Wake and Bake: Irish Tea Brack (Tea-Soaked Raisin Bread)
When people think of Irish baked goods, they often think of scones and soda bread. I love both those things, but the truth is that Ireland has an awesome bread baking tradition, ranging from hearty yeasted breads to fruit-filled quick breads. I'm such a fan, in fact, that I specially ordered a coarse ground Irish flour to make this brown bread—which I loved for its rustic texture and subtle honey flavor.
This year, I wanted to make a traditional bread but I didn't have the time to preorder the special flour (the 2 pound bag of which has long since disappeared.) So I turned to my trusty friend* Darina Allen and her book Irish Traditional Cooking.
*friend as in, I think she's totally awesome and would love to buy her a cup of tea
She says that brack comes from the Irish word brac, meaning speckled. The bread is speckled with dried fruit—in her three versions that includes everything from candied orange peel to glace cherries to currants. I wanted to simplify the flavors, to make it more of a breakfast bread, so I limited the fruit to raisins (though if you want to go one step further, a mix of purple and golden raisins would make a pretty presentation.)
The key to the bead is to soak the raisins in tea overnight. In the morning, you'll see the raisins have plumped up significantly and gained a bit of extra flavor. From there, the bread couldn't be easier. Simply stir together the remaining ingredients, pour the batter into a buttered loaf pan, and bake. I added a sprinkling of oats on top, but even that can be skipped. It comes out moist and lightly spiced, with lots of juicy raisins. Darina says to serve it buttered, though I'd just as easily serve it plain or with a dollop of jam.
A final note: I made the bread a few times, most recently in regular 1 pound, 8 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan, and more enjoyed the size/shape of the slices. The recipe gives the baking time for that pan, not the one pictured above.