Sunday, July 12, 2009

Traditional Samhain Barmbrack

Photo by Podchef

כ' בתמוז תשס״ט
Faunus 21

I will personally begin gathering up my supplies and loading up my ritual intent to make my first loaf of Samhain barmbrack with the New Moon of the witches' month of Lughnasadh, which falls on July 21st this year.

Irish barmbrack (báirín breac), similar to Welsh bara brith, is a traditional yeasted tea bread prepared by witches for Samhain divinatory rituals. The authentic traditional Irish recipe below comes from Mike Lewis.

Barmbrack is usually baked in a round cake tin. I use a 20 cm (8 in) tin with a loose base, but the recipe works just as well with a rectangular loaf tin. The quantities given here will make one large loaf.

* 2 tea bags, or 3 tsp. loose tea (a strong black blend works best)
* 3½ cups (12 oz, 350 g) mixed dried fruit (raisins, golden raisins/sultanas, currants, candied peel)
* 1 cup (8 fl oz, 240 ml) milk
* 1 tsp. sugar
* 2 tsp. dried active yeast (not instant yeast)
* 3 cups (1 lb, 450 g) strong bread flour (I usually use white flour but you can also use a mixture of white and wheat meal)
* 1 tsp. salt
* ¼ cup (1 oz, 25 g) brown sugar
* 1/3 cup (3 oz, 75 g) butter or margarine
* 1 beaten egg
* 1 tsp. mixed spice (equal parts of ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice and mace, for example)

Oven: Pre-heat to 350F (180C).

Start by making two cups (16 fl oz, 480 ml) of strong black tea. Remove the tea bags, or strain the tea to remove the leaves. Soak the dried fruit in the tea. Ideally, the fruit should soak for several hours or even overnight, but if this is not possible, don't worry - just leave it soaking for as long as you can.

Warm the milk until it is hand-hot (you can do this in the microwave). Stir in the teaspoon of sugar and the yeast, and leave in a warm place for about 15 minutes or until it becomes frothy.

Mix the flour, salt and brown sugar in a large bowl. Rub in the butter or margarine. Add the frothy yeast, the beaten egg and the spice. Drain any remaining liquid from the fruit, then add the fruit to the mixture. Mix well to make a smooth dough (add extra flour if the mixture is too wet).

Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead it thoroughly. Place it in an oiled tin, cover with a cloth, and leave in a warm place to rise for 45 - 60 minutes; the dough should have doubled in size.

Place the tin in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove the loaf from the tin, turn it upside down and put it back in the tin or directly on the oven shelf. Bake for another 20 minutes or so. The loaf will be ready when it sounds hollow when you tap (atap tap tap) on each of the sides. Cool the loaf on a wire rack before serving.

Recipe for Barmbrack (August 2005)

For Samhain observance, before the final rise of the bread, place meaningful parchment or greaseproof paper wrapped charms in equal intervals throughout the bread mixture. Some traditional charms include a bean, a coin, a thimble or pea, a button, a matchstick, a gold ring and a snippet of cloth. Here are the meanings this wycked witch has attached to the charms for my divinations:

fava bean - contact with the Ancestors
silver pentacle dime - protected success and prosperity
thimble or pea - steadfast fidelity and connection to one's core truth
celtic knot button - open map to pathways in the soul
matchstick - a warm home and cozy hearth
gold ring - clear path to the heart
snippet of linen cloth - weaving together destiny

Samhain barmbrack is in opposite harmony with Pesach matzot. It is magically important that Samhain barmbrack be prepared as a yeasted bread - don't be tempted to use self-raising flour, baking soda or other chemical rising agents.

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