New Castle News

Lugene Hudson

October 28, 2011

Culinary Conversation: Irish bread becomes tradition of treasure

NEW CASTLE — Lorrie Boyle had a charming Halloween tale to share.

Last week, the New Castle resident mailed a wonderful letter explaining the origin of this week’s contribution. I had heard a similar version before that supposedly is linked to Irish folklore. And I’m guessing, even though this recipe has a Halloween name, that it could be made for any special occasion with a few clever twists.

Lorrie said she reflected on her childhood and mentioned that all four of her grandparents were born in Ireland — arriving through Ellis Island in the late 1800s to early 1900s.

“My family impressed upon me that the Irish brought Halloween to America,” she said.

Then she noted that she wasn’t sure if that was historically true. Nonetheless, it makes for a great story.

The fact that the recipe includes charms does ring an Irish bell, though.

The selection here was baked by her maternal great-grandmother, Margaret Kelly Monaghan.

“I wasn’t particularly fond of the bread except for the glazed top,” Lorrie wrote. “But I did enjoy picking through looking for the charms. I always wanted to find the ring, which was sometimes a washer from the hardware store.”

According to what Lorrie was told, locating the ring meant an early marriage. The dime meant wealth but an empty wrapped piece of paper indicated “you would be as poor as a church mouse.”

If a dried pea was found, the finder would never marry and a piece of broken matchstick meant the husband or wife would be a nag.

It’s wonderful traditions like these have been passed down.

So in the spirit of Halloween and of family legends, we present Lorrie’s Samhain (Halloween) Barmbrack.

Samhain (Halloween) Barmbrack

  • 4 cups white flour
  • 1⁄2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1⁄2 tsp. allspice
  • 1⁄4 tsp. nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1⁄2 stick butter
  • 2 tsps. yeast
  • 1⁄2 cup fine sugar
  • 11⁄4 cups tepid (room temperature) milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1⁄2 cup dried berries
  • 1⁄4 cup chopped candied peel
  • Charms:
  • 1 dried pea
  • 1 ring
  • 1 dime
  • 11⁄2 of matchstick (not the head)
  • (Wrap those separately in wax paper or parchment.)
  • Glaze:
  • 2 tbsps. confectioner’s sugar
  • 3 tbsps. boiling water
  • Sift flour, spices and salt together. Then add the butter. Cream the yeast with 1 tsp. of sugar and 1 tsp. of the milk. Pour the rest of the milk and egg into the yeast and sugar, and combine that with the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix well and knead until batter is stiff but elastic.
  • Fold in the dried fruits and peel.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place near warmth; dough should double in size.
  • Knead again for three minutes, then divide in half. Place in two 1-lb. greased loaf pans. Add the charms. Cover and let rise again for one hour. Dough should rise to top of pan.
  • Turn out to cool on wire rack. Top with glaze when cool. Slice thickly and butter.
  • Bread may also be toasted the next day.

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