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Welsh Bara Brith

Servings: Makes 1 loaf
There are several different versions of this Welsh 'speckled bread'. Many of them don't contain yeast; but, for me, this version is the nicest and if there's any left over it's delicious toasted. My Welsh friends tell me, as children they remember it made with yeast, very spicy and spread with lots of butter. Please note that Fast Acting or Rapid Rise Yeast is not suitable for this recipe.

8 fl. oz. (225 ml) milk
2 oz. (50 g) brown sugar, plus 1 teaspoon
4 level teaspoons active dry yeast
1 lb. (450 g) all-purpose flour
1 level teaspoon salt
3 oz. (75 g) butter or margarine
1 level teaspoon mixed spice* (see note below)
1 egg, beaten
12 oz. (350 g) mixed dried fruit
Honey, for glazing

Grease a 5 x 10 x 3-inch loaf pan.

Warm the milk in a small saucepan until it's quite hot but not boiling, and then pour it into a bowl. Whisk in the teaspoon of sugar, followed by the yeast, then leave it in a warm place to froth for about 15 minutes.

Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl, stirring in the remaining 2 oz (50 g) sugar as well. Rub the fat into the dry ingredients until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the mixed spice next, then pour in the beaten egg and frothed yeast, and mix to form a dough. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes), then replace the dough in the bowl and cover with a damp cloth or clear plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place to rise until it has doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

Turn the dough out and punch it down to get the air out, then gradually knead the fruit in and pat out to a rectangular shape. Roll it up from one short side to the other and put it in the loaf pan (seam-side down). Place the pan inside an oiled plastic bag and leave it to rise, until the dough has rounded nicely above the edge of the pan (about 30-45 minutes).

Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).

When the dough has risen and springs back when pressed lightly with a floured finger, remove the bag; transfer the loaf to the oven and bake on the lower shelf of oven for 30 minutes. Cover the top of the loaf pan with foil to prevent it over-browning, and continue to bake for a further 30 minutes. Turn the loaf out, holding it in a cotton dish cloth (or tea towel) in one hand and tapping the base with the other. It should sound hollow. If not, place it back upside down (without the pan) for 5 minutes more. Cool the loaf on a wire rack, and brush the top with clear honey to make it nice and sticky, before the loaf cools. Slice the loaf thinly and serve with butter. A good cup of tea or coffee goes well with Bara Brith.

*Note: If you can't find mixed spice at your local supermarket, use a combination of ground spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and corriander.

Makes 1 loaf.

Date: May 28, 2003