Mrs Halpin’s Tea Brack is made with fruit that has been soaked over-night in freshly-made sweet tea, and then has eggs, flour and spice folded in. I have great memories of this brack. I think perhaps the taste was enhanced by the sound advice and good humour that accompanied it!
‘Nana Máire’ – for those who may wonder how to pronounce Máire, it’s the Irish spelling of Maura, and is pronounced the same way – is my best friend’s Mother. Of course, she wasn’t called Nana Maire when we were young; that came later with the arrival of her first 3 grandchildren She would produce a cup of tea (two sugars, whole milk) along with a slice of generously-buttered tea-brack, as you sat at her kitchen table and told her all your worries.
I wrote to her after I’d left home, to ask her for the recipe. I still treasure her hand-written letter, which came by return of post. It’s dated November 1985, and contains advice about the gas pressure being better at night, and how it might affect the cooking times!
We should all have a Nana Máire in our lives; I’m very grateful that she was a part of mine x
- An 8in/23cm round baking tin, lined with two layers of baking parchment.
- medium-sized bowl
- If you have a mixer with dough hooks, then this is the day to get it out. This mixture gets very stiff when all the flour has been mixed in.
- 450g sultanas or mixed fruit – I used mostly sultanas, a few currants, and some cranberries.
- 200ml of hot tea – ‘strained’, because proper people didn’t use teabags, back in the day
- 125g of light Muscavado sugar
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 450g Self-raising flour
- 1/2 teaspoon Almond extract (I used Vanilla)
- 1 teaspoon of mixed spice – I put in some ginger and cinnamon for a change (Ok, truth – I couldn’t find the mixed spice, but the ginger and cinnamon is a good addition)
- 1/2 a level teaspoon of baking powder
- Buttermilk or whole milk – about 2 tablespoons (optional)
- Put the sugar, vanilla extract and fruit into a large bowl, add the hot tea and stir until sugar is dissolved. Cover, and leave it all to soak overnight.
- Next day, Heat the oven to Gas 2/130 fan
- Line the cake tin.
- Move the soaked fruit to a large mixing bowl.
- Add the lightly beaten eggs to the fruit, and fold in.
- Sift the baking powder, spice and the flour together.
- Then fold in the flour in batches.
- It will get really, really stiff by the time that you’ve folded in all the flour, so add one or two tablespoons of buttermilk to ease it a little. You may not need it if you’re using an electric mixer. I usually make this by hand, for no reason at all, other that I feel I’m honouring the spirit of this tea brack!
- Turn the mixture into the prepared tin, and level it out, then make a slight dip in the middle to allow for rising.
- Bake for 1 and a half hours, then test it – mine took 1 hour 45mins last night – a big change from the 2 to 2 1/2 hours in Mrs Halpin’s recipe.
- Allow to cool completely before cutting.
- Keeps well, wrapped in baking paper and in a sealed container. And yes, you need proper butter on this..
- She signed her letter – ‘And good luck, Beck.’ Máire Halpin
- I’ve mentioned a lot of the notes as I went through this. I mixed it by hand, and it was hard work towards the end, but definitely worth it!
- My good friend Catherine texted me to make sure that the 130Fan oven temperature was correct – it is – this is a long and slow bake, so don’t be tempted to speed it up!
- I set cooking the time for 1 hour, then I turn the cake tin around to allow even browning – but that’s my oven for you- then I give it 30 minutes more, then start testing..
- The top is knobbly-looking when it comes out of the oven, and I thought to myself that I’d smooth it down next time, but it turns out that the top is lovely and crunchy when it’s cold, so it’s definitely staying the way it is.
- I texted my friend last night to tell her what I was baking, and she said that Nana Maire also called it her ‘cut and come again’ brack. This is because it keeps so well in a cool spot.