Classic Irish Cakes

When it comes to baking it seems the Irish have less of a sweet tooth than the rest of us. Researching their cookery it was hard to find many traditional cakes listed; however we did manage to come up with three.

Barm Brack is a traditional Fruited Bread-cake, while Whiskey Cake and Guinness Cake make ample use of two of Ireland’s most popular exports. (By the way, it’s whiskey with an ‘e’ when it’s Irish!)

Barm Brack

There is some disagreement over the meaning of the name of this spicy Tea-bread. Is it yeast or leavened bread, or speckled bread? It can be made with yeast but one source says originally it was made with bread soda; it’s certainly speckled. Whichever, it tastes great.

The recipe we’ve chosen to give you here is for the quicker soda version, but please note, if you decide to experiment and use yeast instead, you should sing while kneading it. Maura Laverty, in her Cookbook, says singing helps you get the right rhythm to knead along to and that any song with a waltz beat is ideal!

You need to start this off the night before you want it.

  • A pot of cold strong tea, about 330ml (12fl oz)
  • 350g (12oz) sultanas
  • 110g (4oz) raisins
  • 110g (4oz) soft brown sugar
  • 250g (9oz) plain flour
  • 1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 level teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1 egg
  • Mix the fruit and sugar in with the cold tea and leave, covered, to soak overnight.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC, gas mark 4. Grease and line a 7” round deep tin.
  • Sieve the flour, spice and bicarb together.
  • Beat the egg with fruit mixture and then stir in the flour. Mix well but try not to break up the now-softened fruit or the finished product will end up sooty-looking rather than speckled!
  • One of the traditions associated with Barm Brack is the inclusion of charms, such as a ring for marriage, a coin for wealth, and a pea for plenty. If you want to add charms, now is the time, having previously wrapped them in greaseproof paper.
  • Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 1¼ – 1½ hours or until cooked.
  • Leave to cool before slicing and serving, thickly spread with Irish butter.
  • It can be kept for up to a week in an airtight container.
Whiskey Cake

Here’s another recipe that you need to start the night before.

  • 225g (8oz) raisins
  • Zest of a lemon
  • ¼ pint whiskey
  • 175g (6oz) soft brown sugar
  • 175g (6oz) butter, softened
  • 175g (6oz) plain flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • Pinch ground cloves
  • Icing
  • 225g (8oz) icing sugar
  • Juice of a lemon
  • Warm water as needed
  • Soak the raisins in the whiskey with the lemon zest overnight.
  • The next day, pre-heat the oven to 180°C, Gas 4 and grease and line a 7” tin.
  • Sieve the flour, baking powder and spices together.
  • Separate the egg yolks from the whites, and lightly beat the yolks together.
  • Beat the butter and sugar until light and creamy, then add the egg yolks a little at a time with a spoonful of flour for each addition.
  • Add the raisin and whiskey mixture bit by bit, alternating with the rest of the flour.
  • Whisk the egg whites until stiff and then fold them gently into the cake mixture. Don’t over-stir or you’ll lose the lightness.
  • Cook for 1½ hours or until firm to the touch, and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave on rack to cool.
  • While it’s cooling, make the icing by combining the sugar with the lemon juice and as much water as is needed to give a pouring consistency. (If it looks too runny, add more sugar.)
  • Pour the icing over the cake, a tablespoon at a time, so that the top is completely covered and the icing has dribbled over the edges. Some of the icing will run onto the plate you’ve cleverly put underneath but you can scoop that up and pour it on top again. Although the icing shouldn’t be so runny that all that is left on the top is a thin veneer! If it looks like that after a few tablespoons, add some icing sugar.

St. James’ Gate Guinness Cake

Now we can’t have a page about Irish cakes without mentioning Guinness!

The St. James Gate Brewery was founded in 1759 by Arthur Guinness; from there the black stuff with the Guinness name has spread to all corners of the world.

You can find a variety of recipes for Guinness cake, many of which contain chocolate and orange. This one, however, is simpler and more lightly flavoured, and was sourced from the Guinness archive.

  • 225g (8oz) butter
  • 225g (8oz) soft brown sugar
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 275g (10oz) plain flour
  • 2 level tsp mixed spice
  • 225g (8oz) raisins
  • 225g (8oz) sultanas
  • 110g (4oz) mixed peel
  • 180ml (12 tablespoons) Guinness
  • 110g (4oz) walnuts
  • Pre-heat the oven to 180°C , gas mark 4. Grease and line a 7” cake tin.
  • Sieve together the flour and mixed spice. Cream butter and sugar together until light and creamy.
  • Gradually beat in the eggs before folding in the flour and mixed spice. Next add the raisins, sultanas, mixed peel, walnuts, and 4 tablespoons Guinness, and mix to a soft dropping consistency. Turn into the tin and cook for 1½ hours.
  • When cooked, allow to cool before removing from the tin.
  • Prick the base of the cake all over with a fork and spoon over the remaining Guinness.
  • Keep cake in an airtight tin or wrapped in foil for 1 week – if you can resist! – Before eating to allow flavours to develop.

Leave a comment

Cake Baker