Another traditional bread, with lots and lots of versions, lots and lots of history, and very few old printed recipes. That doesn’t mean, of course, that modern recipes aren’t older, some are apparantly unchanged since the eigteenth century (see Bobby Freeman, First Catch Your Peacock, p. 103; Jane Pettigrew, Traditional Teatime Recipes, p. 26); others are folk recipes handed down from generation to generation, no doubted tweaked at every inheritence like a game of historical Chinese whispers.
Bara Brith (lit ‘speckled bread’) was traditionally eaten on St David’s Day or Christmas Day, in thick slices spread with butter.
Lona Jones B.A.Dip.Lib., at the National Library of Wales, confirmed to me that its hard to find old printed recipes for bara brith, but she compared these to her great-great-grandmother’s recipe and gave them the seal of approval.
Trevor Fishlock records one in Farmhouse Fare, 1966, but this recipe is taken from Croeso Cymreig, 1953. Many recipes also use egg, some steep the fruit in cold tea overnight first too, so that they are plumper by morning. Heretics will tell you to ditch the yeast and bake a cake. (Mrs Jones confirms that ‘Very few people use yeast these days since the coming of good self raising flour and the demise of manual home bread making.’) I found that almost as much milk again was required on top of the original recipe to get a good dough. I was making this for friends and didn’t have time to use a sourdough, so it’s commercial yeast quantities below. This’ll need around 100gr of starter and probably a little longer to rise.
450gr strong white flour
250gr milk (warm in the microwave)
60g soft sugar
30gr candied peel
[1 egg, beaten]
[Brew the tea until almost stewed and while still hot add the sugar and fruit. Cover and leave to stand overnight.]
Mix all the ingredients but the fruit into a dough, knead and leave to rise for about two hours, until doubled in size. The flour, fruit, butter and suger should be warmed too – if not you’ll need to wait a little longer for it to rise. Knead again, adding the fruit, and place in a large , greased loaf tin to prove for 1-1.5 hours.
Cook in a preheated oven for around 30-40mins at 200C then leave to cool on a wire rack, ideally for 24 hours.
I slid the knife along its back so the top opened up in the oven – purely aesthetic.
Rich, sweet, fruity, with a lovely texture, dominated by fruit. The spice is delicious, the fruit dense and attractive. I can see why its a celebratory, special bread. In amongst the fruit, the bread itself is soft from the milk and sweet, but recognisably bready – don’t believe those who tell you it might as well be a cake. It’s also crying out for variation (not on this blog of course), I think nuts would be a great addition, marmalade, rye flour…