Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Lazy Bakers Project: Bara Brith

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?

candied peel

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.

bara brith: the sponge after 30 min

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.

bara brith

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!

bara brith

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


  1. Anonymous28/3/09 14:23

    Sorry I haven't visited before, I honestly didn't expect to see that you had made our Bara Brith yet. I'm so pleased you enjoyed your visit to our little Principality, you weren't that far from where I live, which is just on the border with England, not far from Chester. Did you go there? Most overseas tourists do , as it is a Roman city, lots of Roman remains to look at, very interesting even to us who live so close to it. Your bread looks good, I'm sure it tasted good too as the texture looks light just as it should. It may be your lighting but the only thing I think you might find different in the local BB is that they are usually a little darker due to the spices used in the dough, such as cinnamon, Mixed spice etc. Otherwise yours looks better than mine! Thanks for making it. Jeannette

  2. now i guess i really need to bake this bread. i have been a serious slug when it comes to actually getting into the dough.
    your bread looks beautiful and your little hints about adding the peel earlier will help me along.
    i'm jini the laziest of the no rules gang. :)

  3. Your Bara Brith looks excellent! I think you have natural born bread skills you've been hiding away.

    I still haven't started my Bara Brith. I know I said I might get it done soon but work got in the way. Jeannette made hers ages ago and it is suppose to go up with my posting. (my apologies Jeannette)
    I am excited to make my own citrus peel too. The bought stuff here tastes soapy to me. So I will be evaluating whether it is worth making homemade citrus peel. I love orange candied peel dipped in chocolate...that is similar, yeah?
    Anyway, well done on the Bara Brith.
    I love your family excursions into Wales. There are really beautiful places in Wales...really!

  4. Jeanette, we didn't visit Chester which is surprising as my dad loves Roman ruins! Although our trip to Wales was short, it was one of my favorite parts of the trip. We drove through the mountains and it was so beautiful.

    My Bara Brith was on the light colored side, and the spices weren't very strong unless the bread was warmed. Maybe next time I should add more spices. Thanks for your kind words! I am so glad you introduced me to this bread. I will be making it again.

    Jini, hi there! This is a tasty bread, I'm sure you'll enjoy it! It was Marie's idea to mix in the fruit earlier, but you can attribute the folding idea to me ;) I'm glad we're all watching out for each other!

    Melinda, aw thanks! I don't know about natural bread skills, but I am really glad this bread turned out. Phew!

    That's the best thing about no rules; we can get to the project when we are ready for it. I am sure you will find that your peel is much better then anything that tastes soapy. Pretty much anything dipped in chocolate is great, but citrus and chocolate is wonderful.
    I can't wait to see and read about your bread, when you are good and ready to make it.

  5. I'm so impressed that you made your own citrus peel! You're not living up to the "lazy" part of the lazy bakers, are you? The bread looks great, and I'm sure your own citrus peel tasted so much better than the nasty stuff you buy around Christmas. I'm also impressed that you absorbed so much info from Jeffrey Hamelman. You must have read his book cover to cover.
    If the tactile part of bread-baking appeals to you, try Rose's ricotta loaf recipe, which she describes as being as soft and smooth as a baby's bottom, or something like that. It's delightful to handle.

  6. BBC, well, I think putting off our February project until the end of March does make me a little bit lazy. I highly recommend making your own citrus peel; it is SO much better and the leftovers have been really nice in my morning oatmeal.
    Jeffrey Hammelman's Bread is a really good read, and I'm glad I took the time to do so. I really wouldn't have thought to shape the bread for the loaf pan! Good thing we did that project first.
    I am really itching to get Rose's Bread Bible and when I do, that ricotta loaf will be high on the list. Thanks for the suggestion.

  7. Hey Jenn--

    I am going to try Rose's peel candying method--sounds like it's tons easier than the 14 different ways I've tried making candied citrus peel.

    A couple easier waysI to get the peel: One, just use a peeler. I've been doing this for getting really thin peel for marmalade. Two, for a thicker peel that includes some pith (better for candy), cut the fruit in half, along the equator, juice it really well (then you have juice!), and pull the flesh from the pith. If you want to remove more pith, cut the halves into quarters, lay them flat, pith-side-up, and scrape the pith off with a paring knife.

  8. Hi Chris, I was thinking of using a peeler but wasn't sure if it would take all the peel. What you suggest is pretty much what I did, except I cut all the fruit out of the middle in one big blob, then cut the peel into halves, quarters, or even eighths if need be. I cut the pith off with a sharp paring knife instead of scraping it off, but it all seemed to work out well. The grapefruit was a little more difficult than the lemon and orange as the skin was so thin and tore a bit.

    Hope you like Rose's candying technique!