Soda bread, Schmoda bread (Bara Brith recipe!)
For the record, despite living in an extremely Irish-dominated area like Chicago, I have in my veins the blood of pretty much every British Isles peoples except the Irish. Lots of Scottish, English, and a good bit of Welsh too.
A bunch of years ago I learned to make a Welsh tea bread known as “bara brith”–literally, “speckled bread.” Which to me sounds like there could be as many recipes as there are bakers attempting them. It’s a tea bread with dried fruits in it, usually currants or raisins, but others seem to be fairly commonplace as well. In North Wales they apparently tend to use yeast, and in South Wales quick bread seems to be the norm, and the variety of techniques only starts there. Some say you steep the fruits in strong black tea before putting them into the dough, some actually put black tea into the bread itself in place of water or milk, and the amount and variety of spices seem to vary a lot too. (I learned a whole heck of a lot from the author of the Food Glorious Food blog on the subject!) I haven’t made it in literally 20 years, though.
So taking my cue from her, I also futzed with my own recipe to see what I could come up with. Ironically, I used an Irish soda bread recipe as my template, the one I found here. I halved the recipe and incorporated a number of bara brith elements I’d seen in other places, using the quick bread format rather than the yeast…I may try yeast later, but my time is limited today.
So here’s what I did:
Welsh Tea Bread (Bara Brith) quick bread recipe
In a measuring cup mix:
- 2/3 cup boiling water
- 1/3 cup currants or other dried fruit
- 1 strong black tea bag (or chai tea bag)
Let steep for 5 minutes; if desired, remove tea bag and let fruit steep overnight.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a bowl mix:
- 1 cup white whole wheat flour
- 1 cup all purpose white flour
- 1/4 cup dry powdered milk (optional)
- 2 tbs sugar (white or brown)
- 1/2 tbs baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp (approx) mixed spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom
- 1/2 stick butter, softened. (Mix the other dry ingredients first, then add the butter. Incorporate it into the mixture with your fingers till you have a sort of coarse meal kind of feeling)
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup of the brewed tea strained off of the currants
- 1 egg
Mix well but only as much as is needed. You are looking for a fairly solid dough here, not a batter, so add a little more liquid or flour as needed to get the right consistency.
Form into a freeform round loaf and place on a prepared baking sheet (I used parchment paper on our pizza stone, but YMMV!). Slash a cross shape in the top of the loaf; brush top with a little melted butter or melted butter/buttermilk mixture. (Some recipes suggest brushing the top several times during baking.)
Bake 45-55 minutes at 375.
It’s in the oven as I type this; I’ll give the verdict when it comes out!
VERDICT: lovely. Dark and spicy and not too sweet, with the beautifully juicy currants throughout. It’s a little tougher than I would probably love it ideally, and I bet one of the “batter” versions of this quick bread would be moister than this “dough” one. But essentially all this is is your basic raisin quick bread with brewed tea and spices used instead of whatever neutral liquid the original recipe called for, and soaked raisins to begin with.
I suspect my kids will even go for this, and despite that half-stick of butter in it, it’s still got not too much sugar and a lot of other really good things in it. This one is a keeper!