end of the evening. There was also some wine involved.