Just before I moved up to Portland to start acupuncture school, my family took a vacation to England. During our trip we made a quick two-day detour into Wales, mainly to see a couple of the ruined castles. I was pretty disappointed when I found out that the castles weren't from old Welsh families but built by the English to keep an eye on the locals. Ah, colonization.
We stayed in a hotel in Caernarfon with a large group of very jovial Irish tourists. I thought they were great. I kind of wanted to stow away with them back to Ireland, which I couldn't believe we were so close to and weren't going to visit.
The next day we drove to Harlech, where it was so rainy and windy that I was the only one who got out of the car to walk around the ruined castle. We had lunch at the pub across the street, and then we drove back to England.
My reason for bringing up this trip is that we never had any Bara Brith while in Wales, and that was a darn shame. This bread is good!
March 22, 2009
Name of bread: Bara Brith
Occasion: Lazy Baker's project
Constituents: golden raisins, currants, candied zest, and spices folded into a rich bread dough
There is a Russian proverb that says, "Первый блин всегда комом" which means "the first pancake is always a lump."
That proverb held true for me as this bread baking experience sailed along smoothly as compared to my first attempt. Hooray!
Jeanette sent the Lazy Bakers the recipe, but later sent a follow up email letting us know she didn't like the recipe. When Marie baked the bread, she found in one of her cookbooks a recipe by Nick Malgieri, which worked well for her. I decided that I would use Malgieri's recipe, too.
Bara Brith calls for mixed peel, which is basically candied zest. Seeing as candied zest is generally only sold during the holidays around here, I decided to make my own. Why not?
It takes a bit of time and a good sharp knife to cut away all the pith from the peel, but the candying part takes about half an hour and is fairly hands-off. RLB has a recipe in The Cake Bible, but she calls for a bit of corn syrup to prevent crystallization. Several recipes online simply called for equal parts water and sugar, so I omitted the corn syrup with no problems. I chose to use one lemon, one orange, and one grapefruit. I think you could use just about any combination of citrus peel.
I saved the bread baking for a day when I wasn't going anywhere, so that I didn't get myself or the bread confused by refrigeration. The sponge came together quickly and by the end of the half hour, I had a neat spongy product.
This dough was much looser than the Whole Wheat dough; my KitchenAid didn't groan and the motor didn't burn as I mixed the dough together. (Which was nice.) The fruit is supposed to be mixed in by hand after letting the dough rise for an hour. Marie had trouble evenly distributing the fruit by hand and wished she had thrown it in when she mixed the dough, which I decided to do. I figured that part of the usefulness of waiting to mix in the fruit after the first rise was to degas the dough; so after an hour rise when I should have mixed in the fruit I folded the dough as per Jeffrey Hammelman's instructions (I still had his book, Bread). I felt pretty cool about that.
To shape the dough for the loaf pans, I again pulled out Bread and followed his instructions. Seriously, without that book I would have done no shaping of the dough for the pans. I would have taken my blob of risen dough, cut it in half, and plopped each half in a loaf pan.
This dough was a lot of fun to work with, as it was all fluffy and risen and doughy. As a tactile person, I can see how bread baking could quickly become an addiction. You just can't get your hands in cake batter as you can with bread dough, and I really like to get my hands in things!
After a second rise the bread was ready to go into the oven. Like Marie, my bread was finished baking after only 30 min, and was even heading towards burnt in one place! The bara brith smelled so good; like cinnamon and cloves, like butter and fruit. I couldn't wait very long to try the bread. It was soft and moist; the citrus played off the spices and the fruit gave a nice burst of sweetness and texture.
I shared some with Cookie and her husband, and we ate it as a dessert at room temperature with lots of butter. I can see why it could be treated as a dessert, but it is also good toasted and buttered with a fried (or poached) egg for breakfast, and of course, it is great with tea!
Jeanette, I anxiously await your review of my Bara Brith. I have no idea how authentic this looks or tastes, but I can tell you it is one tasty bread. Thank you for sharing this Welsh treat with us!
For the recipe, and to see Marie's Bara Brith, please visit Breadbasketcase: Bara Brith
To see Melinda and Jeanette's Bara Brith, please visit Melinda's Kitchen Diary: Bara Brith