Each October, Ireland welcomes the tradition of baking Barm Brack, a fruit-filled tea bread. This sweet tea bread was traditionally eaten on Halloween, when a token is baked into it to be used as a form of fortune-telling. The eater may find a ring (predicting impending marriage); a button or thimble (portents of bachelor or spinsterhood respectively); or a coin, (presaging wealth). In earlier, less sensitive times, items may have included a rag or dried pea, (for poverty); or a matchstick, (for an abusive spouse). These days, the tokens aren’t always included, but the tradition of eating brack at Halloween remains. {if you buy a brack at the supermarket or bakery that is labelled “Halloweeen Brack” there still will be a ring or another piece hidden inside}

As I have noted before, my magnificent mother-in-law still insists on preparing an enormous roast lunch with plenty of boiled potatoes, gravy and fresh vegetables for everyone who is working each day. There is always a hot cup of tea afterwards and something sweet like an apple tart baked on a plate or a fruity brack to accompany . Often, she will make one of her favorites, “Railway Cake”, which is basically a tea brack that is bespeckled with black currants (each currant symbolizing a train stop, of course).

In the spirit of Autumn on our farm, I would like to share the “Farmer’s Sunday Cake”, which is essentially a Barm Brack risen with soda instead of yeast. It could also be considered a dressed-up version of Peggy’s Railway Cake. I like it fresh out of the oven in the morning with a little butter and a cappuccino, but most would have it with a cup of afternoon tea.

I know everyone on the farm will love a loaf of this today and I hope you will enjoy it too…

Farmer’s Sunday Cake

From” The Country Cooking of Ireland” by Colman Andrews

6 ¼ cups/625 g white flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cream of tartar

1 cup/200 g sugar

¾ cup/170 g butter, softened. Plus more for greasing

1 cup/150 g sultanas {golden raisins}

1 cup/150 g dried currants

2 tbsp candied orange or lemon peel finely chopped

Grated zest of 1/2 lemon

2 farm fresh free range eggs, beaten

2 ½ to 3 cups/600-720 ml buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 F/230 c {Gas mark 8}

Lightly grease 2 loaf pans

Sift flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and sugar together into a large bowl and mix well..

Rub butter into the flour mixture with your hands until the mixture resembles course bread crumbs. Add sultanas, currants, orange or lemon peel and lemon zest. Mix well.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the eggs and 2 ½ cups/600 ml of the buttermilk. Stir liquid into the flour mixture, working in a spiral motion from the middle toward the sides of the bowl, and adding a bit more buttermilk if necessary to make a moist but cohesive batter. Do not overmix.

Spoon batter into the loaf pans and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce over temperature to 400 F/200 C {Gas mark 6} and bake for 20-30 minutes longer.

Slan Abhaile,


Photo by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell

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3 Responses to “Farmer’s Sunday Cake”

  1. Mary says:

    Thanks for the wonderful recipe. I’ll be hunting down the ingredients in my supermarket today. Making this for my Irish husband who’s now living Stateside with me and our two young sons. Keeping up the traditions of the old country!

  2. tabitha says:

    I’m off wheat right now but I bought currants to make this for my family. Thank you.

  3. I have never tried Barm Brack but it on my list to try soon….and in your pictures it looks really delicious…wish I had a piece now with my cuppa!! Thanks for the recipe.

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