Caroline Workman's wonderfully moist fruit bread is one of Northern Ireland's most popular traditional specialities
  • Rating:
  • Serves: 6-8
  • Cook Time: 50 minutes
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes plus soaking and rising
  • Effort: medium


For the fruit

  • 350 g sultanas
  • tepid water, enough to cover the sultanas
  • 1 lemon, juice only

For the dough

  • 450 g organic/stone-ground strong bread flour
  • pinch salt
  • 15 g fresh yeast, softened with 1 tbsp tepid water
  • 280 ml milk, at room temperature
  • 50 g butter, softened
  • 50 g sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten

For the topping

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander, or mixed spice

Tips and Suggestions

The trick for flavour in this recipe, from Robert Ditty, Northern Ireland's best-known baker, is to soak the fruit in a liquor of tepid water and lemon juice, and to rub a mixture of cinnamon and butter onto the hot cake so that it seeps in to flavour the cake and create a lovely glossy sheen on the cobbled surface. If you'd like a particularly rich version, you can also add toasted hazelnuts to the basic recipe.


1. To prepare the fruit; soak the sultanas in the water and lemon juice for 30-45 minutes, then drain off the liquid.

2. To make the dough; put all the ingredients into a mixing bowl and bring together with a spatula or wooden spoon.

3. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 15 minutes (preferably by hand, but you can use a dough hook on an electric mixer). Kneading develops the gluten and protein in the dough, giving it the elasticity to rise.

4. Put the dough in a bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and leave for about 1 hour, until the mixture has risen and fills the bowl.

5. Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured board. 'Knock back' (knead), adding the soaked fruit and kneading the dough until the fruit is evenly spread throughout.

6. Place in a 20-23cm buttered cake tin and cover with a damp tea towel.

7. Leave in a warm place for about 20 minutes until the mixture rises up to the top of the tin.

8. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6.

9. Bake in the centre of the oven for 50 minutes until cooked.

10. To make the topping: cream the butter and spices together until soft.

11. Remove the barmbrack from the oven, and immediately spread the spiced butter on top.

12. Leave to cool.

13. Serve barmbrack sliced with lashings of butter. It is also delicious with blue cheese. Toasted, the fruits caramelise and absorb butter wonderfully. If it's not quite as fresh as you'd hope, this loaf makes an excellent bread and butter pudding.

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