Summer’s End–The Irish Brambrack

More than a month has gone by and while my scribbles keep filling my draft box, nothing has made it to the published page. It has been a busy month and a half filled with chocolates and more chocolates. This is what has been keeping me busy

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Assortment for the festive season filled with deliciousness

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White chocolate with salted pistachios

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And more of white chocolate, this time studded with candied mango, pineapple and kiwi. Nothing says celebration like the way these chocolates did. But then my preoccupation with these lovelies meant less time to post on the blog. I figured at some point, during the chocolate madness, that I could also bake a bread which screams festive. Along came this wonderful Irish bread, posted on We Knead to Bake, tempting me to bake this bread which, to me, sounded more and more like a cake as I read the recipe. But what the heck, who says a bread should not taste like cake?! So I jumped headlong into the Brambrack dough.

IMG_3188 No, I am not making a fruit cake, but all these juicy, tea soaked fruit went into the bread. That right, you did not read wrong. The Raisins, Cranberries, Apricots, Currents all had a good soak in lovely, strong tea. Now, this is what gives this bread a distinct identity. You could vary the kind of tea you would use. Earl Grey would give it a lovely bergamot flavour while Darjeeling would give you a taste of smokey early morning mist. I just used good old Nilgiri’s tea. I landed up soaking it for a really long time, and eventually had a squishy dough when I finally added the fruit. So watch out for that. Either soak it just enough for the fruit to absorb the liquid (and actually try to press the excess liquid out) or adjust the dough to compensate for the liquid the fruit is generously going to exude.

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The super wet dough did not really bother me. This bread did not need too much of shaping. All I needed to do was whip it into some sort of submission into a loaf shape and the pan did the rest (containing it to produce a loaf). I skipped the egg, which you can add if you want a really rich loaf and I also did not have allspice on my shelf. So I completely skipped the cinnamon, allspice and ginger and instead added a generous dose of chai masala. After all it does have cinnamon, ginger, cloves and everything that blends beautifully with the fruit. Remember the fruit is soaked in tea and chai masala automatically follows. So now do you get my logical train of thought?

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The method is pretty straightforward. You could reduce the sugar if you feel that fruit is really sweet. The sugar glace at the end is purely optional. Personally, with all that is going on with this loaf I would not mind having it as dessert glace and all. For a burst of flavour you could try adding either lime or orange zest to the glace to give it a bit of citrus zing. That would truly elevate it to another level of dessert bread. But hey! it is after all the festive season, so nobody is going to grudge you if you serve this for breakfast with a touch of freshly churned butter. At home, everyone just cut themselves a slice without bothering about the extras.

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I enjoyed it with my cup of tea. The recipe made two loaves. Remember I had promised my friend a loaf of bread with apricots? I know this had a lot more than just apricots, but one loaf went out to her. Let it not be said that I do not keep my promises. The Irish bake the Brambrack during Halloween or ‘Summer’s End’. Summer never ends in Chennai but this bread was baked before the ‘Beginning of the Deluge’. What happened during the deluge is matter for another post. In the meantime enjoy the fruits of your labour.

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup Raisins

1/4 cup Sultanas

1/8 cup Dried Chopped Apricots

1/8 cup Dried Cranberries

1 1/2 cups Strong, hot black Tea

3 1/2 to 4 cups All-purpose Flour

2 tsp Instant Yeast

2/3 cup Granulated Sugar

1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon

1/4 tsp Allspice

1/2 tsp Ground Ginger (I used 1 1/2 tsp of Chai Masala instead of these spices)

1/4 tsp Salt

30gm Unsalted Butter, soft at room temperature

1 lightly beaten egg (I did not use the egg)

1/2 to 3/4 cup warm milk for 1 cup of “milk + tea” mixture* (see below in the method)

1 tbsp Caster Sugar + 1 tbsp boiling water mixed to glaze the top of the bread (optional)

METHOD

  1. Place the dried fruit into a bowl. Cover them with the hot tea and leave overnight or for at least 3 to 4 hours so they absorb the tea. Once they have plumped up, drain the liquid and reserve it to be used later.
  2. Set the fruit aside. Make sure the fruit has drained well (Try to press out some of the excess liquid), otherwise it will make the dough wet when you add it later.
  3. Put the flour, instant yeast, sugar, spices, and salt into a large bowl and mix them together. Add the beaten egg and the butter and mix to incorporate them.
  4. Remember the excess liquid from soaking the fruit? Place the reserved soaking liquid into a 1 cup measure and top up with enough warm milk to make 1 cup. The milk should be warm enough to make a warm “milk + tea” mixture to make the yeast proof and the dough to rise.
  5. Add this “milk + tea” mixture to the dry ingredients in the bowl and knead into a just-sticky-to-touch and elastic dough, adding a little more flour if necessary.
  6. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured counter and flatten it out. Sprinkle the drained fruit over this and fold in half and fold once again. Then gently knead the dough so the fruit is evenly dispersed within the dough.
  7. Shape into a ball and place the dough in an oiled bowl.  Turn it to coat it well with oil and then let it rise, covered, until it has doubled in volume (about 1 1/2 to 2 hours).
  8. Gently de gas the risen dough and divide it into 2 equal portions. Shape each into a round and place on greased baking trays or into a loaf and place in greased 5” x 8″ loaf tins as you prefer. (I used a loaf pan)
  9. Let the shaped breads rise for another 45 minutes to an hour, covered, until they have puffed up. Bake at 180C (350F) for about 35 to 45 minutes until the breads are golden brown and done. Cover the breads with foil if they’re browning too quickly.
  10. About 5 minutes before finally taking the breads out of the oven, brush the tops of them with the sugar glaze (if using) and return to the oven for 3 to 4 minutes for a sticky and shiny finish.
  11. Cool the breads on a wire rack.  Cut into thick slices and serve with butter, as they are.

IMG_3189The Irish used to bake little trinkets into the bread, almost like little tokens to foretell the future. A ring to predict impending wedlock or a silver coin for fortune. I did not bake any into my bread ( I was a little afraid of the reaction of the metal on the dough under heat.) But it is something you could try to make it more of a celebration bread.

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