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Bara Brith – the yeasted version

Yeasted bara brith

Sliced whilst warm because I couldn’t resist (naughty!)

It’s funny how much life can change in four years. I last wrote about Bara Brith in 2013. In that post I said that I hadn’t enjoyed the yeasted version as much as the cake version of this traditional Welsh treat because of the denseness of the yeasted version.  The Bara Brith started life as a yeasted loaf, a treat that was made to cook in the dying heat of the traditional wood fired bread ovens. In latter years the cake version has become more prominent.

Since 2013 I have become obsessed with yeast cookery, to the extent of setting up a cookery school to teach others the joy of making your own bread at home. A friend mentioned Bara Brith to me in the school playground and it set my brain whirring with memories of that experiment that I staged back in 2013. I started to wonder why I hadn’t enjoyed the yeasted version as much as the cake.

I revisited the recipe that I used back in 2013 for the yeasted version and now with experience of baking wholemeal breads it occurred to me that it would benefit from being mixed a lot wetter than the original recipe specifies. Instead of the ¼ pint or 150ml of warm milk specified, I added ½ pint or 250ml milk to the flour. I also used a mix of wholemeal and white flour to lighten it up further. As an aside I used freshly milled Shropshire Soissons grain, because I am also obsessed with using my Komo mill at every opportunity, but I do realise that not everybody is as obsessed as me, so any wholemeal flour will be fine, although stoneground is always a better choice.

I am happy to report that this new experiment has proved that the yeasted Bara Brith can outclass the cake version every time. So, this recipe will get added to my Croissants and sweet dough class that I have on Saturday, I hope my students enjoy it as much as I do (NB. It’s even had the thumbs up from my girls!).

300g wholemeal flour (I used bread flour, but if you don’t have it then don’t worry)
250g white bread flour
1 sachet of easy bake yeast or 15g fresh yeast
8g (or 2 scant tsp) of fine sea salt
50g sugar (you can use caster or dark brown, whichever you have to hand, the dark brown sugar will make a richer loaf)
1 tsp mixed spice
25oml milk
75g butter
150g dried mixed fruit

Glaze:
40g caster sugar
40g water

Method
Place the flours in a large bowl. If using fresh yeast crumble it into the flour like you would butter into pastry. If using easy bake yeast just mix it in the flour. Add the sugar, salt and mixed spice and stir in.

Cut up the butter and add it to the milk in a small pan and warm to tepid, so that the butter is just melted.

Mix to a softly sticky dough. Cover with clingfilm and leave to stand for ten minutes.  Uncover and use the fold and stretch method to improve the gluten. To do this take half the dough, stretch it up and fold it over the top of the rest of the dough. Turn the bowl a quarter turn and repeat the stretch and fold. Keep repeating this until the dough starts to resist you or threatens to tear. Cover again and let rest for another ten minutes. Repeat the stretching  and folding. Cover and rest for ten minutes and then do one last round of stretching and folding. Also feel free to knead the dough however suits you best (but don’t flour the surface) or use a stand mixer.

Cover the dough and let rise until doubled in size.  Add the dried fruit and fold in until evenly distributed.

Butter a loaf tin. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and press gently into a rectangle with your fingers. Roll down from the longest edge, seaming the dough as you roll. Place the dough, seam side down, into the loaf tin. Cover with oiled clingfilm or a large inflated bag and leave to rise until it has proved. To test press a finger gently into the dough, if it comes back within two seconds it is ready for the oven.

Once you have shaped your loaf, preheat the oven, with a baking tray on the shelf to 200°c.

Place the loaf on the preheated baking sheet in the oven, mist with a few sprays of water (using a plant mister). Bake for 15 minutes, turn the oven down to  180°c and continue to bake for another 25-30 minutes until it sounds hollow when tapped on the base.

Whilst the loaf is cooking make the glaze. Put the sugar and water in a small pan and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved, then bring to the boil and simmer for three minutes until syrupy.

As soon as the loaf comes out of the oven, brush all over with the glaze. Leave the loaf to cool completely before enjoying spread with butter.

 

Bara Brith – the cake and the loaf

The cake version

The cake version

 

The loaf version

The loaf version

I have become a little obsessed with bara brith. A long time ago someone used to make our family a bara brith on a regular basis. It was delicious. It became a little less delicious when we heard that she mixed it in her bath.

There are two types of bara brith. The cake version and the yeasted bread version. Bara Brith translates from the welsh as speckled bread, referring to the currants, raisins and candied peel within each slice. The arguments about which is  the real bara brith rage on. History has it that bara brith would have been the last loaf put in the dying oven at the end of the weekly bake, adding the fruit to the bread dough to make it a more palatable loaf.  When raising agents came into regular use the bread became a cake.

The cake version is often a tea bread with the fruit steeped in strong cold tea overnight. This makes it a very moist cake that lasts for days. Spread with butter, it goes very well with a flask of coffee and a beautiful view.

The bread version, though, I have been having trouble with.  I initially tried a version from a traditionally welsh cookery book. This particular recipe asks for wholemeal flour. However, I found that the enriched dough became just to heavy to get anything more than a small rise, making for a heavy bread. It tasted OK, but the cake tasted better. However, I was determined to keep trying.  I found another recipe, and this one uses plain white flour. The rise was much more successful, but perhaps not authentic, traditional bara brith.  If anyone makes a bara brith bread (the yeasted version) that they enjoy then I would be very interested in their recipe.

At the moment I think my heart belongs to the cake version. It lasts for days making it a handy cake to have in the tin.  The bread is just a little too heavy, even when made with the white flour and if I want a fruit loaf then this one wins hands down.

I would be interested in your bara brith thoughts to keep the obsession alive.