Irish Tea Cake (Brack Irish Tea Bread) Recipe
Moist dense thinly-sliceable fruit cake.
- Soak sultanas etc. in tea.
- Add sugar, spice, egg & flour.
- Takes approximately: 10 min work, 1.5 h cooking, 10 h total.
|Dried sultanas or mixed cake fruit
||approx 2 to 4
|Moist brown sugar (preferably muscovado or darker)
|Self raising flour
|Mixed cake spice
Oven. Kettle (or some other way of boiling water for making tea). Mixing
bowl. Knife to mix with. Scales (or just estimate). Bread tin (about
house-brick size). Baking paper (or reusable alternative).
- Brew tea using 400 ml of boiling water and approx. 2 to 4 teabags (more or fewer to personal taste preference).
- Put the 500 g of dried fruit in the mixing bowl with the brewed tea (minus teabags).
- Leave to soak for a minimum of 2 h but preferably much longer, e.g.
overnight or whilst out at work.
- Turn on the oven to warm up to 175°C (Gas Mark 4).
- Mix in the 200 g of sugar, the egg (shell removed) & the half tsp of mixed cake spice.
- Mix in the 250 g of self raising flour.
- Line the loaf tin with baking paper.
- Put the mix in the tin.
- Loosely cover with baking paper as a lid, allowing space for the cake to expand (unless one prefers a traditional burnt crust).
- Bake for about 1 h.
- Remove the baking paper lid (so that the top cooks into a crust).
- Continue cooking for about 30 min longer (it is ready when a skewer pushed into the centre of the cake does
not come out with dough stuck on it).
- Remove the cake from the tin & allow it to cool.
Extra Moist Version
Use 600 ml of water for the tea instead of 400 ml. The
result is moister than the traditional form, almost sloppy rather like
very fruity bread pudding, can take an extra 30 min to adequately cook and is difficult to cut into neat slices (but
quick shallow motions with a serrated bread knife work reasonably
well) but is very succulent.
Simply omit the egg. It works almost the same without the egg, especially in the extra moist version.
- Serve sliced like a bread loaf (i.e. parallel to the smallest face) with
slices about 1 cm thick and (optionally) spread with butter or similar.
- Don't overcook it because it does not taste nearly as nice when dried out
- It is also really delicious when sliced & eaten before it has cooled
from the oven. It is succulently soft & moist at this stage and the butter
melts into it.
tea bags can be left in during the fruit soaking for a slightly
stronger flavour but, if doing that, remember to take them out before
mixing in the other ingredients & cooking the cake!
- It can be made with less fruit or with white sugar which will be cheaper
but is less tasty.
tea is not good for making this cake. Even using white sugar, the
strength of colour and flavour is too low and the tea is almost
unnoticeable. Rooibos (red bush) tea is better, giving a pale russet
colour to the cake if white sugar is used, but still not as good as
normal strong black tea.
is common in English
to use the terms 'greaseproof paper' & 'baking paper' (or 'baking
parchment') synonymously. Recipes frequently instruct one to line tins
with "greaseproof paper" to prevent sticking; this very recipe had that
mistake for its first 11 years on the web. Really they should state
"baking paper". 'Greaseproof' paper is designed to resist oil seepage
and to be used for wrapping foods (e.g. in packed lunches and steaming
parcels) whereas 'baking' paper is designed to be non-stick and to be
used for preventing sticking whilst food is being cooked.
The confusion comes from greaseproof paper usually being much
cheaper and non-stick enough for most dishes so it got used instead.
However this cake is particularly sticky during cooking so some
greaseproof papers can end up badly stuck to the cake. It is preferable
use to baking paper. Alternative a reusable thin non-stick sheet can be
used but not a thick silicone rubber liner as that gives so much
insulation that the cake can still be essentially raw after 2 h.
keeps well (a week or so) for a moist cake with no special treatment.
For longer periods, it can be frozen wrapped in cling-film in a
domestic freezer, recovering almost perfectly when defrosted.
been asked by an overseas reader what 'mixed spice' is. It is a
traditional British mixture of spices typically used for making cakes.
It is composed of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice (pimenta). It
tastes primarily of cinnamon & nutmeg with lesser taste of clove.
If it or a similar mixture is not available, it can be missed out as it
is the least significant of the ingredients.
- A reader informed me that in Wales this cake is also known as 'Bara Brith'
(the same name, meaning 'speckled bread', has also been used for a
similar cake without the tea (I have come across this in Wales) & for a type of fruit bread (according
This recipe was passed down as a family recipe from my mother. She
copied it from her mother-in-law who in turn had obtained it from the
magazine of St. Mary at Stoke, Ipswich, in the 1950s. That is as far
back as I
have traced it. I knew it as 'Irish Tea Cake' as a child but the
of the recipe was 'Brack Irish Tea Bread'. The generic name I've heard
from friends is simply 'tea bread' or 'tea loaf' (not 'teacake' which
is a type of bun to have with tea rather than a cake containing tea).
The ingredients were originally specified as 1 lb of mixed cake fruit, 2 cups of tea, 1 cup of brown
sugar, 2 cups of self raising flour, 1 egg, 1/2 tsp mixed spice, and cooking
for 2 hours at "a low heat". I converted it from cups to grams &
ml because different countries have different ideas of what a typical 'cup'
size is. I guessed that it meant a full level UK tea-cup and it worked so that
is what I converted to the metric measurements above.
The extra moist version I made by accidentally
putting in too much water when making it for a party in 2010. I
took it anyway and was surprised to it produced many spontaneous
favourable comments! I guess it was not traditionally that moist
because it is not practical for either robust lunch box or neat cake tray.
The vegan version I invented for when taking cakes to an event with
lots of vegetarians & vegans. My first experiment was simply with
no egg prior to testing substitutes. To my surprise it worked fine with
no egg & no substitute. I wonder why the traditional recipe included egg.
it during part of the cooking to prevent burning the top I added
because I found that most friends preferred it without the
charring. A substantial amount of charring on the top was common
in the way I originally knew the cake.
The problems with greaseproof paper & with silicone rubber liners I
found when my local supermarket changed its formulation of greaseproof
paper from one that was just about non-stick enough to one which stuck
fast to the cake. Previously I had wrongly, like many, treated
"greaseproof" & "baking" papers as being synonymous and had simply
used the cheapest (supermarket generic greaseproof). I then experimented with alternatives.