Back to brack: Just add whiskey for an easy Halloween bake

Soak the fruit in whiskey and tea for the best result and add ginger for a spicy kick

We don’t have a whole lot of traditional Irish cakes, but those we do have, I nurture. This is a tea brack, in fact. The traditional barm brack was made with yeast like a bread, but this one was a more homely version, and the one we always made at home.

The original tea brack recipe I used came from a Theodora FitzGibbon book. In this, she offered a piece of advice that I have always followed: “My grandmother used to soak the fruit in half tea and half whiskey, which made it very popular with the gentlemen.”

Ignore the sexism, it just makes it better.

Here is my version. I am giving you the recipe for three loaves, you can divide it up accordingly.


Apparently in the first days of the Abbey theatre, Lady Gregory always arrived in the Green Room at Halloween with a large one she had made herself in Coole Park.

At Halloween various additions were added to the mixture (well wrapped in greaseproof paper), before baking. A pea signified poverty, a bean meant wealth on the way, a ring for marriage, a coin also meant wealth to look forward to, and a rag denoted taking the cloth, that is, religious life.

It is worth noting that one large brack cooked for a longer time in a Christmas cake tin (à la Lady Gregory) makes a wonderful moist Christmas cake. It won’t last as long, but that has never been a problem in our house.

Martin Dwyer is a chef and former restaurateur, now living in France, where he runs a chambre d’hôte.


Makes 3 x 500g loaf tins
775g sultanas
225g dried apricots
60g stem ginger (the one preserved in syrup)
2 cups tea (without milk) (a cup is about 175ml)
1 cup whiskey
450g dark brown sugar
450g flour
3 eggs
3 level tsp baking powder


1. The night before you make the brack, chop the apricots and the stem ginger in little pieces and put them with the sultanas and the sugar to soak overnight with the tea and whiskey.

2. The following day tip these with their liquid into a large bowl.

3. Beat the eggs.

4. Add the baking powder to the flour.

5. Stir in a third of the flour then a third of the eggs into the fruit, stir well to blend, then, alternately, add the rest of the flour and eggs. Add the charms, if using.

6. Butter the three loaf tins and line the bases with non-stick paper (or use non-stick cake liners).

7. Divide the mixture between the three tins.

8. Bake at 150 degrees Celsius (turn off the fan in the oven if you can) for one hour, then poke with a skewer to test if they are done. They will be very moist inside but should be cooked. Cook for a further 20 to 25 minutes, if necessary.

9. Take them out of the tins and cool on a rack.