Tag Archives: Welsh food

Bara Brith

Hello! After a rather long hiatus, we’re recommencing regular service. Let’s just say that my priorities were elsewhere over the last few months, but when the important moment arrived, everyone said “yes” at the right moment!

Today’s post is a piece of classic British baking. Well, more precisely, a classic from Wales. The name – Bara Brith – translates as “mottled bread” and you can see how it got its name when the loaf is sliced. It is packed with lots of sultanas and raisins, which are plump from having been soaked overnight in sweet tea.

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This is something of a teatime classic, and is probably at its best cut into slices and spread with salted butter. If you like jam or honey, then go for it, but I think simplicity is best. When you’re faced with a platter of very sweet treats, a slice of Bara Brith provides a nice balance. I’ve been taking slices of it when we go out for the day – it’s a great addition to a picnic, and robust enough to handle being carted up hill and down dale without any problems.

And this is definitely one easy recipe. Make your tea, mix it with sugar and dried fruit, and leave overnight to soak so that the flavour of the tea infuses the fruit. The next day, you add an egg, flour and spices, then mix and bake it. Given this, one of the great things about Bara Brith is that you can make it with things that you’re probably already got in the baking cupboard and the fridge, and beyond leaving the fruit to soak overnight, it can be whipped easily, so perfect to make when you’re expecting guests. Or at least, more modern versions allow for this – some recipes still suggest using yeast to make a light loaf, but I find that’s just a bit more work that relying on self-raising flour, and I like to keep things easy.

I’m sure that each Welsh granny has her family recipe which they swear is the best, but I’ve tried a few different versions of this loaf and settled on the one below – it’s got a high ratio of tea to fruit, sugar and flour, meaning that the batter ends up quite wet compared to others that I tried, but I think the secret to getting a soft, moist loaf. I tried a version that used more fruit and flour, and the result was drier and denser. Some might like it that way, but I did not. And as with most things, the more tea, the better.

For the tea, I had a rummage in the cupboard to see what we had. Earl Grey or jasmine would certainly give you a very aromatic loaf, but I went for my all-time favourite, a good, strong brew using Assam. If black tea is not your thing, then you could easily use something like rooisbos, green tea or any other infusion you like, or even just orange juice instead.

Finally, there is the question of whether you add other flavours – some don’t add anything more, while some recipes add orange or lemon zest, and others like to add some spices. I’m a bit spice fan, so I’ve added some Christmas mixed spices and extra cinnamon, but you can go with whatever you like.

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So how authentic is this? Well, I made it and served it to a Welsh friend, Lowri. I asked her to score it out of 10, and waited, secretly hoping for a 9 or even a 10.

Lowri mulled it over, and gave a sensible 7, on the basis that this wasn’t a family recipe that went back at least three generations. Fair enough!

To make Bara Brith (makes 1 loaf)

• 100g raisins
• 150g sultanas
• 150g soft brown sugar (e.g. muscavado)
• 300ml hot black tea (e.g. Assam)
• 1 teaspoon mixed spice
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 275g self-raising flour
• 1 large egg, beaten
• 2-3 tablespoons milk or orange juice

1. Put the fruit and sugar into a bowl. Add the tea, mix, cover and leave overnight to soak.

2. The next day, make the loaf. Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F). Line a 900g/2lb loaf tin with greaseproof paper.

3. Take the fruit mixture. Stir in the spices and the beaten egg, then add the flour and mix well. Add as much milk or orange juice as needed to make a soft batter. Pour into the loaf tin and smooth the top if needed.

4. Bake the loaf for around 50-60 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean. If the top looks like it is browning too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil.

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Filed under Afternoon Tea, Recipe, Sweet Things

Welsh Cakes

I realised recently that I don’t know many recipes that originate in Wales. I’ve done English, Scottish, Irish…even Icelandic. But no Wales, as yet. So here you go – Welsh Cakes!

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to admit that I’m not really sure what makes the perfect Welsh Cake. I can express an opinion on scones, and I know my stuff when it comes to a Victoria Sponge, but with Welsh Cakes, I’m not really sure what they taste like when bought, freshly made, from a little old bakery in the Rhondda Valley.

However, for a first attempt, I am frankly delighted with how they have turned out. These are little griddle cakes, made with quite a lot of butter and a good amount of currants and a dash of nutmeg. They are made with self-raising flour, so they puff up a little bit during cooking (not baking) to they become lighter, and they take on a rather attractive golden brown colour. Once cooked, they are rolled in caster sugar, and they taste best while still warm, so they are pretty easy to run off at short notice.

For my recipe, I did a little digging, and there is a bit of variety out there. Some use currants, some don’t. Some add nutmeg, others avoid it. But what I did see it that the common ratios  seem to be 8-4-3-3-1 (flour, butter, sugar, currants and an egg). I’ve stuck with those proportions (remarkably for me, I even measured in ounces for a change!) but I’ve put the amounts in grammes as well for our metric cousins. I also took the lead from Angharad at Eating For England, who thinks currants are an absolute must – and I agree – you need those little bursts of juicy sweetness. You can also read her lovely post about rediscovering a family recipe for Welsh Cakes here.

I’ve seen various shapes when making Welsh Cakes, but I think the fluted look if pretty nifty. Nifty, and an excuse to use a cutter set I acquired before Christmas. But I reckon that round is probably more authentic.

So here they are! Little Welsh Cakes, filled with plump currants, aromatic nutmeg, rolled in sugar and delicious while still warm with a cup of tea.

To make Welsh cakes (makes 18):

• 8oz (225g) self-raising flour
• 4oz (115g) salted butter
• 3oz (85g) caster sugar
• 3oz (85g) currants
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1 egg
• splash of milk

Combine flour and butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the currants, sugar and nutmeg. Add the egg and knead until the mixture comes together as a soft dough – add a tiny splash of milk if too dry. You won’t need much.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface, roll to just over 1/2 cm thick, and cut out circles (use a scalloped cutter if you have one, it looks nice, but a round cutter is just fine).

Put a griddle or frying pan onto a medium heat. Grease very lightly with a little butter, then reduce to low-medium heat. Put 4-5 cakes in the pan at the same time, and cook for a couple of minutes, then flip over. Make sure the pan is not too hot – you don’t want to end up with burnt outsides and uncooked middles!

Worth making? I really recommend these cakes. Quick and easy to make, and very tasty.

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Filed under Afternoon Tea, Recipe, Sweet Things