Yorkshire Brack, North Yorkshire
The word ‘brack’ may not be familiar to anyone from beyond the borders of Yorkshire, so it merits explanation. In bakery terms, brack is a cake made without the addition of fat, though other ingredients – dried fruits and of course eggs – used in cooking it does contain some fats.
Nearly anyone who has visited the beautiful coastal resort of Whitby will be familiar with the products of the superb local bakery Botham’s of Skinner Street , whose Lemon Buns are also a bit of a food legend. The same company also bakes two versions of brack: Yorkshire and Stem Ginger. A trip to the shop is recommended to all planning a stay on the North Yorkshire Coast.
The cooking of brack is a relatively simple process, though it needs time. Dried fruit is soaked in hot strong tea to plump it up (the adventurous might wish to try brandy or rum or even whisky, but that is firstly expensive and thus against the Yorkshire ethos, and secondly to be blunt ponces things up), not too long or it will go soft and when mixed end up as a paste. Like our politicians, if they spend too long sitting around doing nothing the raisins and sultanas will lose their integrity: an afternoon will be enough.
Obviously the choice of tea allows you to play tunes: Earl Grey would give a herby note; Assam malt; or mint tea provide what it says on the packet though I hasten to advise against that latter. But good old fashioned Yorkshire tea or whatever you have in your caddy or tin will do nicely – best even.
Sugar, preferably brown or golden Demerara is mixed with the drained plumped fruit, not too energetically as again you want the fruit whole. Sifted self-raising flour is then stirred in, and beaten egg. The batter is spooned into a greased (or belt-and-braces greased and lined) loaf-tin, and baked before being turned out to cool on the obligatory rack.
For a 1lb loaf-tin the proportions are roughly 10oz total of dried sultanas, currants and raisins (ideally sultanas dominant as they plump best), 6oz SR flour, 3oz sugar, and 1 egg. You will need a teacupful of tea to soak the fruit (without milk I hasten to add). Bake the filled tin for about an hour to an hour and a quarter at 170 (fan-assisted) or 180 (normal), you’ll known when it is done from the colour.
If you are short of time or it’s a last-minute thing, heat the fruit with the tea in a pan until the sultanas etc have bellied out, it shouldn’t come to any great harm.
The traditional version is rather simple, and elegant for it. Should you wish to add a few flavourings then a pinch of ground cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice would be in order, but don’t go over the top.
Yorkshiremen would probably suggest eating this with cheese, a habit those from the other (right) side of the Pennines tend to decry. The choice is yours. It is a fine baked-good, though, and cries out to be served with a cup of proper tea .