Tuesday, October 30, 2007


There's a story that I need to tell along with this Barmbrack recipe. Maybe it's just a lesson in modernity. At any rate, I'm going to share it even though I suspect I'm overreacting.

When all was said and done with the Barmbracks (and it was quite a bit of work, making my own candied peel and a three-rise bread without the benefit of a working stand mixer) I ended up tossing them out. Yes, that's right-I threw them into the dustbin. Why?

I used what are the traditional charms for a Barmbrack, wrapped well in parchment to prevent choking. What I didn't anticipate (and really, I've never heard of this being an issue before) was the button giving off very strong fumes once the cake was cut. I dug out the paper packet and unwrapped it. Although the button was intact (the breads only reach an internal temperature of 200 degrees F whilst baking-a fact I verified with the instant read thermometer) I was immediately dizzied by the fumes-from a tiny hard plastic button-to the point of feeling my legs get heavy like I was about to faint. I've never had that happen before-I think my clothes dryer gets hotter than that. Like an idiot, I took a bite of the bread to see if it tasted funny (it didn't, but if I should die mysteriously in the next couple of days, we should probably assume it was the Barmbrack).

Obviously, I thought I'd gone mad. I tore open the cake that was baked without charms and sure enough-no odour. I went back to the other bread and whoa, there it was again, still not fully dissipated. I realise I'm pretty sensitive to odours, but this was unmistakably chemical in nature. Since they all baked in the same oven, I decided to err on the side of caution and pitch them.

So. If you're determined to bake charms into your Barmbrack, either skip the button or find a metal one as the materials being used to make plastic buttons these days obviously break down at much lower temperature than those in the past.

Otherwise, it was a lovely looking bread/cake. I'm kind of sorry we won't get to enjoy it.

You Will Need:

7 cups sifted, all purpose flour (you may need up to a cup more)

2 teaspoons ground allspice

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 cup sugar

4 1/2 teaspoons granulated yeast

1 1/2 cup milk warmed with

1 1/2 cups water

6 tablespoons butter

2 1/2 cups raisins

3/4 cup dried currants

3/4 cup chopped orange peel

Sift together the flour, allspice, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 of the water/milk mixture. Add yeast to dry ingredients and then add the rest of the liquid. It will be sticky. Begin adding flour until it is able to be kneaded and is somewhat smooth. The dough can remain somewhat sticky, it certainly shouldn't be too dry.

Place in a greased bowl, turn once to coat, cover and let rise two hours or until doubled in bulk.

Turn the dough out on a floured board and flatten into a round. Place the butter, cut up into chunks and the fruits on top in a layer. Fold it in half and begin working the fruit and butter into the dough. This will seem like an impossible mess, but be patient and squeeze it in small bits at a time. Eventually it will all be incorporated. Return the dough to the bowl, cover again and let rise another 45 minutes.

Divide the dough in 3 parts. If you're going to use charms, wrap them and insert them into the dough at this point. Place in well-buttered 9x5x3 bread tins. Cover with a towel and let rise again until they top the pans.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the breads in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 425 degrees F. After 30 minutes. reduce the heat to 400 and continue baking another 10-15 minutes. In the last five minutes (or thereabouts) make a sugar syrup of 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water. Brush this atop the Barmbracks and return to the oven to finish baking.

Breads are done when they read 200 degrees with an instant read thermometer, or when very dark, almost burnt looking and hollow sounding. Cool on racks.

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