Monday, April 30, 2012

BREAD ON MONDAY - Dave's Bread Creation

It is hard to remember when I became fascinated with cooking, but I know I was very young.  I grew up in the midst of home cooking and always enjoyed it.  Bread was something which, in my mind at least, bordered on true magic.  It seemed so difficult, yet so wonderful, and from my early childhood I can remember how precisely my mother followed the recipes (and there were many, in the search for one that would turn out right), and how carefully she measured ingredients.  Her bread, though I thought it was great, always turned out to be a disappointment to her.  It was always dense and heavy, never the light fluffy bread she strove for.

It was not until I was an adult that I finally mustered the courage to try making bread.  I looked over the recipe and couldn't see anything so difficult about it.  Then I asked a few older ladies in the community what their secret was, and got a variety of answers ranging from weather conditions to phases of the moon and everything in between.  I was even told that you have to hold your mouth just right when kneading.  The only thing the varied advice had in common was that the yeast had to be allowed to proof (bear in mind that they were not talking about instant yeast which does not have to proof), and that it took a lot of kneading.  Suddenly it was obvious to me that what my mother had always done wrong had nothing to do with ingredients, she was simply too impatient to allow the yeast to proof, and kneading took far to long for something that made no sense to her.  Later, experience showed me that she also made her dough far too dry.

With these thoughts in mind, I broke out the ingredients and proceeded to experiment.  I loosely followed the recipe this first time, but have not used a bread recipe (or measurement for that matter) since.  The ingredients are added until it "looks right", and though not totally consistent, is always edible.  Frustration, however, abounds when someone likes my bread and I can't give them the recipe.  Some have gotten angry over the years, believing that I was just being secretive even though I would have gladly given them a recipe if there had been one to give.  Fact is, that every batch is different simply because not only do I just throw some ingredients in a bowl and start kneading, the ingredients vary widely as well, depending on what I just happen to throw in that day.  A few days ago, was no exception, but this time (at Anna's urging) I measured what I threw in and wrote it down.  Anna was shocked at how much yeast I used and the fact that I let it proof, even though it is instant yeast (letting instant yeast proof is not necessary but a habit of mine and also makes the dough rise a bit faster).  Please keep in mind that the measures in the following recipe are approximate, and that nothing of this is graven in stone.  I have never found a precise formula that makes bread turn out perfect, but in my mind it is still a magical process, it just takes practice to make it YOUR magical process.

Not Sure What To Call It Bread:

51/2 - 6 cups unbleached flour      (5 cups in the bowl and the rest for working in later)
4 large, fresh eggs
2 tablespoons yeast (I used instant but any good yeast will do- remember, though, the measurements will be different)
3 tablespoons natural sugar (you can also use honey, molasses or any other natural sweetener)
1/2 cup warm water for yeast
1/4 cup milk (I used raw goat milk but any milk will do)
1 teaspoon unrefined salt
cooking oil or butter as needed   (I prefer olive oil or butter but any cooking oil will work)

Dissolve sugar and yeast in warm water and set aside.  Keep in mind that yeast is a living thing and will crawl out of the cup and make a terrible mess if left unattended, so put it where you can watch it and make sure the cup is large enough for grow room.

Combine flour and salt in a large mixing bowl, then add eggs, milk, and just before it comes out of the cup, yeast/sugar mixture.

Mix ingredients, adding a little water at a time until you have something of the consistency of thick, gooey batter.  Actually, you could think of it somewhere between batter and dough.

Lightly cover the dough with flour and start working it in between dough and bowl.  Work in enough flour so you can keep the dough from sticking to your hands but not too much to knead.  You will have to keep your hands floured during this process.  Careful not to work in too much flour, the end result should be a pretty soft dough.

Coat the top of the dough lightly with cooking oil, turn the dough over and coat what was the bottom and place in a bowl.
Cover the bowl with a damp towel and put it in a warm place to rise.

When the dough has at least doubled in size, knead the dough thoroughly (you will need to flour your hands more for this.  Oil the inside of two loaf pans, divide the dough and place it in the pan, and oil the top.

Let rise again until almost double in size.

Place in the oven set at about 350° F.   NOTE:  Though it is against everything I have ever been taught, I do not pre-heat the oven for bread.  As the oven heats, the dough will get a little boost on the rise, so don't let it rise above the edge of the pans before putting in the oven unless you have pre-heated.  I can't give you an amount of time to leave it in the oven simply because I forgot to look at the clock, so leave it in until golden brown and the bread makes a hollow sound when tapped with your fingernail.

From the pics, you can see that it made full firm loaves.  What you can't see is how fast it disappeared and the satisfied looks on people's faces.  I hope you will enjoy, and above all, experiment a little and make it your own.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fried Cornbread

As do most people, I often get 'in the mood' for certain foods. Lately, it has been cornbread that I have been craving. Add in to that, Dave and I have had some conversations lately about how each of us makes cornbread (which is slightly different from each others) and that has made me even more hungry for cornbread.  But what I have REALLY been hungry for was some Fried Cornbread.

When I was little, my mom made Fried Cornbread on occasion. I absolutely loved it and could never get enough of it. I loved it hot, right out of the pan (I had a hard time waiting that long for it to get done) ... I loved it warm, just as it had cooled a little ... I even loved it cold the next day ( on the rare occasion there was any leftover) ... and I even loved it made into grape jelly sandwiches.  Just the minute I was old enough to make it myself, I did! (well before I was a teen)

Once I started making it myself, I often changed the recipe to suit my mood and/or the meal I was making it to go with. To serve with a bowl of Pinto beans, I used very little sugar in it (but just a little makes it brown nicely), and if I was making it for breakfast or just a snack, I added a little more sugar. If I wanted it more cake-like, I used an extra egg. But they were always good no matter how I made them.

Over the years I have played with the recipe and changed it so much (especially now since I use as many natural ingredients as possible) that my own recipe has evolved. Here is my recipe that I now use:


1 Cup yellow Cornmeal (NOT mix)
½ Cup unbleached flour
1/3 tsp salt (unrefined - I use pink Himalayan)
1 tsp. unrefined sugar (evaporated cane juice - can add more or less to taste)
2 tsp aluminum free Baking Powder
1 whole egg (mine is kind of large)
1 Cup fresh whole milk (more or less for proper consistency)
1½ tsp corn oil
1 T. minced onion (optional and/or to taste)
Your favorite fat/oil/grease for frying

 In a heavy frying pan (I prefer cast iron for this) add just enough cooking grease to completely cover the bottom of the pan in a thin layer. I use peanut oil or lard for these. Preheat while you are mixing the batter.

In medium mixing bowl, add cornmeal, flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder. Stir until well mixed; set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, place egg, cornmeal and milk. Lightly whisk together. 
Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients, along with the minced onion, and stir just until completely blended. If necessary, add a little more milk to get the consistency you like. Thicker batter makes taller cakes ... thinner batter makes bigger, thinner cakes.

Drop batter by spoonfuls into the hot skillet. Using the back of your spoon, slightly spread each cake out. Cook until bubbly all across and browned on the bottom. Flip over and finish cooking until done inside and browned on other side. Serve hot or let cool and store away for later use.  Enjoy!

Also good with your favorite Mexican cornbread ingredients added in.