Sunday, March 01, 2009

Bara Brith - a Lazy Bakers Project

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.


jini said...

the bread looks lovely, but the pecan chocolate bars (gotta say bars in minnesota) look amazingly good! i can understand your willingness to buy stock after a few of those!!
back to the bread, i suppose you could add most any kind of dried fruit, even sneak in some nuts if you wished? i'm getting closer to trying. :)

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your Bara Brith, Marie, you did very well! And thank you for giving the background to why you made it. Yes we did celebrate in Wales yesterday, lots of daffodils being worn and lots of schoolchildren will have been dressed up in traditional Welsh costume to perform for the eisteddfod they will have in school. It is a concert where they sing traditional Welsh songs and poetry, all in Welsh of course, and a winner is picked out and proclaimed the Bard for that year!
YOur bread looks very good and I hope you enjoyed eating it. I made it twice, first as a boule ,which was a bit disappointing, it didn't rise very well, so I then made it in a loaf tin as you did and I have sent pictures of that one to Melinda, which you will see when she has done hers. As yours looks so good I am tempted to try your recipe, as I explained, I usually buy it and my loaf, although quite good , wasn't as good as the ones I usually buy!
As I have now finished reading your blog right through again you have inspired me to bake more bread, consequently I am expecting The Bread bible to be delivered any day now from Amazon, I hope I have as much success as you with the recipes! By the way, I do think you should publish your blog as a book, it makes very entertaining reading and I'm sure would be a big help to aspiring breadmakers everywhere!
Diolch yn fawr! (thank you very much) Jeannette.

Melinda said...

Well, Marie, I am impressed with your Welsh Bara Brith for St. David's Day!
I'd say you did a pretty good job. I can hardly believe you actually deviated from the recipe, as I know you love strict adherence (aka rules)
most of the time!
But I think the Welsh WI would probably faint at the sight of dried cranberries in their beloved Bara Brith. The Welsh are sticklers for tradition and rules.
Are you sure you aren't part Welsh?
I just love yanking your rule chain!

Those 'bawrs' look wonderful.

breadbasketcase said...

I guess if you're Welsh, you can't just put in any old fruit, much less add nuts, but we're not Welsh. I actually think the cranberries worked out quite nicely, but definitely not authentic. The bars were amazing! I was too lazy last night to include the recipe, but will if anyone wants it.

Thank you! The minister of the church we used to go to was Welsh (Vivian Jones), and he always wore a daffodil--not a leek--around St. David's day. His wonderful lilting voice is what got Jim and me to go to church. I loved the taste and texture of this bread--please do try the recipe sometime; I'd like to know what you think of it (using the mixed peel, of course, not the completely unacceptable cranberries). Oh--I completely forgot about glazing the bread with honey, but I don't think it needed it. I thought about putting melted butter on the crust for a little shine, but didn't want to do something else that would make a proper Welshman gasp in horror.

It pained me to have to substitute a major ingredient! I probably should have just added more currants and raisins instead of introducing something completely non-Welsh. Are you going to use mixed peel? I can't wait to see yours.

Anonymous said...

Marie, what's investment club? I'd love to steal the idea and introduce it to my fellow Rotaractors.
Of course, I'd feel good about investing, too, if I ate one of those bars while I did it. :)

Anna at OA

breadbasketcase said...

Hi Anna!
There are millions of investment clubs out there, or thousands, anyway, or hundreds. We're a member of the National Association of Investment Clubs, and we supposedly do learned and detailed analyses of stocks before we jump in and buy something. We all pay $45 a month, so the cash risk is pretty minimal. We were doing quite well, until the thing-that-cannot-be-called-a-depression hit.
Hi to everyone at OA!

pinknest said...

I missed my Welshian opportunity to make it on the perfect day! Okay, I hope to get to it this weekend. I was thinking I'd do the mixed fruit as well. It looks lovely.

Jane Moxey said...

Here's a different version of the Bara Brith recipe I got from a cousin in Wales:
2 cups soft brown sugar
2 cups milk
8 ounces butter
16 ounces mixed fruit (raisins, currants etc)
4 eggs
16 ounces Self Rising flour
Mixed spice and cinammon (optional)
Place sugar, milk butter and mixed fruit into a large saucepan and bring to boil. Simmer for 10 minutes until fruit has moistened.

Allow mixture to cool before adding eggs one at a time and beating in well. Add flour gradually, stirring in along with the mixed spices.

Placed in lined loaf tins (parchment paper) and place in oven at 190C (which I figured was somewhere between 350 and 375 ) for 75 to 90 minutes. Cool on rack.

Serve with lashings of butter.

Having tasted this sort of Bara Brith in Wales, and having made the recipe above, this is the texture of Bara Brith that I know.

evil cake lady said...

Marie, your bread looks great! Thank you for all the history of St David's day and for the alternate recipe. I might try yours, since Jeanette wasn't too fond of the other one. Like Melinda, I was thoroughly impressed by your blatant rule breaking!!

breadbasketcase said...

You did miss your once-a-year chance to bake Bara Brith for St. David's Day, but don't wait until next March--it's really quite good. There is probably some little shop in Manhattan that sells nothing but mixed peel.

Thanks for the recipe--it's quite a bit different, isn't it? When I was looking for recipes for Turkish simit, I was also struck with how very different the recipes were. You'd think that something that was so traditional would have a more standard recipe.

Jeannette probably has higher standards than I do because she's had the real thing. I could honestly say that the Bara Brith I made was the best I'd ever tasted.

Anonymous said...

There certainly are lots of different recipes for our BaraBrith, it just boils down to preference, some like the yeasted version and others prefer the 'cakey' one. As it is a traditional recipe i think it depends on what was available, in some areas yeast was not easily found so the housewives found an alternative and used self-raising flour instead. Some say it is regional, in the north of Wales, where I am, the yeasted one is more popular and in the south , the cakey one. The thing to do of course is to try both and see which you prefer! I'm glad you liked it anyway. Jeannette. P.S I shall have to give you the recipe for Welsh cakes soon, see if you like those!

breadbasketcase said...

And some were made with neither yeast nor self-rising flour, so they must be more like tea cakes? I also saw some recipes where the fruit was steeped in tea for a while. I think the thing to do is to go to Wales and try a lot of different breads and cakes there!

Anonymous said...

And get very fat!!!!

Doughadear said...

I just got back from vacation and I knew you had probably baked something really good while I was away. I love any bread with raisin, currants or cranberries and this one has all three even though the cranberries were a substitute so I am sure it tasted great. I will definitely be baking this one soon. Thank you for posting the recipe.
The Pecan Chocolate bars look wonderful, I'm sure they can make you forget the state of the economy for at least for a few minutes.
Like Jeanette I too think your blog should be published I have often thought about photocopying everything so that I would have a hard copy. A published version would be so much better.

breadbasketcase said...

Welcome home--I hope you had a good vacation. It turns out that the cranberries are not something that would make a Welshman turn over in his grave after all. I googled bara brith & cranberries--the first thing I got was Melinda's comment about the addition of cranberries making someone from Wales head for the fainting couch. The next thing that came up was a recipe from the BBC for Bara Brith--with cranberries.
But maybe having the BBC mess around with tradition would also necessitate smelling salts?
Whatever version you try, I hope you enjoy it.
I think that if every household in the U.S. made chocolate pecan squares this weekend, we would miraculously fly out of the recession.
Thanks to you and Jeannette for the publishing idea--unfortunately, no publisher has ever thought it would be a good idea.