Bara Brith: A taste of Wales
Life is a little different for all of us right now. It feels like the world has turned upside down and suddenly we’re having to spend much more time at home. We’re not able to meet up with friends or family and not getting out into the great outdoors as much as we’d like. We’re certainly making the most of our daily permitted exercise, but that still leaves a lot of time indoors… and quite frankly I’m eating a lot of cake!
So instead of climbing the walls (yet) I thought I’d do some home baking. For ages I’ve been wanting to bake a traditional Welsh Bara Brith and now finally, I have the time to give it a go.
What is Bara Brith?
Pronounced ba-ra br-ee-th, this traditional Welsh bread translates to ‘speckled bread’ in English, thanks to the rich dark fruit it’s packed with. It’s much more like a moist fruit cake than bread, best served in a thick slice, spread with salted butter and enjoyed with a good cup of tea.
The origins of Bara Brith aren’t known but there are records of recipes dating as far back as the 18th Century. It’s thought it would have been the last loaf put into the dying oven at the end of the weekly bake, with the fruit added to the bread dough to make it a more palatable loaf. Traditionally eaten on St David’s Day and Christmas Day, recipes have been handed down within Welsh families for generations.
In 1865 a group of men from Bala, North Wales landed in Patagonia, Argentina to begin a new life. They took many Welsh traditions with them, including the recipe for Bara Brith. To this day you’ll still find it baked there in any Welsh teahouse, though the Spanish call it torta negra, or black cake.
The perfect home-baked mountain snack
Everyone who’s enjoyed an adventure with us will know how much we love Bara Brith! It’s the perfect high energy adventure snack. So whether we’re hiking all day long or needing a quick refuel after a few hours of canyoning, we always have a loaf at the ready!
For our small group tours we’ll buy a few loaves from the local baker but whenever we have a really small private group, where just one loaf will do, Jim’s mum will bake one especially for our guests to enjoy.
How to make this Welsh sticky fruit loaf
Handed to me by Jim’s mum, this recipe is super easy, which with my limited baking skills was all I needed to know to give it a try. Just remember to plan ahead so you can let the dried fruit soak overnight in the tea. This is where much of its rich flavour comes from.
Once that’s done, it’s a case of throw it all into a big bowl, give it a stir and bosh! Stick it in the oven and then, once it’s out, exercise enough patience to let it cool before glazing with honey.
Now make a well-deserved brew, grab a slice and slather it with salted butter. Mmmmm… Hey, I never said this was healthy!
Here’s what you need to make your very own Welsh Bara Brith. It’s all store cupboard stuff so after a good dig around, I managed to find everything I needed without needing to leave the house:
- 450g dried mixed fruit
- 250g brown sugar
- 300ml warm black tea
- 2 tsp mixed spice
- 450g self-raising flour
- 1 free-range egg
- 2 tbs honey (to glaze)
The baking bit!
Firstly, put all your dried fruit into a big mixing bowl with the brown sugar and stir in the black tea. Cover and set aside to soak overnight.
Preheat your oven to 170oC (160oC for fan ovens) and line a 900g loaf tin with greased baking paper. Next, add all the remaining ingredients (except for the honey) to the soaked fruit and beat together well.
It’s worth noting a little bit of creative licence is allowed, especially while we’re all limiting the number of shopping trips we make. When I raided my kitchen cupboards I found I didn’t have quite enough raisins, currents and sultanas (I had all three in small quantities, so in they went!) so to make it up to the full weight, I threw in some chopped dried apricots and dates. Not traditional, but very tasty!
Also for anyone else who, like me, realises at the last minute that mixed spice is not All Spice, don’t panic. Chances are you’ll have the spices you need in your cupboard to mix up your own (variation of) mixed spice. Here’s a quick mixed spice recipe to save you googling it.
Once your ingredients are well combined, spoon into the lined loaf tin. Pop it in the oven and set the timer for 1.5 hours. You’ll know it’s done when a clean skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove from the tin and leave on a wire rack to cool.
Warm the honey for about 10 seconds in the microwave and then brush all over the top of your cooled Bara Brith loaf. It gives a deliciously sweet and sticky finish to the rich fruit loaf.
Slice thickly, spread generously with salted butter and enjoy with a hot cup of tea :0)
And when things return to normal, or the new version of normal, I highly recommend wrapping a few pre-buttered slices to take as the perfect fuel on your next adventure.
A taste of Wales in your own home
We’re all having to adjust our daily routine and find new ways to spend our time. So while your adventure to Wales may be delayed, give this recipe a try and enjoy a little taste of Wales in your own home.
We’d love to know how you get on! Share your pics on Instagram and give us a tag @AdventureToursUK