Monday, 7 January 2013

Bara Brith

Bara Brith, a Welsh confection, literally translates as speckled bread. These days bara brith can be found all over Wales, often made with self raising flour, the result being more akin to a fruit cake; however, the bara brith that I grew up with was certainly made with yeast and as the name suggests, was a bread sweetened and speckled with dried fruit.

One of my earliest memories is of my maternal grandmother slicing bread and butter. Bread and butter appeared on a plate at every meal time, indeed it was required that we all ate a reasonable amount of bread and butter before tucking into anything else. This was especially true at tea time when cake and perhaps pastry were beckoning, we would keep a beady eye on these delights while munching our way through the obligatory but delicious bread and butter.
In those days, before the invention of sliced bread and the quality of bread in general was to go downhill for decades, bread would require slicing. My grandmother would have a technique of holding the tin loaf against her ample cross over apron-ed frame she would begin by spreading the thinnest layer of butter onto the exposed bread surface, then starting with her knife at the center and always slicing towards her, she would proceed to take off first a slice with square corners, turn the loaf then slice the other side with a round edge, thus producing two wafer thin slices of bread to add to the ones neatly laid out on the plate. The knife which was used for both buttering and cutting the bread was regularly sharpened on the back door step. As children my brother and I would fight for the square edged slices, though now I can't imagine why, other than it simply being an opportunity to continue our rivalry at the dining table.

On Sundays at tea time, in addition to white bread and butter thinly sliced, there would occasionally be a plate of bara brith that had received the same treatment, buttered then thinly sliced, a treat, but of course we knew in what order these were to be eaten.

I have been staring at an upturned bowl which conceals the remains of one of the Christmas puddings ever since the 25th, last night as I was dropping off to sleep, it suddenly occurred to me I could try to turn it into bara brith. After all it already has everything I would wish to include in my recipe plus a little bit more.

For this recipe which produces two small loaves, I used:
400g of Strong White Flour
400g of left over Christmas Pudding
300g of cold milk
10g of fast action yeast
9g of salt

I began by heating the left over pudding just enough to break it up so that it would be well distributed in the dough without too much mixing. Mix the flour, milk, yeast and salt to form a rough dough, add the cooled down, broken up Christmas pudding and continue to mix until a soft dough is achieved. set the dough aside in a covered bowl in order to rise. The dough doubles in size in just over an hour in a warm place. The dough is understandably very difficult to handle because of the softness and the added butter from the Christmas pudding, another time I might well do what I do with brioche and allow for a period in the fridge to stiffen the dough up and make it easier to handle. Somehow I managed to divide the dough into two and transfer the pieces to two loaf tins lined with parchment paper. I baked them at 200 degrees C for 30 minutes.

My grandmother's bara brith was always glazed with a simple syrup when first taken out of the oven, before returning it for a couple of minutes to dry off. The result was a deeply varnished finish.

Basic mistake in causing the sugar syrup to crystallize results in a crunchy white sugar topping rather than the desired varnished look of this gorgeous Georgian leather bucket.

I shall make this again as a fine way of using up left over Christmas Pudding, I did see Nigel Slater (is anyone else out there worried about Nigel, he seems to have really fallen into a strange place these days) make a Christmas and pudding and brandy butter topping for bought ice cream with his. . . . . .

The quality of the end result depends a great deal on the quality of the pudding of course and I wouldn't consider making this with a commercial Christmas pudding.


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  2. We too had the everpresent bread and butter on our plates at every meal and I agree, I think it was to fill us up. Our bread came from the local bakers and my mother worked for them for a time bringing home unsliced loaves of high top bread that seemed like a mile high. We had large "wodges" of bread thickly slathered with butter and our grandmothers knife was sharpened on grandad's strop. We all fought for the crusts...siblings learn their craft through squabbling ;). As Grandma was from Oldham Lancs. we didn't have bara brith as our treat, ours was something called Sally Lunn. Nowhere near as much fruit but hers was iced and the addition of sugary white icing made it a prize worth eating your Brussels sprouts for ;). It has been so hot here that we haven't cooked the Christmas Pudding that our 90 year old neighbour gave to us yet. It still needs 2 hours on the stovetop and the amount of heat that it would generate isn't an option at the moment. Once it starts to cool down a bit I will use some of it to have a go at this wonderful bread. Thank you for sharing the recipe, and a little sippet of your very strange that our degustatory memories should be so very similar :)

  3. Good to hear from you, I have been listening to the news these days with added interest and anxiety when they have spoken of the terrible fires in Tasmania. My blog has brought Tasmania that bit closer, I do hope the situation improves soon and that you are all safe. I seem to remember slices for the bread and butter plate, were always kept thin and even though the bread was cut wafer thin, the butter was spread on then duly spread off so that the result was no more than a screen print of butter. I think the more people tell their stories the more we all realise we have far more in common than we thought and that folk are similar rather than different. Thank you for your comment, it's always good to hear from you, Tôbi.