Similar breads, using a fruity yeast dough, are made in other parts of Britain. Scotland has its Selkirk bannock and Wales has bara brith, which means speckled bread, a reference to the fruit in the mixture. In Ireland, barm brack was traditionally eaten at Hallowe’en.
MAKES 1 LARGE LOAF
15 g (1/2 oz) fresh yeast or 7.5 ml (1 1/2 tsp) dried and a pinch of sugar
25 g (1 oz) butter
450 g (1 lb) strong white flour
60 ml (4 tbsp) caster sugar
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) ground ginger
freshly grated nutmeg
175 g (6 oz) sultanas
175 g (6 oz) currants
50 g (2 oz) chopped candied peel
1. Blend the fresh yeast with 300 ml (1/2 pint) warm water. If using dried yeast, sprinkle it into 300 ml (1/2 pint) warm water with the pinch of sugar and leave in a warm place for 15 minutes, until frothy.
2. Rub the butter into the flour, then stir in half of the sugar, the ginger and nutmeg to taste. Stir in the fruit and peel and mix well together. Make a well in the centre and stir in the yeast liquid.
3. Beat well together until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl clean. Turn on to a lightly floured surface and knead well for about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Place in a clean bowl. Cover with a clean tea-towel and leave in a warm place for about 1 hour, until doubled in size.
4. Turn the dough on to a floured surface and knead lightly. Shape the dough into a large round or oval and place on a greased baking sheet. Cover and leave in a warm place for about 30 minutes, until doubled in size.
5. Bake at 230°C (450°F) mark 8 for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 200°C (400°F) mark 6 and bake for a further 20-30 minutes, until the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
6. Dissolve the remaining sugar in 15 ml (1 tbsp) hot water and brush over the loaf to glaze. Return to the oven for 2 – 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool