The Celtic festival of Samhain marks the end of harvest season and the beginning of “the dark half” of the year. In honor of the ancient, autumnal festival, Irish bakers make rounds of barmbrack. Called báirín breac (“speckled bread”) in Irish, this loaf comes studded with surprises—edible and otherwise.
Families savor the raisin-filled, spiced treat at tea and breakfast, enjoying it plain or toasted and slathered in butter. But there’s no sitting down to barmbrack without a side of fortune telling. Bakers mix four ominous tokens into the batter. Whoever discovers the bean inside their cakey slice can expect spinsterhood, while the finder of the ring can expect marriage. Anyone who bites down on the coin will have a prosperous future (and, perhaps, a chipped tooth), while the person who chews into a piece of cloth will fall on hard times. According to superstition, the trinket that ends up in your slice seals your fate, even if you are able to wrestle a different one from the hands of a luckier family member.
Need to Know
Many consider Samhain the original Halloween. You'll certainly see bakers selling barmbrack on October 31. If you'd like to make your own barmbrack, there are plenty of recipes online, including Saveur's delicious version.
Where to Try It
Hickey's Bakery & CafeWest Gate, Clonmel, 052 6121587, Ireland
Fresh barmbrack from this bakery is available locally and available for international shipping.
The Butler's Pantry5 Castleknock Village, Castleknock, Dublin 15, Ireland
This cafe and bakery sells barmbrack in autumn and has outposts all over the city.