Halloween Barmbrack, an Irish Tradition

Halloween Barmbrack (c)2012 La Domestique

Barmbrack – such a strange word to those of us who didn’t grow up in Ireland. Originating from the Gaelic language, bairín, is a reference to the yeast of fermented bear and breac, notes the speckled appearance of currants and golden raisins. This sweet bread is leavened with yeast, enriched with milk and butter, and infused with cinnamon and nutmeg. Tokens are wrapped in parchment, then folded into the bread dough to be discovered later when the bread is sliced. My Irish husband’s favorite Halloween memory is of gathering at the table with his family to slice into the barmbrack. Each token symbolizes a different prediction for the future. Find a ring in your slice and you’ll be married soon. The matchstick predicts an unhappy marriage. A pea foretells poverty, a coin, wealth. It’s great fun to see who gets what, laughing at the good and the bad (which is very Irish).

Tokens wrapped in parchment and baked in the Barmbrack (c)2012 La Domestique


The bread is often baked in a loaf pan, but my husband prefers a round loaf (the way his mother made it). Recipes call for candied citrus peel, which I left out because it was never included in his mother’s barmbrack. When asked what makes a good and proper barmbrack, the husband replies, “a sweet bread with plenty of raisins and lots of air pockets.” The yeast in this recipe creates a light and airy dough, and time to rise in a warm kitchen develops flavor. This enriched bread keeps well, lasting about a week (if it’s not eaten before then). Serve barmbrack in thick slices slathered with butter. If it does go stale on you, Darina Allen suggests the slices make a wonderful Bread and Butter Pudding.

When the husband was growing up in Ireland, kids didn’t go trick-or-treating and they didn’t dress up in costumes for Halloween. He says that’s an American thing (read commercialized). Hearing his stories of simple family traditions like bobbing for apples and sharing the barmbrack on Halloween warms my heart. I remember the Halloweens of my childhood: Mom sewing the bones on my skeleton costume and creating my sister’s Raggedy Ann ensemble with red yarn. There was  trick-or-treating in the neighborhood and parties with piñatas. The world seems much bigger now. I miss those simple times. And I wonder, will there be any trick-or-treaters at my door this year? I’ve optimistically picked up a bag of candy and will leave the light on just in case. In the meantime, I’ll be at the table with the husband nibbling on barmbrack with a cuppa tea. Happy Halloween!

What is your favorite Halloween tradition? Share it in the comments section. Click Here.

Halloween Barmbrack (c)2012 La Domestique (c)2012 La Domestique

Halloween Barmbrack

recipe from Forgotten Skills of Cooking, by Darina Allen, makes two loaves

Ingredients for Halloween Barmbrack (c)2012 La Domestique
  • 1 pound white bread flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast + 1 teaspoon sugar + 1 teaspoon tepid milk
  • 1/3 cup superfine sugar
  • 1 cup tepid milk
  • 1 organic egg, whisked
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup currants
  • 2 oz. Candied peel

 Find the full recipe here on the Irish Examiner website.

Halloween Barmbrack (c)2012 La Domestique


  1. What a sweet little tradition :) I do love seeing cute kiddos in their costumes, but the holiday has become very commercialized. A simple tradition like this really appeals to me. The bread sounds delicious next to a cuppa tea!

    • Nicole,

      I’m glad you like the barmbrack. I think it’s a great starting place to make your own new ritual.

  2. Jess, this looks beautiful and so very, very good. We are heading to Ireland in a few weeks (for the first time!) and this post made me even more excited. Though Halloween will be over, I hope to find some barmback during our travels – if not, now I have the recipe to make at when I return home! Thanks for sharing this.

    • Shelby,
      You are going to have such a wonderful time in Ireland! Keep an eye out for barmbrack in bakeries, but Christmas cake will by everywhere, so you’ll probably end up eating a lot of that. Thanks for your sweet comment.

  3. Absolutely adore foodie stories. Of course, I adore Ireland most of all. I have this bread in my Irish cookbook and I love the story that goes with it. It is a little like our Mardi Gras tradition where something is hidden in the bread. I wonder how many cultures have this tradition… As my kids got older (meaning too old to be running around asking for candy) I would put together little bags of their favorite candy bars. Now, we swipe a few days supply from the “stash” before the kids sweep by on Halloween night. I’m as big of a Halloween kid as they come!! I want my candy stash!

    • You’re right, Sarah, the barmbrack tradition reminds me of King Cake too. I’m with you on the candy- last night we picked up a bag for the trick-or-treaters and I ate half on the way home.

  4. Your bread looks delicious Jess, and I love hearing about your husband’s tradition. It’s sounds so perfectly charming. I’ve got a box of 100 Hershey bars, but if I don’t get many kids, I won’t be too upset :) Happy Halloween!

    • Renee,
      I know, I may just eat all the candy before the trick-or-treaters get here! Happy Halloween to you too!

  5. How gorgeous. My english granny had the same tradition, but with the Christmas pudding. We all wanted the ring and the coin. Nobody wanted the donkey.

    • Tori,
      There was a donkey? I’m intrigued. What did that symbolize? Thanks for popping by!

  6. gfhfhfhfgh

  7. I had teabrack in Ireland last May and was enchanted, so I was quite happy to find this recipe (I followed you here from Food52 and will now follow your blog)! What, if I may ask, is mixed spice? Is it like pumpkin spice, or just a mix of whatever holiday-ish spices one likes? Thanks!

    • Diana,
      It’s so nice to meet you! “Mixed spice” is like “baking spice” here in the United States- it’s just an all-purpose blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, and ginger. The Savory Spice Shop has more info here http://www.savoryspiceshop.com/blends/baking.html
      You could just use your own favorite holiday spice blend. Great question!


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