Sunday, 30 October 2011

Hallowe'en Tea Brack

Hallowe’en Tea Brack

Honestly, I’m pretty cool.  I mean, I’ve stayed out past midnight on more than one occasion, my album collection contains more than just Lionel Ritchie’s Greatest Hits and I used to paint my nails black – just cos I could.  So there’s no question about it, I. AM. COOL.  To add to that, I’m not a Scrooge who hides herself away until Christmas is over because it’s too commercialised or who thinks that Valentine’s Day has turned into a day where Hallmark Cards squeeze you for every penny you have.  No, I embrace both days equally (although I secretly have an issue with the fact that we’re all supposed to be loved up for a specific 24 hours, but let’s not dwell on that one).  But there’s a risk that I’ll sound like a party pooper when I say that I’m not convinced about this new holiday we call Hallowe’en. 

When we were young we used to all dress up as ghosts and witches but we all had homemade outfits, so the ghost was covered in an old sheet with two holes cut for the eyes and one for the mouth.  The witch had a bin bag over her head with a hole cut out for the head and a painted black cone hat made from a used cereal box (they were simpler days then, no shop bought Hallowe’en outfits for us!).  I don’t remember going round the village doing Trick or Treat, I think that’s a new phenomenon.  Having said that, maybe Trick or Treating was around in our day but my mother thought that sending 6 kids out looking for sweets was a bit too much like begging!

Kids don’t make their Hallowe’en outfits any more, they’re all dressed up as Batman, Peppa Pig and clowns, although I’m not sure what any of these have to do with the ghouls and the goblins of Halloween.  There are no Hallowe’en games played at home either.  We used always play “Dunking Apples” where you use only your mouth to take the apples out of a big bowl of water.  “Cut The Flour” was another one where a “cake” of flour is built on a plate and a cherry placed on top.  Each person uses a knife to cut slices of the flour cake.  Whoever knocks the cherry must dip his head in the flour.  I think I may be very quickly undermining my own “cool” status so I better stop right now! 
We always had a brack for Hallowe’en.  A brack is sweeter than a bread and jam packed with dried fruit and tea and is mostly eaten as a snack with a cup of tea, but it’s not as rich as a cake.  Traditionally the baker would wrap coins and possibly a ring in parchment paper and hide them in the uncooked mixture in the tin.  What is hidden varies from house to house and from region to region but my Mam always hid 4 or 5 coins (this predicts wealth) and a ring (predicts marriage in the coming year).  We would always have to choose our slice of brack carefully, always hopeful of getting the slice with the coin – what child of 10 wants marriage anyway? 

It’s odd how as you get older you do your best to retain the traditions you had as a kid.  You know, the ones you threw your eyes up to heaven at when you were younger, like the real meaning of Christmas (who’d have thought, there actually IS more to Christmas than Santa leaving presents on Christmas morning!), Easter etc.  A tea brack is a safely guarded tradition and this recipe is lovely, very moist and it keeps for at least 5 days. 

Recipe is taken from the RTE Food website.

450g Plain Flour
1tsp Baking Powder
170g Caster Sugar
225g Mixed Dried Fruit
1 Egg
1tsp Mixed Spice
1ltr Hot Breakfast Tea
The Surprise Ingredients:
A gold Ring (predicts a marriage in the coming year)
A coin (predicts wealth)
You can put in or leave out these special ingredients as you desire or as your own tradition would have it. It is important these ingredients are all clean and wrapped tightly in parchment paper before adding to the mix once you have put it into the tin.

Begin by pouring the hot tea over the dried fruit, stir well before covering and leavening to soak overnight.
When the fruit is ready, mix the eggs and sugar together in a separate bowl, giving them a slight whisk to add a little air to the brack.
Drain the excess tea from the fruit and add in the egg and sugar mix. Note: I added about a cup of the tea that the fruit was soaking in as the mixture is too dry if you drain away all of the liquid.
Add the baking powder and spice mix to the flour and sift this into the fruit mix, stirring gently all the while.
Knead the dough gentle now so as not to break up the fruit.
Line a 7" baking tin and place in the dough evenly throughout. I think it best to add the surprise ingredients at this point, this way you can ensure that they are spread throughout the whole brack.
Pre heat the oven to 170 degrees before placing the brack in the centre of the oven.
Bake for approximately 70 minutes, you can check it is cooked by putting a skewer into the centre, if it comes out clean it's ready.
Remove from the oven and tin before cooling on a wire rack. In my house my mother always cut the brack and buttered before serving, ensuring that no one else would know where the surprise ingredients where! Good Luck!
Top Tips:Soak the fruit in hot tea over night.
Ensure your "surprise" ingredients are clean and well wrapped in parchment paper.
Don't over knead the dough, it will cause the fruit to break up and dry out during baking.
Make the brack a few days in advance (up to one week, this time will give the brack much more depth of flavour.
Place the "surprise" ingredients into the dough when it is in the tin. Firstly this will evenly distribute them but always there is less chance of them coming loose from their wrapping.


  1. We come from the same age. We never had 'halloween' like it is now. AND, as cool as you might be, you are not alone. I - am cool too - really have taken a dislike to Halloween. The costumes, the sweets and the greedy grabbing of children. I really can't stand it. I told my husband last night that I was done trick-or-treating with the kids (youngest is 6) and from now on we are going to have a halloween party at the house with all the old games we used to play as children - the end. The kids seemed on board with the idea so let's see how it all pans out next year! The brack looks great. I could use a slice right about now :0)

  2. Mona,I think we might be of the same vintage! I realise I've morphed into my mother when I start a sentance with "In my day" or end it with "but they were simpler days". Yes, things are definitely going downhill - fast!