Because I’ve been to Ireland so many times – somewhere in the 12-15 range, I think – I wasn’t anticipating a lot of revelations to come out of my trip to Ireland. But live and learn.
And what I learned is that barmbrack, or brack, is actually a cake that I love and that was known in my family as Daddy’s Favorite.
Here’s how this was revealed.
While my sister and niece cleaned out Molly’s student digs, my friend Shelly and I wandered around Claddagh and stumbled across a little art center and odd-bit shop (jewelry, scarves, lawn statuary, antique fireplace tiles – of which I came away with one to use as a trivet) in an old, thatched roof cottage. It was a gorgeous day, and we decided to have a cup of tea out in the garden. Would we like a slice of brack with that? Well, yes, we would.
I knew vaguely what brack was – something sort of fruit cake-y – but, in all my trips to Ireland (12? 15?), which included many, many, many cups of tea, I had never had a slice of brack.
Sitting in the garden of Kate’s Claddagh Cottage, I took a bite of brack and said, “Hey, this is Daddy’s Favorite.”
Oh, this recipe used Guinness. Our family recipe had walnuts. But, damn, Daddy’s Favorite was, indeed, brack.
This should not be a surprise. My father was an Irish-American, and the recipe was probably my grandmother’s by way of her County Louth mother or County Mayo mother-in-law. Still, I had never thought of Daddy’s Favorite as something Irish. I do know that I’ve made it at least once in the last decade or so. I just went and dug out that recipe, written in my mother’s hand, and I’ll be making it soon. And having it with my afternoon cup of tea.
When I first started going to Ireland, there were plenty of aha moments like this: the way people looked, their speech patterns, the way they gestured, the way they pronounced certain words (like the name MAUR-een). It was all very familiar. After all, I’d grown up in a largely Irish-American neighborhood, where most of the “grown ups” were the children or grandchildren of Irish immigrants.
Still, the brack was a pleasant surprise.
As was the discovery of something called a Baby Guinness. Which has nothing to do with Guinness but which does look quite a bit like a pint. A Baby Guinness is a shot glass about 90% full of Kahlua, with a layer of Bailey’s on top. That’s Baby Guinness, standing next to a pint. Having had a few pints during my week+ in Ireland, I will say that the head looks too white. The tannish-head on the Baby Guinness looks a lot more like the real thing.
In any case, the Baby Guinness was yummy. And while it’s tough to find a good pint of Guinness in the States – I do understand that the Burren in Davis Square in Somerville pours a decent pint – I suspect that it’s easy enough to find a Baby Guinness. Not that I’ll be out looking for one. But as a one-shot, it was a fun and tasty little drink to try.
Brack and Baby Guinness. Two pretty good take-aways for an old Ireland hand…
Pour 2 cups of boiling water over 1 pound of raisins. Cool. Add two teaspoons baking soda to raisins and water.
Mix 2 cups sugar, 2 tablespoons shortening (not specified, but I bet Liz used Crisco), 2 eggs
Add raisins and water. Mix well. (Liz instruction aside: “I usually add first the water, and hold the raisins until I have added the flour.”)
Add 3 cups flour. Mix well.
Add 1/2 cup walnuts.
Bake for approximately 1 hour. (Either 350 or 375, “depending on your oven.”)
Use 13” x 9” greased and floured pan.
It wasn’t specified on the recipe card, but you can dust the cooled cake with some powdered sugar.