Samhain & the Bairin Breac

The door’s on the latch
The turf burns red
Turn low the lamp
And go to bed.

For on this night
Them that’s away
Could be back again
Out of the clay.

They’ll come in the dark
To the warm turf
From the coul’ sod
And the wet surf.

And you in the loft
Can breathe a prayer
For the wakin’ dead
That’s gathered there.

From All Soul’s Night by John O’ The North

I love this time of year for so many personal reasons; October is a busy month of anniversaries and birthdays in the Carlos household, but I also love it because it is that time of year when Nature rears its head and says ‘Yah I know you love the sun in summer and snow in Winter, but hey look what else I can do!’ The sunsets in Autumn are so much more vibrant than those of summer; those crisp, clear evenings with the low light and the flaming orange skies, the darker mornings, the sound of leaves crunching under your feet, the abundance of the harvest bounty, the rewards of a spring and summer hard worked and the feasts that follow. Autumn is by far my favourite season and October my favourite month and that is before we even get started on folklore and myth and of course the brack!

I love that here in Ireland we have layered our history and created a rich culture of stories, myths and traditions. Our pagan past has been woven nicely with our Catholic ideals and we have been left with a wonderfully Irish festival that is Halloween and All Souls. I love Samhain, a celebration of the Harvest, the changing of the season, the coming and going of the dead and a nod to the Otherworld; to the banshees, the pucas and the souls of loved ones lost. I love this time of year and what symbolises it most for me, outside of bobbing for apples and wearing black bags fashioned into witch’s capes, is the bairin breac. A delicious sweet bread baked traditionally at this time of year, this speckled loaf’ even has its own traditions.

It was like an old school fortune cookie. Each baker would add items wrapped in grease-proof paper to their mixture: a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a coin and a ring. Each item had it’s own meaning; the pea meant the person who received it would not marry that year.The stick meant the person who received it would have an unhappy marriage, the cloth indicated poverty and the coin riches, while the person who was lucky enough to find the ring would be wed within the year. Now we just have the ring, partly due to Health and Safety, but also who needs bad luck brought to them in such a delicious bread!

Below is a tried and tested recipe from Sue Lawrence’s Book of Baking. It’s the best recipe I have tried yet and easy to follow. Sue based it on Darina Allen’s recipe from Irish Traditional Cooking and it’s gets the five star reviews from our clan every time.

Bairin Breac

Ingredients

  • 500g unbleached strong white flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground mixed spice
  • a tiny grating of nutmeg
  • 7g sachet of fast action/easy blend yeast
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 50g golden caster sugar
  • 150g currants
  • 50g sultanas
  • 50g chopped mixed peel
  • 300ml tepid milk
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar, to glaze

Method

  1. Place the flour, spices, yeast and salt in a bowl, rub in butter. Stir in the sugar, dried fruits and peel, then pour in the milk. Once combined, turn out on to a floured surface and knead for 10 mins until smooth. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with oiled clingfilm and leave in a warm place for 2-3 hours until risen.
  2. Lightly butter a deep 20 cm cake tin. Knock back the dough and shape into a round to fit the tin. Cover again and leave in a warm place for another hour or so until it has risen again. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 220 C/ Gas 7.
  3. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 200 C/Gas 6. Cook for a further 30-35 minutes. Loosely cover with foil during the last 15 mins of cooking to prevent burning. The cake is cooked when it sounds hallow when tapped underneath.
  4. To make the glaze, put 1 tablespoon of water in a small pan and bring to the boil. Add sugar and dissolve it over a low heat. Use this to brush over the top of the bread, then return it to the oven for 2 mins. Remove from the tin to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.
  5. The breac is gorgeous fresh with butter, but there is just something special about it a few days later toasted with melted butter and a cup of tea. But we’ll let you decide.

So whether you are leaving the door on the latch, trick or treating, praying for all souls or eating bairin breac toasted in front of a turf fire, we wish you all the best for Samhain.

Have a great one.

T xx

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