Irish Fruitcake in Five Easy Steps

If you ask an Irish person what their favourite cake is they may well say Barmbrack or Tea Brack. It's a very rich fruit cake and is usually served sliced and buttered. Traditionally, it's eaten at Halloween, but my Irish friend always seems to have one on her table throughout the year. The name comes from an old Irish word brecc, or breac, which means speckled, and refers to the fruit. 

Barmbrack or Tea Bread

Credit: Frances Spiegel 2013

Thanks Mum - You Inspired Me

This recipe is inspired by one I found in my late mother's notebook. She wasn't Irish but this was still one of her favourite cakes. She used to laugh, saying she was no good at making cakes. I do remember some of her infamous bakery disasters. Strange though, her Barmbracks always turned out well.   

Mum's Notebook - Lots of Interesting Recipes

Mum's Notebook
Credit: Frances Spiegel 2011

Traditional Irish Fruit Cake

Traditionally, ingredients for Barmbrack (sometimes called Barm Brack) include all sorts of interesting added ingredients such as a stick, a piece of rag or cloth, a coin, a pea and a ring. Each person eagerly awaits their chunk of cake: what will they find in it? Each item predicts a certain state, that may or may not be happy.

  • Pea – If you find the pea you will not marry during the next twelve months.

  • Stick – If you find the stick, your marriage will be unhappy, and if you are not married, you will most certainly be involved in lots of arguments.

  • Cloth or rag – The cloth will give you bad luck or poverty!

  • Coin – Finding the coin means you will enjoy wealth and good luck.

  • Ring – If you get the ring, you'd better look round for a suitable partner because you'll be married within the year.

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Most Cakes Can be Adapted to Make Them Gluten Free

It's a really easy cake to make so I've adapted it to make it gluten-free. I've also given it an extra twist with a splash of Cointreau or sometimes I use Grand Marnier, both of which are definitely gluten-free. If you choose not to add the alcohol you'll need an extra 50 ml hot, strong tea. If you don't want leftover half bags of fruit you can substitute all raisins or all sultanas. You could also replace some of the raisins with dried cranberries or glacé cherries. Why not try different varieties of tea such as Earl Grey or chai? I don't usually add the stick and pea, but if you do be sure to wrap them carefully in parchment paper before adding to the mix.



  • 100 g raisins

  • 100 g sultanas

  • 100 g currants

  • 25 g dried apricots, cut into quarters

  • 25 g dates, stoned and quartered

  • 50 g candied peel or the zest of 1 lemon

  • 300 ml hot, strong black tea – if you're using the alcohol you will only need 250 ml tea

  • 50 ml Cointreau or Grand Marnier.

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

  • 225 g gluten-free self-raising flour mix

  • 200 g light brown sugar

  • 1 level teaspoon mixed spice

  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon   

Fruit Soaking In Tea

Fruit Soaking in Tea
Credit: Frances Spiegel 2013


  1. Put your fruit into a large bowl big enough to hold all the ingredients on the list.

  2. Pour over the hot tea and add the alcohol (if used). The fruit is left to soak for a minimum of two hours. I always leave mine to soak overnight so that the fruit is well plumped up and lovely and moist.

  3. Ready to Bake? Heat the oven to 180°C (350°F) Gas Mark 4.

  4. Line a 450 g (1 lb) loaf tin with grease proof paper, parchment paper or a loaf tin liner.

  5. Add the egg, gluten-free flour, sugar and spices, stirring the mixture really well. Pour the batter into the loaf tin and bake for about 1½ hours. Test the baked cake with a skewer or thin knife. If it comes out clean the cake is ready. If it's moist and gooey, put the cake back in the oven for a further five minutes and test again. Be careful – as you will see in the photograph – mine is slightly overcooked round the outside.  If you can resist temptation, leave to cool thoroughly on a wire rack before slicing. 

This cake keeps for about one week, wrapped in foil and stored in an airtight container.

I've also made it ahead of time and frozen it. Defrost thoroughly before eating, and don't freeze it again.

Serve sliced and buttered, slightly warm if you prefer, with a nice cup of tea.

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