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Irish Barmbrack Tea Cake

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Irish Barmbrack Tea Cake is an utterly delicious, speckled tea bread, much like Irish Freckle Bread, that’s moist, tender, and perfect for teatime, snacks, or breakfast. It is an irresistible loaf that’s quicker and lighter than Christmas bread and is often served in October.

Front view of stacked tea bread slices on a white tea stand

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3 Reasons to Love Irish Barmbrack

There are so many reasons to love this tea bread or tea cake, but here are a few reasons I love making this recipe, especially during the chilly autumn and winter days.

  1. Moist and delicious: This tea bread is much like a fruitcake texture but lighter and easier to make.
  2. Irish Tea soaked dried fruit brings subtle hints of black tea, which only enhances the sweet flavors of the fruit.
  3. Charming: This tea bread, literally, becomes charming when hiding objects in the batter. Plus, it’s fun to delight those you’re taking tea with!

What is Irish Barmbrack Tea Cake

Barmbrack is a traditional yeasted bread, packed with fruit, and often served during Halloween. Although today, you can often find it in Ireland all year.

Much like Christmas cake, this Irish fruit loaf is made with a generous amount of dried fruit but is. a lighter, easier-to-make bread that’s perfect when served not only at teatime but for breakfast or snacking too.

Closeup side view of slices of Irish Bramback with diamond ring on a white scalloped platter

Origins of Barmbrack

According to Darina Allen and Irish Traditional Cooking, she writes that the word “barm” comes from the old English word beorma, which means yeasted fermented liquor, which was used to raise the tea bread.

Traditionally served at Halloween, yeast replaced fermented liquor. In this recipe, I use baking powder for leavening for a quicker and equally delicious tea bread.

The Irish word “brac” means “speckled,” which is exactly what this bread is… a generously speckled tea bread with Irish tea-soaked dried fruit.

When is Irish Barmbrack Tea Cake Served?

As mentioned, Irish Barmbrack was served during October for the Halloween season. Today, though, you can find Barmbrack all year, and it is often served during teatime.

For more ideas on Irish teatime, you may also enjoy reading how to serve an Easy Irish Afternoon Tea, or How to Brew Irish Breakfast Tea!

Teatime

This tea bread is perfectly appropriate for a formal afternoon tea party as well as a simple teatime in your kitchen with your favorite tea. I might suggest Irish Breakfast tea, but that’s just me.

If you’re serving a larger group of friends, you may also like to make a batch of Traditional Irish Scones.

Closeup view of hidden diamond ring in tea bread

What Are the Legends of Barmbrack Hidden Objects

Hiding objects inside the baked Barmbrack tea bread is traditional and fun during Halloween. While there are differing ideas on what the hidden object signifies, these particular meanings were passed down to me by my Irish grandmother:

  • Ring: Married within the year
  • Bean: Poverty within the year
  • Coin: Wealth within the year
  • Thimble: Will remain single

As a forever romantic, you can guess what I choose to hide. If everyone is married, it can also signify love!

Top view of Irish Barmbrack Tea Bread Ingredients on a wood board with Irish lace

Irish Barmbrack Tea Cake Ingredients

While you will find the ingredient measurements in the recipe card at the bottom of this post, these are the ingredients I used to make this tea bread:

  • Strongly brewed tea: One of the most essential ingredients in this recipe is the tea, which will be used to soak the dried fruit. I prefer Irish Breakfast Tea, but any black breakfast tea will also work.
  • Dried fruit: The second most important ingredient is the dried fruit. You can use a combination of your favorites, but in this tea bread, I used raisins, golden raisins, sultanas, cranberries, and dried prunes that I snipped with kitchen shears. Comb through your pantry and see what you find. And honestly, you can also use only raisins too.
  • Orange Zest is optional but provides a delicious bright note to the bread and beautifully compliments the subtle tea flavor.
  • All-purpose flour: White whole wheat flour or Irish flour can also be substituted.
  • Brown sugar: Although traditional Irish fruit loaves rely only on dried fruit for sweetness, I added some brown sugar to this recipe.
  • Baking powder for leavening
  • Salt for flavor: I prefer fine sea salt
  • Spices: Traditional recipes will call for British Mixed Spice. If you don’t have that handy, Pumpkin pie spice is a great substitution and one I use often. I’ve also added a pinch of ground cinnamon for flavor.
  • Coarse Vanilla Sparkling Sugar is also completely optional for sprinkling on the tea bread before baking. It adds a nice, somewhat sweet texture to the bread.

How to Make Irish Barmbrack Tea Cake

Step-by-step instructions are in the recipe card at the bottom of this post, but here are the details on making this simple but delicious Irish Tea Bread.

Step 1: Soak the dried fruit

Combine the dried fruit in a heat-proof bowl. Then, brew hot Irish tea and pour it over the fruit. Soak the fruit in the hot tea for about an hour, or until they are beginning to plumb. You can also soak the fruit in cold tea overnight if preferred.

Step 2: Make the Barmbrack batter

Preheat the oven to 325℉ and lightly grease an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan (or 1lb loaf pan).

Then, in a large bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer), combine the brown sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, pumpkin pie spice, and cinnamon. Add the dried fruit and any remaining liquid left in the bowl and stir it into the batter until thoroughly combined.

Stir in the egg to the thick and stiff batter and mix until combined. The bread is now ready for your prepared loaf pan.

Top view of unbaked Irish Barmbrack in a silver loaf pan

Step 3: Bake the tea cake

Spread the batter evenly into the pan. If you want to hide an object, wrap it tightly in a parchment paper scrap and hide it in the batter before baking. Then, sprinkle the top with coarse sanding sugar; I’m using vanilla sugar.

Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out moist without large crumbs sticking to it. Remove from the oven and turn out onto a rack to cool.

More Irish Recipes

If you love Irish food, I have a whole page of Irish recipes I make all year. These are some of the most popular with our readers: Irish Soda Bread with Buttermilk and Raisins (although we have several more soda bread recipes I love, too), Irish Pub Food, Colcannon and Cream of Potato Soup, and

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Top view of stacked slices of tea bread on a white tea stand.
Front view of stacked tea bread slices on a white tea stand

Irish Barmbrack Tea Bread

Irish Barmbrack Tea Cake is an utterly delicious, speckled tea bread, much like Irish Freckle Bread, that's moist, tender, and perfect for teatime, snacks, or breakfast. It is an irresistible loaf that's quicker and lighter than Christmas bread and is often served in October.
5 from 3 votes
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Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings: 16 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups dried fruit (raisins, golden raisins, sultanas, pitted prunes, dates, etc)
  • 1 cup brewed Irish Tea (hot)
  • 1 zest of orange
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or mixed spice)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • coarse vanilla sugar for sprinkling optional

Instructions

  • Pour hot tea over the dried fruit in a medium sized bowl. Cover and set aside to soak for at least 1 hour (or until beginning to plump).
  • Preheat the oven to 325℉ and lightly grease an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan (or 1lb loaf pan).
  • In a large bowl, mix the brown sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, pumpkin pie spice, and cinnamon. Add the dried fruit and any remaining liquid. Stir until completely combined; the batter will be very thick and stiff.
  • Add the egg and mix until thoroughly combined.
  • Spread the batter into the prepared loaf pan, hide the trinkit if using, and sprinkle optionally with a coarse sanding sugar (I'm using Vanilla Sparkling Sugar).
  • Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out moist without large crumbs sticking.
  • Remove from the oven and turn it out onto a rack to cool.

Video

Nutrition

Calories: 126kcal | Carbohydrates: 30g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 0.2g | Saturated Fat: 0.04g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.03g | Sodium: 144mg | Potassium: 80mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 16g | Vitamin A: 5IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 63mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.

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Course: Afternoon Tea
Cuisine: Irish
Keyword: Tea Brack, Irish Barmbrack

2 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Thank you for this wonderful Irish Barmbrack Tea Bread, the whole family love it. Really delicious and so moreish. I used golden raisins, dates, cranberries and prunes, which turned out to be a winner combination. Make your tea strong, using 2 or more tea bags for good flavour. Eating it slightly warmed is best. Freezes well too.

    1. Hi Dale! I’m so glad you enjoyed the Barmbrack. I also use at 2 tea bags and let it brew for a while. And warm with a bit of butter is so good! Thank you for trying it and letting me know how you liked it.

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