Irish Halloween Bread – Barm Brack

baked barm brack

Barm Brack is a fruit-full Irish bread traditionally used to tell fortunes at Halloween. Different items are baked into the bread; the person who gets the pea will not marry, the

person who gets

the stick will have an unhappy marriage, the person who gets a piece of cloth will live a life of poverty, the person who gets a coin will have a future of riches, while the person who gets the ring will marry within the next year.

Sounds like a fun old tradition, that is if you are lucky enough to get the coin or possibly the ring. The other options being too depressing for me, I just added fruit to my version!

Some barm brack recipes use baking soda as a leavening agent, but since the word barm is supposedly Gaelic for yeast, this bread lends itself nicely to sourdough. Caution – there is a lot of fruit in this bread. So while the end result is a deliciously sweet-tart tea bread, you may have a little bit of trouble kneading all the raisins into the dough.


  • 2 cups strong black tea
  • 2 cups dried fruit (I used a combination of raisins and currents)
  • 2 cups sourdough starter (find out how to make your own starter here)
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup softened butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup milk

Place the tea and the fruit in a bowl and let soak overnight. Drain.

In a large bowl, or the bowl to a stand mixer, combine all remaining ingredients. Stir to bring the dough together and knead until the dough is smooth but still a little sticky.

Knead the fruit into the dough. This process may be easier if you lightly sprinkle the fruit with flour before kneading. I had to do this step by hand, even though I was using a stand mixer.

Place the dough in a greased, 8 inch baking dish. Cover and let rise in a warm place 2 – 4 hours. Since there is so much fruit, the dough will not rise as much as a “fruit-less” dough would rise.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake for 50 – 60 minutes or until the top is nicely browned (internal temperature about 205 degrees). Cool on a rack.

Like many sourdough breads, barm brack is even better the next day. Serve thin slices toasted with butter and marmalade, along with a cup of Irish Breakfast tea. Happy Halloween!

by Renee Pottle

Renee Pottle, a freelance writer and Home Economist, is fanatic about all things food. She blogs about canning and food preservation at Find her professional food writing info at

October 30, 2013

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