Friday, October 5, 2007

My Mom's Bread

Over the years my mother developed a fail proof bread recipe that could be baked in a drafty, often unreliable, wood stove in the middle of "the jungle" (the technical term for that being, as my father would point out, "the tropical lowland hardwood forest"). And yes, the wood burning stove isn't really in the middle of the jungle-you have to walk about 15 minutes to reach uncultivated land-but then this story just wouldn't be as good if I stuck to the facts, now would it?

So where were we? That's right, intrepid frontiers-woman baking in the middle of the jungle on a faulty wood burning stove that is suffering salt damage to its outsides and so retains heat about as well as a sieve. Despite the grave challenges of trying to get our cookstove's oven up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, my mother made bread at least once a week pretty much the entire time we were growing up. Her recipe evolved over that time to the one you see here today. I particularly remember there being honey and oil involved in the version she used to make-both have been cut out in the recipe she emailed me last week, I can only assume in the interest of healthier eating. Because of this derth of fat, the bread dries out quite quickly. So eat it now, freeze it for later, or plan on toasting it so that the dryness is not a factor. Otherwise you can just add about 1/3 cup of your oil of choice to the recipe at step one, where you mix up the sponge. (This means you will probably need to add a bit more white flour to get it to kneading consistency, but don't worry, it won't mess up the recipe).

Everyone loves this bread. Guests always rave about it, and then reminisce about how good it was when they email later. What follows below is the verbatim transcript of her email, with my comments in italics. I made the bread yesterday, and it was as good as I remembered. Now I just need some mango jam...

My Mom's Bread

"My bread recipe follows, but I can't swear about the measurements because I don't measure all that carefully. The following amounts make two 9x5 loaves.

Combine 5 cups whole wheat flour with one cup oats, ½ cup cornmeal, ½ cup nonfat milk powder*, 1 ½ tsp dry yeast, ½ cup sesame seeds. Stir well then slowly stir in about 6 cups warm (110 F) water until the batter is smooth.
(Instead of the milk powder you can just use 4 and 1/2 cups water and 1 and 1/2 cups nonfat or lowfat milk. In Belize, sesame seeds are very cheap and you can buy them by the pound. Feel free to substitute sunflower seeds or any other type of seeds that you might prefer. You can also substitute bran cereal for the oats if you like.)

Cover and let develop in a warm place for at least 20 minutes, up to an hour. (The longer the sponge sits, the more the ingredients soften and the more tender the crumb will be.)

Stir down puffy sponge, Mix in about 1 tsp salt. (The salt should be added at this stage because it can inhibit yeast activity if you mix it in earlier.) Add white flour one cup at a time until the dough becomes stiff enough to knead by hand. (For me this was 5-6 cups of flour, but just keep adding til you can knead it.) Knead for ten minutes or so adding white flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking.

Place kneaded dough in a greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm spot for about an hour or until doubled. Knead again for about one minute and place into greased loaf pans or shape free-form loaves. (You can also make some great rolls with this). Let loaves rise about 20 minutes (until doubled in size) and bake in 350-400 F oven for at least an hour. Check for doneness by thumping bottom of loaves (when they are cooked they sound hollow) and cool on a rack.

(Someone asked me to clarify how, exactly, you can thump on the bottom of a loaf of bread when it is still being cooked. If you have properly prepared your pan by greasing and flouring it, or if you have a good non-stick pan, you should be able to pull the loaf out of the oven and turn it right out into a mittened hand. Then tap on the bottom of the loaf with a bare finger. It should sound hollow. For free form loaves this is even easier to do. Obviously you don't want to start checking for doneness for at least 50 minutes after you have put the loaves in the oven. Rolls, on the other hand, take about half an hour, and it should be easy to see when they are ready to pull out.)

You might want to test drive this, Lyra, before you put in on your blog. As you know, the milk powder and sesame seeds are not essential. And other seeds, nuts, wheat germ, etc could be added. If the ingredients need to soften, they ought to be in the sponge."

As my mom points out, this is a very forgiving recipe, so feel free to mess around with it. You can use it as a base recipe, it is especially good for savory things, herb breads, etc, since it doesn't have any sweetener in it. After the first kneading you can leave it in the fridge tightly wrapped for a couple days if you don't want to bake it right away. I brushed my loaves with eggbeaters (or use a regular egg) mixed with water to give the crust that nice shine that you see in the photos.


Cynthia said...

An apt name for a blog about Caribbean food - Rice and Peas!

Hi Lyra, it is a pleasure to discover your blog. Thanks for visiting mine and aiding the process of discovery. There's so much to learn from your site and I look forward to it. I'm adding you to my blog roll too!

Lyra said...

Hi Cynthia thanks for visiting! I am planning on starting to include more Belizean recipes in the blog-the thing is that I try to eat locally, and here in DC, of course, all the plantains and coconuts and so on have to be shipped in from far away, so I haven't done too much so far. Thanks for adding me:)

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