Ireland’s deep-dark secret: tea brack

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I know, I know, this looks like – gulp – fruitcake.

Not only that, it has – double-gulp – DATES in it.

Are you still with me?

Thank you! You wouldn’t believe the moaning and groaning and eye-rolling that goes on around here whenever I make something with dates or raisins or currants or any of those other “icky dried fruits.”

Like prunes – which this bread includes as well.

Are you STILL with me?

Then you’re in for a treat. Irish Tea Brack is reminiscent of banana bread in its moist, dense texture. But its taste (and deep mahogany color) relies heavily on its fruits: the aforementioned raisins, currants, dates, and prunes.

And whiskey, if you’re so inclined. Hey, you have to soften the fruits in SOMETHING, right? The original recipe calls for a thorough soak in hot brewed tea; but a few tablespoons of harder stuff is never amiss.

Wednesday is St. Patrick’s Day; it’s time to throw off winter’s cold shackles and celebrate warmer weather ahead. But while we’re waiting for spring to arrive, there’s still time to cozy up in an overstuffed armchair with a cup of tea, a good book, and a slice of brack.

And where does the “brack” in this recipe name come from? It’s an Anglicized version of Breac, the Gaelic word for “speckled” – which perfectly describes the look of this fruit-filled bread.

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Traditional Irish-style wholemeal flour (left) is coarsely milled from red whole wheat. White whole wheat flour (right) is more finely ground, though it still retains a gently speckled appearance from the bran. I decided to try both types of flour in this recipe, to see the difference in the final product.

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Between the whole wheat flour and the various fruits, the color theme here is definitely BROWN. Measure out the following:

1 cup raisins, packed
1/2 cup currants, packed
1 cup pitted prunes, snipped into small pieces
1 cup chopped dates

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Place the fruit in a heatproof bowl.

Brew 1 cup of strong, hot tea. Irish breakfast tea is a good choice; but of course, use whatever type of tea you like. You absolutely have my permission to use green tea, white tea, jasmine, Celestial Seasonings Sleepy Time… whatever’s your favorite. Mind you, anything beyond black tea is untraditional for this bread, but as I always say – the Baking Police have left the building.

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Pour the tea over the fruit, stirring to combine. Set the mixture aside to cool to lukewarm, uncovered; it’ll take about 1 hour to cool.

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Here it is, an hour later; notice how the fruit has softened, and the mixture has thickened.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease an 8” round cake pan. The pan must be at least 2” deep; measure to be sure.

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Stir together the following:

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2 cups Irish-Style Wholemeal Flour or King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

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Add the dried fruit, and any remaining liquid.

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Stir till thoroughly combined; the batter will be thick and stiff.

Add 1 large egg.

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Mix till thoroughly combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and mix again.

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Spread the mixture into the prepared pan, patting it right to the edges. Do as I say, not as I do!

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So I thought I’d make two of these breads side by side: Irish-style flour on the left, white whole wheat on the right. You can see that the white wheat is just slightly lighter in color.

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Sprinkle the top of the loaf heavily with coarse white sparkling sugar. For those of you uncomfortable with throwing all caution to the winds, I actually measured how much I used: 2 1/2 tablespoons.

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See? Be generous. This coarse sparkling sugar is both tasty, and pretty.

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We’ve got about 1/2” clearance here; that should be sufficient to accommodate the rising loaf.

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Bake the bread for 60 to 70 minutes, till a cake tester inserted in the center comes out moist, but without clinging crumbs.

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This is why you need a pan that’s at least 2” deep!

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Remove the bread from the oven, and turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool. Don’t slice till it’s lukewarm, at least; and it’s actually better to wait till it’s cool, to prevent gumminess.

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Irish wholemeal flour on the left; white whole wheat on the right. The white wheat loaf is slightly lighter in color, and rose slightly higher.

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But it’s all good, eh?

Brew a pot of tea; pick James Joyce’s “Ulysses” off the shelf; snuggle into your comfiest chair, and settle in for a virtual trip to Ireland, ca. 1904. Smackwarm, indeed!

Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Tea Brack.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. christina

    It’s in the oven now. I have no idea what possessed me except an overwhelming desire to use up some prunes I had from another recipe. I’ll let you know how it comes out and thanks for the sudden baking inspiration!

    Reply
  2. sugar plum

    Oh dear this sounds jus like a recipe im looking for…oh i love the idea of dates…am all with u sweets…
    cheers and happy sunday and st.Patricks day too….

    Reply
  3. cindy leigh

    Looks great! And I love all those dried fruits. If using white whole wheat, maybe a couple to Tbsps of bran could be added to make it more like the original Irish whole-meal flour ? (or what else- I’ve got wheat bran, wheat germ, cracked wheat, etc)
    Am I missing something, or is the yolk the only fat?
    Earl Grey is my favorite tea, I wonder how that distinctive taste might work out.
    This seems like something I could use on my Healthy Eating Plan (hate the D word!)- whole grains, fruit, low fat, not too much sugar. You are right the egg yolk is the only fat. The wonderful dark fruits are what gives it it’s “fat” mouth feel. I think Earl Gray would work well. You could add a bit more bran if you wished, but may need to increase the liquid slightly. Play with it . Have fun! Mary@ KAF

    Reply
  4. cindy leigh

    On second reading, it kind of reminds me of a recipe I have for Boston Brown Bread- baked in a large vegetable can. B&M makes the (canned) original. My recipe uses whole wheat, non fat yogurt, raisins, and molasses. Delicious and healthy. Great with low fat cream cheese.

    Reply
  5. Nora

    Looks great! I love fruitcake, and I’m on a mission to convert all the naysayers. I’ll definitely give this a try this week. By the way, I made the pistachio pound cake from the most recent Baking Sheet..delicious! I can’t believe I’ve survived this long without pistachio paste. I could eat it straight from the can!

    Reply
  6. AJ

    Faith and begorra! This looks and sounds tops…give me a
    choice between a date and a chocolate chip…I’ll pick the date every time!

    Aye, and I can see by your name, AJ, that you’ve a touch of the Emerald Isle in you – Happy St. Pat’s, from someone whose grandfather came from Donegal- :) PJH

    Reply
  7. HMB

    No eye-rolling in this house! I love the icky-sticky stuff myself. This tea brack looks scrumptious. And with all the dried fruit and whole grain this has got to be loaded with fiber — so there are some health benefits to this indulgence!

    Reply
  8. Lish

    Dates and prunes are among my children’s favorites foods. I think I will have to make this so we can have it for dessert on Wednesday. I bought the wholemeal flour recently to make Irish brown bread, to go with the corned beef and cabbage, and I loved it, so I will be using that. Thanks for a great idea, and so well timed with the holiday. I am thinking a little smear of cream cheese on this would be a great breakfast treat!

    Reply
  9. Julie

    Yum! I’ll definitely make this soon with whiskey and walnuts added. And substitute Yeats for the Joyce. ;) Thanks for a great-looking recipe! Happy St. Paddy’s!

    Reply
  10. JuliaJ

    I have some of KA’s Favorite Fruit Blend leftover from the holidays. This recipe is a perfect opportunity to finish it up. Looks like about 18 ounces of “add-ins”?? Maybe I’ll supplement with some nuts…

    Reply
  11. Marianna

    I am a big fan of date nut bread. How does this compare in taste and texture other than the obvious lack of nuts? I will be cooking up a storm this week to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and since I have most of these ingredients in the house already, I will give it a try and let you know what we think. Erin Go Bragh!

    Erin go bragh indeed, Marianna. I’d say it’s not as sweet as date-nut bread, with more complex flavor from the tea and variety of fruits. And every bit as moist. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  12. Allan

    No frosting, no bright colors, no stuck on sugar decorations. Its a real adult dessert. Not sure I’d use the whiskey soak but it looks like the kind of cake we used to have with a hot whiskey on a cold night. This gets made this week as soon as I get the dried fruits. Happy St. Pats day to all.

    And I have to add… pistachio pound cake…pistachio paste…wow that sounds good.

    Reply
  13. Cathy in MD

    This looks like just the thing to bake Tuesday night to take into work for St. Patrick’s Day. It should be great with coffee. We’ll see how many people complain about the dried fruit. :)

    Reply
  14. Jennifer

    Of course you put up this recipe after I have ordered AND received my goodies from you. I guess I’m going to have to start a new shopping list for next month. I figure I’ll need a new bag of cocoa powder by then. But I will try it with the Whole White Wheat flour first. And I have friends over on Weds.

    Reply
  15. KathiD

    This looks GOOD! The only fruitcake I ever liked was the one my mom made, and this reminds me of it. She used raisins and nuts and I’m not sure what else, but it’s more about what she didn’t use–those yukky cherries and pineapple and mystery fruit. It was more like a nutty, fruity, spice cake than the wet, gloppy, heavy ones I’ve seen.

    Reply
  16. Luanne

    What about a gluten-free version?
    We haven’t developed one for this recipe. You’ll have to experiment but try using our gluten free baking blend plus a scant ½ teaspoon of xanthan gum per cup of GF flour. Xanthan gum is the “glue” that steps in for gluten, holding baked goods together. Use a mixer to thoroughly beat the dough, which adds air to the batter, producing a lighter-textured baked good. Let us know how it comes out. Molly @ KAF

    Reply
  17. Beth

    Thanks, PJ. I tried to post a comment yesterday afternoon, but it must not have gone through. I made 2 different kinds of tea brack last week; the first I soaked a combo of dried peaches, apricots and plums (we Southern belles are too delicate to have the word “prunes” pass our lips), soaked almost 24 hours in Irish Breakfast Tea. Yummy. The other recipe called to soak the dried fruits in an almost equal mixture of Irish tea and Irish whiskey, also at least 12 hours. Both recipes came out great, were very moist, and probably taste like a great fruitcake ought to taste. I was amazed at how all that liquid could be absorbed. Everyone ought to try tea brack.

    Reply
  18. Tonia

    Oooh! I have all the ingredients for this; think will make this tuesday night to have on wednesday while I work at the bookstore listening to Celtic music drinking my Irish breakfast tea!

    Reply
  19. Suzanna

    Out of my best dates so haven’t tried it yet but what is wrong (icky) about sticky sweet things like dates and raisins?

    You got me, Suzanna, I love them – but many people don’t. I tried sticky toffee pudding once, and people were just giving me the big EWWWWW…. PJH

    Reply
  20. EmpressQueenB

    This came out great. So great in fact, my dog got into it last night and finished it off! It was sooo disappointing to come down this morning, happily thinking about toasting a slice to have with tea only to find it gone.

    Reply
  21. Pogria

    What a terrific recipe. I’m going to make it with Earl Grey tea.

    Are you going to give the yeast version, Barm Brack, a try?

    It is gorgeous.

    No barm brack this year, Pogria – thought I’d start with an easier version and move up! PJH

    Reply
  22. Bridget Molinari

    Ireland’s deep dark secret: tea brack ~ just caugt my eye! play by play pictorials & receipe are great. I have King Arthur Flour, just need a few other ingredients and our Indiana family will be enjoying this new receipe on St. Paddy’s Day. First time on King Arthur website, this is now on my favorites. Enjoyed Nat’l Maple Syrup Festival and Sweet Victory Challenge sponsored by King Arthur ~ I will no longer use any other brand, there is a difference. I recently used King Arthur Flour to make a dessert using King Arthur Flour and pure maple syrup …there is a difference. The sweet victory challenge was grand to watch with all the celebrity chef’s and guest judges!

    Reply
  23. Maureen

    Oh, my, but it smells good in the house now! I added a couple of splashes of Kentucky bourbon (lacking any Irish whiskey in the cupboard) along with the black tea. If the batter is any indication (the baker has to lick the spoon, right?!), this will be the hit of the Saint Patrick’s festivities.

    My Irish grandmother would be proud; I haven’t made anything other than scones and soda bread for ages, and this looks much more authentic. Those sticky fruits are favorites in our family. Thanks for a delicious and traditional Irish treat!

    Reply
  24. Veggie Virginia

    I have some Graham flour, would that be similar to the wholemeal flour?
    HI VV,
    Unfortunately the Graham flour is low in protein so it won’t add much to the structure. It’s best to stick with the wholemeal for this one. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  25. Carol

    Baked this yesterday for St. Paddy’s. I baked in 2 small bake-and-give pans and 2 mini loaf pans. To Veggie Virginia: The recipe in KA Baker’s Companion lists graham flour as the first option followed by a combination of white whole wheat and whole wheat pastry, so I think it would work fine.

    Reply
  26. kathy

    I baked a gluten free version of this today. First let me caution you to not use too much liquid. As always, if the batter is too wet, it makes the final product sticky (which is what I did today). I also think that baking it in two smaller pans would help the center-stickiness issue.
    The flour mix that I used is based on the KAF mix, but I did not want to wait for it by ordering it for this. I used sorghum flour in place of 1/3 of the brown rice flour and used 1 Tablespoon of flaxseed in place of the mix when measuring the total amount for the cake. I also added 2 Tablespoons of xanthan gum.
    The taste is very good, even if the texture is not perfect. I will make it again with the modifications that I mentioned.

    Reply
  27. Lish

    This was absolutely delicious. My near 2 year old and near 3 year old have eaten most of the loaf. They keep asking for the fruity tea bread. A treat I don’t feel bad about giving them is wonderful. I think I will be making this frequently. The fruits are so sweet tasty and tender. I even used brown sugar splenda blend and it was fantastic. Don’t hesitate to try this!

    Reply
  28. Marianne

    I baked this in 2 loaf pans, thinking to give one away. Instead, I decided to horde it all for myself and just pulled the second one out of the freezer today. I soaked my fruits in spicy orange herbal tea.

    Reply
  29. sugar plum

    I tried this one and KAF ,u rock guys….i has to sub a few ingredients and tried it with fruity green teas….way way way good….
    My pics are here:-)))
    http://brightmorningstarsfoodie.blogspot.com/2010/03/irish-regional-fest-for-stpaddys.html

    infact tried the chocolate beer cake too,both the cakes were super and even with a mistake they were real good…thats how super ur recipes are and totally fool proof….

    And with absolutely no fat…i doubled the dates coz no prunes and this was delicious n moist….guess its the soaked fruits that make it so so good-like a really good fruit cake …thank u MARY JANe

    Reply
  30. carole

    hi is the flour you use bread flour or self raising.i live in england and am not familiar with american flours.thankyou,carole

    Neither, Carole – I think our all-purpose is what you call “plain flour.” No leavening, and lower protein than bread flour. Thanks for connecting here. :) PJH

    Reply
  31. AF

    Hey, as an Irish girl, I can tell you a few things about Brack. We always have it at Halloween and it’s tradition to put a ring in the mixture and there’s always great competition to find it. It’s perfect with some proper butter on a slice. Yum.

    Reply
  32. Lauren

    These kinds of recipes usually lend themselves splendidly to gluten-free adaptations. My husband is Celiac so I think I might try it as this looks SOOOO yummy. The substitution would work well (i think) with 1 cup brown rice flour, half a cup of tapioca starch, half a cup of soy flour and 2 tsp of guar gum/xanthan gum. A couple of tablespoons of flax meal would give it that whole-wheatiness. Of course, i’m not sure if it’ll turn out but i’m going to give it try.
    Let us know how this works for you. We are still new in the gluten free area of baking so it is wonderful for those of you who have been baking gluten free to share with us. JMD @KAF

    Reply
  33. Mary

    Happy to see the folks at KA drink fair trade tea from Equal Exchange!

    Indeed, Mary – we try to “do the right thing” on multiple levels… Thanks for noticing! PJH

    Reply
  34. Blessed Herbs

    Thanks for sharing your recipe! I would really try this at home. Pretty excited to make this one and share it with the family. Maybe add some brandy and nuts to add to the taste.

    This indeed is a healthy food and is a good treat for everyone on Christmas. I would also share this recipe to my friends and ask them to give their comments or even visit your page to know more.

    All the best!

    Reply
  35. dixiegrassl

    I made this delicious bread near St Paddy’s day and loved it.
    Cream cheese is a natural spread for it.
    Put it on my “to do ” list for Christmas holiday. Problem being it turned out dry. I used regular flour the second time around. Could that make it seem dry?

    Not sure what you mean by “regular” flour – white flour? If so, that shouldn’t have made the difference in and of itself. But it’s probably that we’re in the heart of winter, and everything is drier – including flour. I’d say add 2 additional tablespoons tea, and be sure you don’t over-bake; that should help. PJH

    Reply
  36. Eileen

    We grew up on tea brack but always called it mom’s raisin cake, but knowing it was her mother’s recipe (Roscommon). It wasn’t until June when I was in Ireland that I saw it for the first time there and learned its real name. We always made it with coffee, but I started to make it with the brewed Irish tea.
    Everyone loves it!

    Reply
  37. Lisa

    Not that it’s needed but I made some date jam to go with it and WOW. 1 pkg (8oz) pitted chopped dates, 1/2c water, 2T almond extract or Amaretto. Put into sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Simmer 2 min. Let cool down and puree. Is so good on everything. Even meat.

    Reply
  38. Lynn

    Oh ny happiness! SOOOO good!
    But how I wish you would put the nutrition info with your recipes (even if we had to click on a link to get it.)

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      We wish that, too, Lynn – we simply haven’t had the personnel to accomplish that, what with all of our proprietary ingredients. That said, we ARE working on a solution. Thanks for your feedback – PJH

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