We Owe Halloween to Ireland

Halloween isn’t your typical celebration.
And, Halloween food isn’t exactly ‘normal’ either.

Fact: we owe Halloween to Ireland. 
This is the autumn festival when, as my ancestors believed,
the ghosts of the dead
returned to the land of the living.
Really, though, that’s why we like Halloween. It’s not ‘normal’.
It’s scary, it’s unpredictable and it’s a little bit weird.
Just look at the food.


Caution is required at this time of year when biting into a slice of warm barmbrack. This traditional Halloween bread/cake could contain any number of items, ready to tell the future of the person lucky (or unlucky) enough to find something in their slice. Within your slice of brack you may find: a ring (married in a year); a stick (a walking stick indicating future travels); a thimble (a spinster forever); a button (a bachelor forever); a coin (a lifetime of wealth); and a piece of cloth (a lifetime of poverty). Years ago, religious medals could also be found in bracks, predicting a life in the Holy Orders. For those of you unfamiliar with barmbrack, this recipe from The Moody Boar in County Armagh is a winner

For the fruit mix:
– 350 g (1½ cups) sultanas
– 50 ml (¼ cup) Bushmills whiskey
– Warm tea (enough to cover the sultanas)
– 1 lemon, juice and zested skin
For the dough:
– 450 g (2 cups) strong bread flour
– A pinch of salt
– 15 g (1tbsp) dried yeast
– 280 ml (9.5fl oz) milk, at room temperature
– 50 g (3½tbsp) butter, softened
– 50 g (3½tbsp) sugar
– 1 egg, beaten
For the topping:
– 1 tbsp butter
– 1 tsp ground cinnamon
– ½ tsp ground mixed spice
1. Soak the sultanas in the whiskey, warm tea and lemon juice for 30-45 minutes, then drain off the liquid.
2. To make the dough: put all the ingredients into a mixing bowl and bring together with a wooden spoon.
3. Knead on a floured surface with your hands for 5 minutes.
4. Put the dough in a bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and leave for about 1 hour, until the mixture has risen and fills the bowl.
5. Knead dough again on a floured surface, adding soaked fruit until evenly spread throughout.
6. Place in a 20-23cm buttered cake tin and cover with a damp tea towel.
7. Leave in a warm place for about 20 minutes until the mixture rises up to the top of the tin.
8. Bake for 50 minutes in oven preheated to 200C.
9. For the topping: cream the butter and spices together until soft.
10. Remove the barmbrack from the oven. Immediately spread spiced butter on top. Leave to cool.

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