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Monday 5 July 2010

Bara Brith


I feel I should be doing more to plug Welsh food. Delicious Delicious Delicious was recently included in a feature on Cardiff-based bloggers for Wales Online, and I have been feeling a little naughty ever since then about the lack of any sort of Welsh focus on here whatsoever. Apart from those dragon cookies, of course.

Anybody else getting excited by such a huge pile of flour and spices?

I'm not about to start a monthly Welsh spot, or anything like that (it is hard enough keeping up with the pies anyway, quite frankly). I am an Englishman after all, and don't really know the first thing about Welsh food. I've never eaten laver bread (and probably never will), never made Welsh cakes (though I have bought them many times - one word: heaven) and I think cowl and stew are exactly the same thing. If you want to know about real, traditional Welsh cuisine, you would do better to ask someone else.

But still I feel like I should be including it on the blog. So I am left with little choice but to post my recipe for bara brith, or 'speckled bread', which is the only truly Welsh food I ever really make at all, and even that is only sometimes.

You will enjoy my tea cake. You WILL.

I tried to find out some more than what I already knew about this fruited tea cake (which was not very much at all) when I was asked to make one for a friend's wedding cake. Up until that point, I'd held rather a negative view of bara brith, as my only experience of it was at poorly catered buffets, the sort where stale sandwiches are arranged on disposable foil trays and garnished with hard-boiled egg halves, and the cheap paper napkins are coloured navy blue. You always find slices of sometimes buttered, dry, crumbly fruit cake (the 'bara brith', apparently) next to old Welsh cakes at these kind of lunch tables. I'll be frank: I never cared for it. So I knew I had to find a good recipe for the wedding cake I was making. Because let's face it: dry buffet cake doesn't cut the mustard at a wedding.

Like all 'traditional' foodstuffs, there are actually zillions of recipes for bara brith. Some contain eggs, some don't. Some are yeasted, and others use baking powder. Some are lightly fruited (the specks in the speckled bread are raisins), and some are heavy with tea-soused fruits. The only thing that recipes agree on is that the fruit should be soaked over night in tea. After that, anything goes. And of course, each of the recipes will declare itself 'the right way' to make a bara brith.

I was drawn to the recipe below for several reasons. One was the method - I like the way the sugar is added in two parts. This creates crystals in the tea loaf, which add interest to the texture. Another was the lack of yeast. Yeast is terrifying. But most of all, I liked this recipe because it comes from the Williams family of Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire. I have no idea who they are, but I love that kind of provenance.

Me being who I am though, I changed the recipe a little, and am giving you my version. If you want theirs, add less spice, and use weak tea, but for me, the tea flavour should be strong, and so should the spices.

Give this a go. It's so easy, and it's fat-free to boot. Let me know what you think!

Bara Brith

You will need:

350ml boiling water
3 tea bags
350g soft dark brown sugar (I sometimes use half dark muscovado sugar)
350g mixed dried fruit (use whatever you like - I like to add dried cranberries)
300g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 large egg, beaten

  1. Put half the sugar, the fruit and tea bags into a large bowl. Pour over the boiling water and leave over night.

  2. Next day, pre-heat oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin.

  3. Remove the tea bags and discard. Mix in the remaining sugar and then all the other ingredients. You should have a fairly wet and aromatic mixture.

  4. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for about one and a half hours, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean and free of crumbs.

  5. Allow to cool, and store in an airtight tin for a day or so before eating. Some people slice thinly and spread with butter, but I prefer a big hunk of this, and always plain.


  1. Would definitely love a slice of it with my cup of tea :)

  2. This looks and sounds delicious!!

  3. Dear Mr. P

    You melt my heart with your description of Welshcakes as 'heaven' - aren't they just! (And the only Welsh thing I ever make, despite all my Welsh ancestors.)

    The bara brith looks lovely, and I will indeed have to 'give it a go'.

    llawer o gariad (hope I have that right)

    from ChaCha

  4. Mr p! i have a draft email on my hotmail waiting to be sent to you regarding bara brith!
    but i was too scared to send it!
    oh i sooooo adore this post!

  5. I love how this looks like a taste explosion. Is the term 'party in ones mouth' too cliche? Because that's how I imagine it to be. It's like afternoon tea without all of the fuss of making a cup of tea. Although, I would secretly love it with a cup of tea. Yeah... it looks gorgeous 8-)

  6. I first heard of Bara Brith in a book of my mother's called Sainsbury's Teatime Favourites. (Happily I tracked down a copy on Amazon recently - I thoroughly recommend it).

    I'm all for regional cakes - apart from Welsh Cakes and Bara Brith I don't know of any other Welsh ones but if you do then I can't wait to see them on here!

  7. This looks delicious, I would love one slice right now!

  8. I would definitely go lighter on the spices, but you got me with "the fruit should be soaked over night in tea." Yeah, Baby!

  9. All those pics look so yummy!! I swear I feel like just tasting even the uncooked stuff lol

  10. Just found your blog via Not So Humble Pie. It's great to read a good British/English food blog. Can't wait to move back to a proper country! ps. v. concerned about your dislike of Yorkshire pudding...

  11. Made it yesterday and had it for breakfast this morning. FAB! Thanks for the recipe.

  12. It took me long enough to get around to it, but I finally made this for St. David's Day and it turned out splendidly. Definitely worth waiting for it to sit in the tin for a day, and excellent with or without butter. Everyone loved it, and the recipe is now firmly ensconced in the 'make this again' department.

    Thanks for the recipe Mr. P. - I wouldn't have done it without you.

  13. It's a pleasure, Cha Cha! I have to make one myself when I get home.

  14. How come your slices look like they came from a loaf rather than a 20cm round as stated in the recipe? did you bake in a loaf tin?- I prefer that and was wondering what size you would recommend (1 or 2 lb)?


That's what he said.

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