Loaf and slices of Barmback.

The Irish Tradition of Fortune Telling Barmbrack + Recipe

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Barmbrack may look like just another sweet treat – but it’s a dish that’s rich with tradition, with the power to predict your future!

Irish homes would traditionally be filled with the smell of baking bread over the open fire, and another delicious treat known as barmbrack becomes special in the weeks leading up to Halloween.


This dried fruit-studded bread comes from the Irish ‘bairín breac’, which literally means speckled loaf.

Loaf and slices of Barmback.
Tasty Barmback (c)Shutterstock

While barmbrack is eaten all year round, it is only at Halloween that charms are added to the mix, each having a fortune-telling significance for the year ahead – and as this recipe for barmbrack shows, the fruits can be soaked in whiskey, tea, or both, which gives an added richness to the flavour.

Everyone in the family gets a slice of the bread, but you have to be careful when chewing and about what you find.

A ring signifies the discovery of true love and marrying, a thimble means you will never marry, a rag predicts poverty while a finding a coin foretells that you will be rich.

Apples have always been associated with Halloween, though in Ireland they should never be picked during this time because it was believed the púca (fairy shapeshifters) spat on them the night after Samhain.

Barmbrack Hidden Objects Meaning

Various items can be hidden in this fruit cake to foretell the fortune of those who finds it in their serve:

  • A ring signifies the finder would soon be married.
  • A thimble signifies the female finder would be a spinster whilst a button signifies the male finder would forever be a bachelor.
  • A silver coin signifies the finder would become wealthy.
  • A rag signifies the finder would stumble into poverty.
  • A religious medal signifies the finder would live the rest of their life as a priest or a nun.

Barmbrack Irish Cake Recipe

For the fruit mix:

  • 350g (1½ cups) sultanas
  • 50ml (¼ cup) Bushmills whiskey
  • Warm tea (enough to cover the sultanas)
  • 1 lemon, juice and zested skin

For the dough:

  • 450g (2 cups) strong bread flour
  • A pinch of salt
  • 15g (1tbsp) dried yeast
  • 280ml (9.5fl oz) milk, at room temperature
  • 50g (3½tbsp) butter, softened
  • 50g (3½tbsp) sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten

For the topping:

  • 1tbsp butter
  • 1tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½tsp ground mixed spice


  1. Soak the sultanas in the whiskey, warm tea and lemon juice for 30-45 minutes, then drain off the liquid.
  2. To make the dough: put all the ingredients into a mixing bowl and bring together with a wooden spoon.
  3. Knead on a floured surface with your hands for 5 minutes.
  4. Put the dough in a bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and leave for about 1 hour, until the mixture has risen and fills the bowl.
  5. Knead the dough again on a floured surface, adding the soaked fruit until evenly spread throughout.
  6. Place in a 20-23cm buttered cake tin and cover with a damp tea towel.
  7. Leave in a warm place for about 20 minutes until the mixture rises up to the top of the tin.
  8. Bake for 50 minutes in oven preheated to 200C.
  9. For the topping: cream the butter and spices together until soft.
  10. Remove the barmbrack from the oven. Immediately spread spiced butter on top. Leave to cool.

Thanks to Ireland.com for sharing this recipe. Learn more about Halloween in Ireland and find more recipes here.

Want to visit Ireland during Halloween (highly recommend)? Use our How To Pack A Backpack For A 2-Week Vacation post to pack for your trip.

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