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Bring On the Fruit Cakes!


Ireland Hopping / By Margaret M. Johnson

Chances are if you celebrated Halloween over the past few days, you encountered lots of candy, lots of things that said “boo,” and maybe even barmbrack, traditional yeast fruit bread associated with the holiday. For those like myself who love baking fruitcakes and fruity breads, barmbrack is a wake-up call to start thinking about other holiday breads that require no yeast; instead, a long soak in tea or even a bit of whiskey to plump up the fruit does the trick. And with Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner — yes, right around the corner — you might want to keep these few recipes handy. Serve these plain or lashed with butter (maybe even a touch of cream cheese for a special occasion)!

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Makes 1 loaf

This is one of my favorite alternatives to barmbrack! If you add some candied peel, you can even use it as a Christmas fruitcake. The recipe first appeared in my afternoon tea cookbook titled Tea & Crumpets (2010) and is reprinted in Favorite Flavors of Ireland.

4 cups mixed fruit, such as golden raisins, chopped dates, and chopped apricots

1/4 cup candied cherries, chopped

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1 tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. Mixed Spice (see Note)

11/4 cups cold black tea

1 large egg, beaten

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 cups self-rising flour

Softened butter for spreading

  1. In a large bowl, combine fruit, nuts, spices, and tea; soak for 3 hours, or until tea is absorbed.

  2. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan and line with wax paper.

  3. Stir egg, sugar, and flour into fruit mixture and mix until combined. Pour into prepared pan, smooth top, and bake for 60 to 75 minutes, or until top is golden and a skewer inserted into center comes out clean.

  4. Remove from oven and let cool in pan on wire rack for about 10 minutes. Turn out onto rack, remove paper, and let cool completely before slicing. Serve spread with softened butter.

Note: To make Mixed Spice, put 1 tbsp. coriander seeds, 1 crushed cinnamon stick, 1 tsp. whole cloves, and 1 tsp. allspice berries in a spice or coffee grinder. Process until finely ground. Add 1 tbsp. nutmeg and 2 tsp. ginger. Mix thoroughly by hand. Store in an airtight container.




This classic cranberry nut bread is perfect for Thanksgiving and Christmas for eating and gift-giving.

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cup orange juice

1 tablespoon grated orange peel

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 large egg, beaten

1 1/2 cups cranberries, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Stir in orange juice, orange peel, oil and egg; mix until blended. Stir in cranberries and nuts; spread evenly in prepared pan. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely. Wrap and store overnight.



Makes 2 loaves

With Thanksgiving coming hot on the heels of Halloween, the recipe for this delicious pumpkin-cranberry bread is one to keep at-the-ready. To make-ahead and freeze, let breads cool completely, wrap in plastic, and then foil.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups sugar

1/2 cup canola oil

4 large eggs

3/4 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 (15 ounce) can pure pumpkin

1 cup sweetened dried cranberries

1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease two 9-inch loaf pans and dust with flour; tap out excess.

  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in sugar.

  3. In another bowl, whisk together oil, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla. Stir into flour mixture, and then stir in pumpkin, cranberries, and nuts.

  4. Transfer to prepared pans and bake for 65 to 70 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Invert breads onto rack and let cool completely.


Margaret M. Johnson’s “Favorite Flavors of Ireland” is a “labor of love and tribute to her thirty years of travel there. It offers more than 100 best-loved recipes from her previous ten cookbooks and celebrates the special flavors of each Irish season: Spring/An t-Earrach, Summer/An Samhradh, Autum/An Fómhar, Winter/An Geimhreadh.” For ordering details, visit www.irishcook.com.