Being Irish has its peculiarities. LOTS of peculiarities. GAA on a Sunday, Cadbury’s Roses at Christmas, mass on Saturday evening, freckles, an ability to talk about the weather like it’s a sport and we are the Olympic champions, a massive sense of indignation and a take on the english language that is frequently misunderstood to be a different language entirely by foreign ears. A mere snapshot at the world I grew up in and all of the small things that quietly tinkered away in the background as I was getting taller, louder and hairier 😉 ! Also there in the background, a quiet, solid constant was tea brack. Enter the dark horse.
When I was a kid, treats were sweets, chocolate, crisps and ice-cream. Dried fruit? Protein bars? Nah. There was none of yer fancy vegan, paleo or natural food nonsense. If you showed an appreciation for a raisin, you’d be ousted by the other kids as a weirdo. Tea brack and fruit cake were for the adults, along with yucky marzipan and trifle. So you see, I never had any appreciation of these things back then. But then, I wasn’t running marathons when I was six either 😛
This summer, I took part in the Howth Aquathon Race Series in Dublin bay and after every one of these races, the organisers had a table full of freshly chopped fruit, squash, tea and good ole traditional tea brack. And it was gorgeous. I wolfed down a slice of brack after the first race and looked forward to the other races, just so I could have another slice of brack. It was that good. Suddenly, I’d found an appreciation for it.
Tea brack, it turns out, is perfect to have either before, during or after running (or a triathlon race for that matter…). It’s choc full of carbohydrates, easy to digest and is doesn’t do horrible, ungodly things to your stomach AND it tastes delicious. Even better, it’s a doddle (and cheap) to make.
My Gran was an expert fruit cake baker, maker, icer. The master of all things dried fruit. Wedding cakes, Christmas cakes, Oxford Lunches and tea brack were her thang and while I was too busy trying to stay cool with my cousins when I was younger, in more recent years I developed a love for dried fruit and dried fruit-esque things. My Gran isn’t around to spoil us with such treats anymore, sadly, but because she was as careful with cataloging all her recipes as she was baking them, I can continue to bake em, eat em and share the dried-fruit love with anyone else who wants a slice.
This is her tea brack recipe and it rocks. Whip it up, you’ll surprise yourself how much you like it and how quick it disappears. Go on. Go on, go on, go on, go on, go on.
Gran Sally’s Tea Brack
375 g mixed dried fruit (whatever you like but I use a luxury mix, with cherries, golden sultanas and nice raisins…) 1 egg 250 ml cold tea 50 ml whisky 225g plain flour 2 tsps baking powder 220g light brown sugar 1/2 tsp mixed spice 1 cooking apple – optional. If you want to, peel & grate the apple into the mix at stage 3
- Place the dried fruit in a bowl and pour over the whiskey and cold tea. Allow to soak up the liquid overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 170˚C/Gas Mark 3 and grease and line a 900g loaf tin.
- Mix the flour, baking powder, sugar and mixed spice in a large bowl. Make a well and break in the egg, using a wooden spoon, mix the egg with the dry ingredients. Add a little bit of the liquid the fruit mix is sitting in and mix it through. You mightn’t need all the liquid. What you want is a wet dough.
- Add the soaked fruit mix into the bowl and stir to combine. Lash it into the lined loaf tin and place in the oven (middle shelf) and bake for 1-1.5 hour. Check the brack after 1 hour with a metal skewer to see if it’s cooked. If it needs longer and is browning too much on top, simply place some foil over the top. You want it to be cooked but be careful not to overbake it either, as you could end up with a very dry cake rather than a deliciously moist one.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before removing from the loaf tin and placing on wire rack.
- Cover in greaseproof paper and tin foil and allow to sit for 1-2 days before cutting into it. Serve in slices with a decent cup of tea (or lucozade, depending on the time of day…) and perhaps a nick of butter… kerrygold, of course.