Friday, 1 March 2013

Sticky, whisky-scented Bara Brith for St. David's Day

Bara Brith

Do the little things, the small things you've seen me doing

This simple, rather contemporary statement, was surprisingly uttered over 1500 years ago by St. David in his last sermon to his monks and I thought it a fitting way to start St. David's Day.

Not an awful lot is known about St. David so here are a few facts about the man himself and the celebration in his honour:
  • He was at the heart of the Welsh church in the 6th century and founded a large monastery in West Wales
  • He was one of the early saints who helped to spread Christianity among the pagan Celtic tribes of Western Britain
  • The most famous story about St. David tells how he was preaching to a huge crowd and the ground is said to have risen up, so that he was standing on a hill and everyone had a better chance of hearing him.
  • He was baptised by the wonderfully named Saint Elvis (I kid you not).
  • The national emblems of Wales are daffodils and leeks and these are worn on 1st March by most people in Wales. 
  • On March 1st, numerous celebrations take place, including parades, food festivals, concerts and street parties.

Welsh Bara BrithNow, although it's tradition to eat Cawl, a Welsh stew, made up of lamb and leeks on St David’s Day, I didn't have time to make it, so today's recipe is my family's Bara Brith, a very traditional Welsh loaf cake and tea-time classic. The name literally means "Speckled Bread" and is baked and sold commercially in most parts of Wales, but virtually every Welsh region, town or family seems to have their own special variation.

There are two basic versions - as a yeast bread with dried fruits or it can be made in the style of a fruit cake with self-raising flour and packed with candied peel, raisins and currants which have been soaked in tea overnight. This is the sort I prefer - it's ridiculously easy, it gets better with time (within reason of course) and it tastes wonderful. I still don't really understand how a cake that doesn't contain any butter or indeed fat of any kind, can taste so good but it does, trust me. Of course, the butter usually comes into it at the end when it is spread on the thinly sliced bara brith. My only variation to the family recipe is to add a little whisky to the liquid used for steeping the fruit.

One last thing: although David was known as ‘Dewi Ddyfrwr’ (David the Water Drinker) because he drank nothing else, I don't really think that many Welsh people follow his teachings in this particular aspect. I will certainly be marking the occasion with something a little stronger...

Iechyd da.


1 cup soft brown sugar
1 generous cup dried mixed fruit
200 ml black tea
50 ml whisky
300 g self raising flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 tablespoon treacle or syrup
 pinch of salt
 1 egg

In a large bowl soak the fruit and sugar in the strained tea and whisky and leave overnight.

Next day preheat the oven to 170ÂșC

Mix the remaining ingredients into the fruit mixture and beat well

Pour the mixture into a loaf tin that has been well greased or lined with buttered paper

Place the tin in the oven and bake for about one and a half hours.

Leave in the tin to cool before turning out.

If you can (I can't), keep the bara brith in an airtight tin for a few days before eating as the flavour and texture really improves.

Welsh Speckled Bread


  1. Hope you had a wonderful day on St. David's day. Thanks for sharing some information on the patron saint of Wales. Seems like you marked the occasion very well with this delicious cake. Loved the Elvis comment :-)

    1. Thanks! We didn't actually eat all the cake on St David's day but we came pretty close!