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Pioneer Days: In The Country Kitchen for Salt-Rising Bread

salt-rising bread

A little more than a year ago, I attempted an old-world recipe from Della Lutes’s completely charming cook book-meets-memoir The Country Kitchen (Little, Brown, and Company, 1936). A few months ago I then passed that book on to a friend, and we got to talking about another interesting recipe referenced in the text for salt-rising bread.

Or actually, almost a recipe, as far as contemporary expectations go. While Lutes quotes the rough method, she comes up just short enough on detail that I was hesitant to try it out. But I had something she did not: the internet.

And of course, the crowd provides. After reading up on the unique smells and the finicky challenges of this bread, I took a minute to gauge my sanity and then plowed ahead. I mean, I do all kinds of weird projects here in Wonderland, so why not? To hedge my bets, I went with the very thorough King Arthur guidelines provided in this post, and I was not disappointed!

salt-rising bread: steps

Interesting points and some things to keep in mind:

Even though it’s called salt-rising, there’s actually not that much salt in the recipe. But there is no added commercial yeast. More details for the curious on the history and the name can be found here and more discussion can be had here.

Some other recipes use potatoes instead of cornmeal, or some combination. Others caution to only use whole grain cornmeal, which I did. (You can buy this—just check your package—or make your own!)

Everything they say about the smells the various stages of this dough emit are true and yet it’s just kind of weird, not stomach convulsingly terrible—to my nose at least. I’m also accustomed to strange cheeses and various fermentation projects, however, so perhaps I’ve simply built up a tolerance.

Most challenging part: You will need a method to keep the dough warm enough—between 90°F and 100°F according to the recipe I followed (though others go as low as 80°F). My oven offers a proofing setting at around 95°F, so I was golden and the development of the dough seemed to proceed on schedule, but your results may vary depending on what you can rig up. You will at least know if things are amiss at each stage, so it won’t just be a big surprise at the very end.

While I started this recipe just before I went to bed one night and didn’t end up with a loaf of bread until the following evening, the actual skills needed and dishes used/mess made are quite minimal, so this recipe is mostly a question of patience to my mind.

And the results are really interesting. The produced loaf has a fairly dense, dry crumb that stores well and makes for excellent toast (really the only way to eat it, in my opinion). Toasting perfects the inherent cheesy, nutty flavors in the dough that people note and that seem to be the nostalgic pull for many.

salt-rising bread

Salt-Rising Bread
As seen on King Arthur Flour, but the recipe’s providence goes back quite a bit further. For some additional process pictures and hand holding, I definitely recommend a read through KAF’s related blog post as well–just don’t panic!

Stage One

1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1 teaspoon sugar

Stage Two

1 cup hot water (120°F to 130°F)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 cups AP flour

Complete the Dough

4 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 AP flour

Stage One: Scald the milk and cool to lukewarm. In a glass container large enough to allow for expansion (I used an 8-cup glass measure for stages one and two), combine the milk, cornmeal, and sugar. Whisk to combine until no lumps remain.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place (between 90°F and 100°F) for 8 to 12 hours. At the end of this stage, you should see some bubbles/foam on the surface and notice a slight smell. If not, you will need to start over (or abandon this project–no shame).

Stage Two: Combine the hot water, salt, baking soda, sugar, and flour and then stir this mixture into Stage One until evenly incorporated. Cover the bowl again and return to your warm place for two to four hours, until the starter has doubled and is quite bubbly and pungent. (The measuring cup makes this even easier to gauge; mine took about 3 hours.) Here again, if you don’t get the results described, you will need to begin again. If action just seems slow, try a warmer spot for a couple hours more.

salt-rising bread: bubbles

Complete the Dough: Transfer starter to a large bowl or stand mixer and add remaining ingredients. Knead until smooth.

salt-rising bread: dough

Form dough into a log and place in a greased loaf pan (8 1/2″ x 4 1/2” is recommended, but I used my 9” x 5” without issue). Cover again and return to the warm place until it crowns over the edge of the pan. The edges will round but the surface of the loaf may be relatively flat. This is expected.

Near the end of the rising time, heat the oven to 350°F. Bake for 40 minutes, until nicely browned.

Cool for 5 minutes in the pan then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely before slicing. Stores well in plastic for about a week.

Baby Love: Sweet Treats and Cozy Knits

Pistachio, Orange, and Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls

While handmade gifts for adults can be tricky to navigate, knitting for a new baby always feels right to me. They are much less likely to notice my mistakes! But seriously, to my mind knitting provides a great venue for reflecting on a new life and infusing some good thoughts into whatever soft and fuzzy creation you’d care to take on.

Last month friends welcomed a sweet little boy into their family. Considering the intense cold that we’re still battling here in the Mid-Atlantic, a simple little cap seemed like a useful item. Admittedly, I was also encouraged by the fact that I was almost guaranteed to complete the project before the new baby was filling out his college applications. I found a simple yet attractive pattern that would definitely flatter a variegated yarn. Since my color was subtle, I decided to just eyeball in a couple stripes for a little visual kick.

Cosset Baby Hat by Jenny Raymond

Get the pattern: Cosset Baby Hat by Jenny Raymond

Knowing that the sleep-deprived parents were also big fans of cinnamon rolls, I took the opportunity to finally test drive Joy the Baker’s stunning Pistachio, Orange, and Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls. Even with her reduction of the Pioneer Woman’s original “ranch-sized” recipe down to 16 rolls, that’s still plenty to make this a “one pan to keep, one to pan to give away” project. Plus, while the production is somewhat time intensive, the process is actually fairly simple, the timing flexible (bake now or bake tomorrow!), the dough easy to work with, and the filling options ultimately innumerable. I assembled them the evening before and let them rest in the fridge overnight. The next morning, I let the chill come off them while I heated the oven and then baked them while I whipped up the glaze. I suspect that I will be bribing friends and neighbors with these for years to come!

Pistachio, Orange, and Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls

Get the recipe: Pistachio, Orange, and Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls by Joy the Baker

Do you have a go-to baby gift or food item you like to share with new parents?

Pamphlet Cooking: “Armenian” Soup

“Armenian” Soup

Last week’s Tomato Soup Cake recipe reminded me that, in addition to my stacks of proper cookbooks, I have also amassed quite an impressive pile of pamphlets, brochures, and small spiral-bound recipe collections. Most of these I acquired thanks to The Book Thing, an awesome organization here in Baltimore that redistributes books to the community free of charge. A few times a year I donate all the books I don’t need anymore and browse the cookbook shelf to see what new treats might catch my eye. And it’s these slim paper volumes—often old advertising gimmicks for baking soda or similar—that are my favorite scores.

My stash includes quite a few tempting offerings such as “The Little Book of Excellent Recipes” by The Mystery Chef (future post, promise!), but in flipping through a few of them I landed on a soup recipe in the less exotic sounding “CSA Pantry Collection #4” that I decided to test drive. As it turned out, CSA in this case stood not for community supported agriculture, as I had assumed, but rather the Celiac Spruce Association. Their recipe for Armenian Soup included dried apricots and a single potato swimming in a full 2 quarts of water. Currently challenged by yet another snow storm and freezing temperatures required some creative pantry thinking on my part if I was going to execute, so I used the pitted dates and sweet potatoes I had on hand and ended up using half the amount of stock called for. Which is to say I wouldn’t blame “CSA Pantry Collection #4” for this bastardized recipe, but between its inspiration and the bitter, bitter cold, I ended up with a soup that was appreciated thoroughly without having to slide down the street to the grocery store.

That all said, I’m not sure what the Armenians would have to say about it.

 “Armenian” Soup

“Armenian” Soup

1/3 cup red lentils
6 dates, chopped
1 large sweet potato, cubed (no need to peel)
1 quart vegetable broth
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon toasted and ground cumin
4 tablespoons parsley, chopped

The real joy of this recipe: its simplicity. Place all ingredients in a 4 quart sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes. Puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper as desired.

That’s it. You’re done. Let’s eat.

The Returned: How to Cook a Wolf

Tomato Soup Cake from How to Cook a Wolf

If I’m making amends for the sins of abandonment committed against my cookbooks here, it seems extra appropriate to do right by a book that isn’t even actually mine but rather one I borrowed from a neighbor and then proceeded to bury under an ever-growing pile of unread Lucky Peach issues. (Okay, I have a problem. We’ve clearly established that at this point.)

If you’re unfamiliar, How to Cook a Wolf (published originally in 1942) is a quick read, part rallying cry and part cookbook designed to aid and inspire home cooks in a time of stress and limitation. When I started the book, I was immediately struck by how much the ideas M.F.K. Fisher had about economics, nutrition, and making do had to say (adjusting for inflation and accounting for the proximity of war) to me sitting in my living room arm chair in 2014. My appreciation for her outlook only grew as the pages turned, as did my trust in her advice and appraisals after acknowledgements such as this one, crediting her sources for a “Cream of Potato Soup” that follows a bit of a tirade on doing things “correctly” vs. “eating according to your own tastes.”

However, there are compromises that can be admitted, whether you approve of them or not. Here is a recipe, a combination really of Escoffier’s Soupe à la Bonne Femme and one I found in a calendar published by the gas company in the Canton of Vaud in Switzerland.

Hear, hear! That’s a world-aware outlook and a flexibility of approach I can get behind. (It’s also probably why I can’t really hang with the Cook’s Illustrated folks, but that’s a convo for another post.)

Canned Tomato Soup

Think of it as adding a little Warhol pizzazz to your baking?

I’m personally satisfied to report that I have now finished the book and returned it to its rightful owner, along with a portion of a cake from its pages that I just had to try out: Tomato Soup Cake. Also known as Mystery or Conversation Cake due to its surprising secret ingredient (which I doubt any taste tester would be able to ID), this is one of those recipes that seems to trace back for a lot of people to grandma’s special version and holiday family gatherings (and probably an advertising pamphlet produced by Campbell’s Soup!). It’s a spice cake that uses no eggs and only three tablespoons of fat, making it easy on the pantry and easily vegan to boot. You can dress it up with the mix-ins and spice combinations that best suit your guests and top it (maple cream cheese frosting, anyone?) however you like. I’ve included my version below, but as Fisher says, you should make yours “to you own tastes!”

Tomato Soup Cake: Ready to Bake

Tomato Soup Cake
from How to Cook a Wolf

3 tablespoons shortening (or butter)
1 cup sugar
1 can condensed tomato soup
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon mixed spice (I used 1/4 teaspoon of each of the following: ginger, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg.)
1 1/2 cups nuts and fruit, roughly chopped (I used 1/2 cup of each of the following: raisins, walnuts, and dates.)

Optional topping:
3 tablespoons powdered sugar dusted over top

Heat oven to 325°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan (line bottom with parchment if you are extra nervous about cake removal—I did and don’t regret it, but it was perhaps overkill for a cake of this texture). Set aside.

Measure flour and spices into a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Using a hand or stand mixer, cream shortening and sugar together until well blended and fluffy.

Stir baking soda into the soup and mix well. Add this and the flour/spice mixture to the creamed sugar in several alternating portions, mixing until fully incorporated. Fold in nuts and fruit.

Spoon into the prepared cake pan and smooth the top (batter will be quite thick). Bake for 45 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for ten minutes in the pan and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Top as desired.

Cake stores well and pleased even my non-spice-cake-liking friends, for what it’s worth.

Tomato Soup Cake from How to Cook a Wolf

The Countdown: The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook

Malted Milk Chocolate Cake

In Wonderland Kitchen, recipe research almost always equals Google searches and Evernote-taking. I rarely crack an actual, physical cookbook when looking for knowledge and inspiration, and yet I cannot seem to stop buying them! And those that don’t arrive on my doorstep via UPS show up skillfully wrapped in the hands of generous friends or as orphan cast-offs schlepped home from some musty church basement book sale.

Now, here they all sit in precarious stacks around my office, their beseeching gaze rivaled only by the CDs I have yet to split the cellophane on and review for work.

And so, as a 2014 self-improvement project that does not require public exercise, I’m on a mission to review each book in turn, to sit down and get to know it a little, and select a recipe which I will make and share here with my kitchen crew. Which is to say I’ll be doing this for me, but hopefully you’ll get something out of it, too.

Real world cookbooks present challenges

Real world cookbooks present challenges

I’m starting out with The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook. Now, this is honestly a very lovely book featuring beautiful but not-too-precious photographs and charming writing. But while I follow their blog, lust after their farm house, and appreciate a balanced collection that won’t break my toe if it slides off the counter, really it’s leading out of the gate because my awesome mother-in-law gave me an autographed copy for my birthday and I still haven’t made anything from it!!!

…Ahem.

Baking pan ready for action

Now then, this is one of those books helpfully (if you’re into that kind of thing) arranged by season, starting with winter and a cozy list of baking projects. Though the recipe for “Snow Cream with Sweetened Condensed Milk” was tempting, I’m not sure that there’s any snow in Baltimore I’d feel safe serving to guests. As I paged through my options, I did appreciate that the desserts each seemed possible to execute without a professional pastry chef on stand by. A few of the recipes included commercial candy, which is not something I’d ever considered, and so usually being all DIY and kale and whatnot, I decided this was the way to go. Malted Milk Chocolate Cake: come to mama!

The cake came together just as easily as the one-page recipe implied, and the 9×13-inch pan serving 12-16 is no joke—this is a homey yet decadent chocolate cake-brownie of a treat, so you may want to keep your pieces quite small. I didn’t find it dry in the least, but offering coffee or a tall glass of milk to balance out the richness would not be amiss.

Malted Milk Chocolate Cake: Unbaked

Malted Milk Chocolate Cake
from The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook

1 1/3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup malted milk powder (I could only find chocolate flavored, and just went for it)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups AP flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup coarsely chopped malted milk balls
(If you can promise not to eat more than three balls before baking, you can buy the 5 oz box. All others might want to consider purchasing more. I roughly halved the milk balls and just gave the pile an extra whack or two at the end for minimal rolling-to-the-floor.)

Butter a 9×13-inch cake pan and line the bottom with parchment. Butter the paper as well and flour the pan. Set aside.

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Measure out the milk and add the malted milk powder and the vanilla. Stir to combine.

Into a medium bowl, measure out the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Run a whisk around the bowl several times until evenly incorporated. Set aside.

Using a hand or stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugars on medium until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, thoroughly mixing in each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Lower the mixer speed and add the remaining dry (excepting the milk balls) and liquid ingredients in several alternating portions, starting and ending with the dry. Scrape down the mixing bowl and make sure all the ingredients have been evenly incorporated. (I failed a little here–learn from my mistakes!!)

Pour the cake batter into the prepared baking pan and even out. Sprinkle the milk balls across the top.

Bake for about 40 minutes, until a cake tester (I’ve been loving using left over kabob skewers for this) comes out clean and the cake pulls away from the pan edge.

Cool completely on a wire rack. Cake can be served from and stored in the pan.

Malted Milk Chocolate Cake

Under Construction

under construction

I have largely stopped doing things that scare me, and over the last few months I have found that (irony alert!) quietly terrifying. I realize that this is, by its very nature, a problem of a privileged person, so there is definitely an important element of perspective and awareness that needs to be ** here. Still, after living in an environment of non-challenge and change, I am way past due to actually take responsibility for the situation. Now, there will probably be some closer-to-home solutions to this that will ultimately carry more weight and meaning in the long run, but as a personal jump start (think Cher slapping some sense into Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck) I am off on a little travel adventure for the next couple of weeks: to chat with and learn from people I’ve known for ages, people I have only known on the internet, and people I just haven’t met quite yet. I’m going to spend a lot of time on Amtrak trains. I’m going to see parts of the country I’ve never seen before and learn something about public transportation in four new-to-me metropolitan areas. I’m going to get terrifically lost. I’m going to try not to cry in any public restrooms, but no promises!

horoscope 2014

The 2014 tarot cards suggested a challenging year ahead. Guess this is my
way of going out on the field to meet it.

Meanwhile, I have been running some small-scale, totally safe experiments here at home that I thought I might share as a “getting off on the right foot” send off. First up, this terrific stitch from the Purl Soho blog. (I want to cast on pretty much every pattern they post, and have even picked out a new project to take along on my trip.) The finished look of this slip-stitch pattern is almost a kind of woven material, at least more than any traditional knitting I have ever seen. It’s not terribly complicated once you get the rhythm down, but will take a bit of time to complete—a.k.a. consider starting next year’s xmas scarf gifts now!

woven knits

I have no actual expertise in natural remedies, but I sure do love reading about the possibilities. When the husband was feeling flu-ish and asked if I had any “potions” to help him out, my research led me to elderberry syrup. Considering there were even some studies/scientific evidence for its usefulness posted on WebMD, I decided to try it out. Not being a controlled experiment, I can’t say it worked…but with both of us nearly down for the count and then quickly back on our feet, it didn’t not work.

elderberry syrup

And finally, the polar vortex and the general unrelenting darkness of this time of the season weighing hard, something bright and healthy to eat seemed to be called for. Cauliflower is one of the only banned vegetables around this homestead but, as a result, those alterna-pizza crusts fare poorly in these parts. However, this butternut squash version (with a kale pesto instead of spinach and whatever toppings I can dig out of the fridge) is sure to be a repeat order.