Halloween Customs and Traditional Irish Barmbrack Recipe

  • October 22, 2015
  • 0 Comment
  • Kate O’Shaughnessy

Did you know that Ireland is the birthplace of Halloween? Although it dates back to over 2,000 years ago, All Hallows Eve is still annually celebrated worldwide on October 31st. It is based on the Celtic festival “Samhain”. Samhain is an Old Gaelic word which loosely translates as “the end of summer”. It marked the end of the harvest season. During the winter months, darkness would reign over the Celt’s land. As food was the centre of the Celt’s lives, this was a significant day in their calendar.

At that time, winter was a symbol of death and the Celtic people believed that on October 31st, the veil that separated the living and the dead was at its thinnest. This meant that it was easier for the souls of the departed to cross over from the spirit world and roam around the world of the living.

Practices from the Celtic way of life are echoed through the Halloween customs that we are familiar with today.

Druids, who were Celtic priests, were held with high regard in Celtic society. On All Hallows Eve, the druids would light bonfires to keep evil spirits away while dressed in masquerades. Hence the reason people dressing in disguise on Halloween nowadays. It was also thought that the druids possessed psychic powers and could predict the future. This brought great solace to the Celtic people during the fearsome winter months.

In sync with the latter belief, one of the most prominent traditions in Ireland is the serving of “Irish Barmbrack” (bairín breac). Barmbrack is a sweet-cake made with yeast and ‘speckled’ with dried fruit.

This is usually served amongst friends and family. Everyone takes a slice of the Bambrack. There is great excitement when this happens as there are various items hidden throughout the cake which supposedly predict your “fortune” for the coming year.

Each item is supposed to carry a message for those concerned; to find a pea means you won’t marry over the next year, a small piece of cloth foretells poverty, a ring means one would be wed within the year, a matchstick to “beat your wife” warns of an unhappy marriage and a coin represents great wealth. While nowadays, it is unusual to find a Barmbrack that contains all of the above objects, the ring remains an ever popular addition in commercially produced Barmbrack.

Barmbrack is usually served sliced and buttered. It is perfect for those blustery evenings that are characteristic of October in Ireland.

So, this Halloween, carry on the tradition of our Celtic ancestors by making your own Barmbrack at home using Manning’s Bakery recipe:


1/2 cup lukewarm milk

1 tsp sugar
1 tsp fresh yeast
2 cups plain flour
1 tsp mixed spice, pinch salt
1 egg and 3 tbsp of butter
2 cups mixed fruit
(currants, sultanas, raisins, candied peel)
2 tbsp caster sugar

You can of course also mix in whatever “fortune-telling” charms you might like to put in yourself to add to the fun! Be sure to wrap the items in grease-proof paper.

How To Make:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (400°F / Gas mark 6).
  • Heat the milk.
  • Rub in the butter and allow it melt into the warm milk.
  • Cream the yeast with the sugar and add half the milk mixture.
  • Add in a beaten egg.
  • sieve the spice and the flour into a bowl.
  • Make a ‘well’ in the centre and pour in the yeast and the liquid mixture.
  • Dust a little flour over the liquid mixture and leave it in a warm place for around twenty minutes.
  • When the yeast has frothed up, pour in the rest of the liquid and cream the whole lot together into the dough.
  • Place the dough mixture onto a flat floured surface.
  • Sprinkle the sugar, raisins, candied peel, currants and sultanas and knead them into the dough.
  • Grease a large bowl with some butter and put the dough into it.
  • Cover the bowl with cling-film and leave in a warm place. It should swell in size.
  • Once it has doubled its original size, knead the dough again and shape it into your greased bread tin.
  • Lightly brush the top of the dough with some melted butter.
  • Place the tin in the oven and bake for 40 minutes. You can test the dough is ready by inserting a skewer into the centre and ensuring it comes out clean.
  • To add a nice shine to the finished product, you can glaze the top of the loaf with a mix of sugar boiling water. Do this when it is still hot.
  • Allow the loaf to cool on a cooling rack before cutting.




















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