Le Serre Nuove – Thoughts from Glasshouses

Food Stories and Recollections

Tales from Wales and Speckled Bread

Some things I have always found hard to resist, and most of my food memories growing up involve my Nan in some way or another. It is not necessarily the variety of the food, most of it was very traditional – e.g. meat, potato and veg sort of affair – and even pasta would be considered exotic. The thing was it always felt homely and always properly cooked. My parents considered me a fussy eater as a kid, I tend to thing that I just do not like badly cooked food and that was the case when I was young too, but my nan got me eating things (basically green veg) without so much hassle. I think I’ve mentioned before that she used to send me Welsh Cakes to me in the post whilst I was a student; they were always a great treat and something that never used to last long with either me or my housemates.

Bara Brith

But my favourite thing I’ve always got from her, and she always makes me one whenever I come down and see her, is Bara Brith. It is supposedly translated to ‘Speckled Bread’ and is a type of tea cake. It could be said that it is a variation on a Selkirk Bannock cake but it doesn’t have butter or milk in it, and likewise the Bannock isn’t soaked in tea or use eggs. Bara Brith originated, or so the story goes, from adding fruit to the surplus bread dough when baking once a week. Some also say that there are South and North Wales variants, I slightly disagree with this, but it is certainly true that the adapted recipe that my nan uses does originate from South Wales as way to bake the cake without using yeast to make it easier for industrial (i.e. miners) families to bake it. I think I actually prefer it this way too because it makes it a lot more richer. I am not sure whether there is any sort of originality in this recipe, I certainly know it is old, but how old I am not sure. To quote my Nan (yes, she did say that): “I got it from Mrs Jones, who used to live on Llandaff Road, a long time ago.” I am probably certain it is from either the late forties or early fifties when my grandparents used to run a grocery shop, as this was typical of the stories she used to tell me from those days. It is a simple recipe, but simply delightful.

Bara Brith – Speckled Bread

SimplesSoak Overnight

1/2 lb Dried Fruit (traditionally sultanas / currants) in 1/4 pt + 2 tablespoons of hot tea (any will do but try Earl / Lady Grey)

Next Day

4 oz Brown (or Demerara) Sugar

1/2 teaspoon of mixed spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice or cloves and ginger)

1 beaten Egg

8 oz of self rising flour

Mix all the above ingredients into the soaked tea and fruit. Grease a tin loaf (you may use parchment paper too) and preheat the over to 170°C. Add all the combined ingredients to the tin loaf and bake for one and half hours, ensuring that a knife can come out clean if inserted into the cake. Slice and serve with butter, with a pot of tea.


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