Top 8: The best barm bracks to enjoy this Halloween

During the annual Halloween hunt, we found excellent full flavours with an eye on tradition
Top 8: The best barm bracks to enjoy this Halloween

The annual hunt for the Top 8 barm bracks involved lots of foraging for new entrants. Picture: Larry Cummins

Our annual Halloween hunt for the Top 8 barm bracks involved lots of foraging for new entrants and testing of last year’s top markers to see if standards had been maintained. Our new team looked for and found excellent full flavours with an eye on tradition — a bread that is yeasty (bairm) fruity (speckled/breac) with a little spice, egg, butter, flour and a pinch of salt.

If it is labelled tea, traditional or fruit brack, it’s unlikely to contain the traditional yeast suggested in its original name. Instead, it has fruit soaked in tea, with baking powder and baking soda used as the raising agents. But there are plenty of bracks these days that have no yeast and still use the word ‘barm’. We also tried those this year as some of the best had no yeast and we didn’t want to exclude their deliciousness. 

Most of the bracks we tasted didn’t benefit from toasting, especially those with long sell-by dates and a sticky, claggy texture, which resulted in damp toast. A high fruit content meant some burned easily too. However, a toaster bag on a medium setting worked well. Microwaving makes brack limp.

Brack freezes well for bread and butter pudding on wintery days, and leftovers buzzed in a food processor can be used as a crumble topping for apples, pears and plums.

The Grumpy Bakers 920g €10

The Grumpy Bakers. Pictures: Larry Cummins
The Grumpy Bakers. Pictures: Larry Cummins

Without yeast, this is a boozy, generously fruited brack. Tea and whiskey-soaked fruit is paired with flavoursome flour and warm spices. There are rings in some bracks, and if you find one and bring it to the Grumpy Bakers café/bakery in Midleton or Washington St Cork, you will get a free coffee/hot chocolate. A perfectly delicious marriage.

Score:10

Hickey’s Bakery 1150g €11.30

Hickey's Bakery 
Hickey's Bakery 

This yeasty brack is packed with fruit and flavour. Sugar, egg and milk enrich the flour for a substantial slice which satisfied all tasters. It comes with a ring. Tops last year, one of the tasters ordered it online and brought it to her Sunday morning swim all winter. Online: hickeysbakery.com. The 600g €9.50 size is available at the Roughty Foodie, English Market, Cork.

Score: 10

Barrons Bakery 800g €6.20 (450g € 3.80)

Barron's Bakery large barm brack
Barron's Bakery large barm brack

Based in Cappoquin Co Waterford since 1887, this bakery’s light brack uses yeast and results in a nice balance of savouriness with the sweetness of sultanas and a little mixed peel. A decent crust tops it which tasters especially liked. This will suit those who prefer a light, bread-like texture and less fruit. No ring. Available in outlets within a 35k radius as well as at the bakery.

Score: 9

ABC Bakery 700g €4.20

ABC Alternative Bread Company
ABC Alternative Bread Company

The lightest in texture with yeast giving a good, bouncy rise. Packed with flavour, it has just the right amount of spices and plenty of fruit with good cherries. Tops with tasters.  An optional ring can be inserted into the brack on request. At English Market Cork and Dunnes Stores Cork, Dublin and Limerick.

Score: 10

Cinnamon Cottage 380g €7.95

 Tea-brack from The Cinnamon Cottage
 Tea-brack from The Cinnamon Cottage

With no yeast, this still has a traditional taste with brown sugar adding richness to eggs, sultanas and raisins steeped in tea, perfectly balanced with warm, autumnal cinnamon and mixed spice. The raising agents are baking powder and baking soda. Tasters kept coming back for more. This looks small and is pricey enough, but a thin slice goes a long way. No ring.

Score: 9.5

M&S Food 400g €3.50

Marks & Spencer M&S Bakery
Marks & Spencer M&S Bakery

Made exclusively for the Irish market, this is a good addition to its range of bread and confectionery. This yeasty bread has a good texture. It's light and flavoursome with a good balance of sultanas, cherries and mixed peel with warm spices. No ring. Good price.

Score: 8.25

Lidl Connell Bakery 440g €1.19

Lidl Connell Bakery 
Lidl Connell Bakery 

Produced in Northern Ireland, this yeasty brack pleased tasters for its good balance of fruit to crumb with a bread-like texture that worked well. Sultanas, raisins and enough mixed peel with no spices, which were not missed. Good value. Contains ring. The best price-to-quality ratio of the supermarket offerings we tasted. Good for bread and butter pudding.

Score: 8

Tesco Finest 454g €2.50

 Tesco Finest Barmbrack
Tesco Finest Barmbrack

A hint of Irish whiskey in the soaked fruit adds depth to this brack which uses yeast. Though light, there’s just about enough fruit, including cherries, for those who don’t like it dense. The spicing is light too — coriander, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, clove, fennel and nutmeg are listed and are well integrated. Contains ring.

Score: 7.5

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