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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.

Just Like Candy: #DIY Mixed Peel

DIY Mixed Peel at Wonderland Kitchen

On days like today, Google makes me cry for both confusingly uplifting reasons as well as the terrifying visions of the future its actions conjure in my head. But while this best-indie-movie plot line and/or Kafka tale develops, Google’s search engine reliably solves my problems. The latest: What the hell is mixed peel?

I went hunting with the goal of making this Alice in Wonderland-related Looking Glass cake. However, mixed peel not being an ingredient stocked at my local grocery, before the baking could begin it seemed I would need to DIY a key ingredient. The internet to the rescue, I was in business with a pile of citrus and a Googled recipe.

DIY Mixed Peel at Wonderland Kitchen

DIY Mixed Peel at Wonderland Kitchen

DIY Mixed Peel at Wonderland Kitchen

This is one of those super easy but several-day DIY projects that annoy the spontaneous among us. So make it now and then surprise yourself when you want to bake hot cross buns for Easter! (Note to self: Bake hot cross buns for Easter this year.) If you have the patience to cut up citrus peel and the skill to boil water, you are already pretty much done. Holiday goodies will definitely be kicked up a notch this season. (So yes, family, prepare for Wonderland fruit cakes this Christmas.) Anyway…

DIY Mixed Peel at Wonderland Kitchen

DIY Mixed Peel
Recipe via Best Recipes, desire due to The Alice in Wonderland Cookbook: A Culinary Diversion by John Fisher

Note: The original recipe calls for less fruit. I lived dangerously and added an extra lemon and one more orange. I was well pleased with the result, but be advised.

1 grapefruit
2 oranges
2 lemons
(or citrus combo of your choosing)
1 1/2 cups sugar

Peel citrus fruit, including as much of the pith as possible. Slice peels into approximately 1/4-inch pieces.

Place prepared citrus peel in a sauce pan and just cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for ten minutes. Drain and repeat, this time reserving 1/2 cup of the simmering liquid before draining.

Return boiled peel, 1/2 cup reserved liquid, 1/2 cup fresh water, and 1 cup sugar to sauce pan and stir to dissolve sugar while bringing to a boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit overnight (mine sat about 18 hours). The following day, add an additional 1/2 cup sugar and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes and then drain citrus peel thoroughly.

Line a baking sheet with parchment and spread out peel pieces to dry, tossing occasionally to prevent clumping. When peels are no longer wet (probably another 24 hours), place in a container with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator (or the freezer for a longer shelf life). According to my reading, prepared peels will withstand at least a month in the fridge.

August’s Pleasure: Tomatoes on Toast


The closing weeks of August generally find me living on a steady diet of tomato sandwiches, and this year is no exception. Sometimes I pair thick slices of bright red fruit with a generous schmear of kale pesto, sometimes I go classic with some mayo and salt. I almost always toast the bread, except for when it’s the first slice off a fresh loaf and I just can’t wait that long.

Tomatoes of August

I know more and more people are giving up gluten products. I’ve cut back a bit from my carb-rich diet, but I’m still committed to bread. I do try and make my own as often as I can, however, favoring whole wheat flour and add-ins such as sunflower or caraway seeds. What I usually don’t have is a lot of time and patience for super-involved recipes (aside from the times that I do). For an everyday bread, I don’t want to heat milk or make extra dishes. I want to measure it all into the bowl of my stand mixer and just let the dough hook do the work. I want it to finish five minutes later with the bowl neat enough to just pull out the dough, spray in a touch of olive oil, and it’s set for reuse as the rising bucket.

That said, I was bored with my standard recipe, and so I went cruising on the internet, as people do, for something new and exciting. I stumbled across Manly Housekeeper’s adaptation of a King Arthur recipe that sounded exactly like my kind of action. And indeed it was. On my second go, I decided to have some fun and braid it rather than rolling it into a loaf; it takes about a minute more to do but I think really adds something fun to the presentation. On the second rise, the dough expands into the edges and corners of the loaf pan, so it’s still completely suitable for sandwiches, just with a fancier top. This is definitely optional, but highly recommended. One caution I will give with this recipe is that my rising times were rapid. That may just be because of the muggy August heat of Maryland, but keep a close eye on your progress.

Harvest Grains Whole Wheat Bread

Harvest Grains Whole Wheat Bread
only slightly adapted from Manly Housekeeper’s recipe due to pantry stock

3 1/2 cups (17.5 ounces) whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 T vital wheat gluten
3/4 cup seed mix such as King Arthur’s harvest grains blend
1/4 cup wheat bran
1 1/2 cups water
3 T vegetable oil
1/4 cup maple syrup

Measure all the dry ingredients into your mixing bowl. Combine the liquid ingredients in a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together, and add in with the dry. Mix until just combined and then let sit for 20 minutes.

When the time has passed, continue kneading by hand or by hook about five minutes, until satiny and elastic. Lightly grease your bowl with olive oil, place dough at bottom and turn several times to coat surface with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave to rise one hour.

Turn dough out onto the counter and gently deflate. Divide dough into three equal portions and roll each into a 16-inch log. Braid together and place in a lightly greased 9 1/4 x 5 1/4 inch loaf pan. Reuse plastic wrap to loosely cover pan and let rise again until dough crowns over pan top about an inch (mine took 45 minutes, but it could require double that).

About 15 minutes before final rise is complete, heat over to 350°F with rack in the center. When dough is ready, bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Then tent bread with aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes more.

Turn loaf out of pan immediately and cool completely on a wire rack. Slice and enjoy, topped with whatever you like best (which would be tomatoes). And keep a careful eye on any suspiciously lurking pets.

Tomatoes and Toast

Back to Basics: Bread and (Macadamia Nut) Butter


Since we spent the majority of our time on Kauai lulled by the sound of the surf and napping in lounge chairs, it’s probably good that we didn’t do a ton of eating in the off hours. Most of our food came from the grocery just down the street or right from the hotel (including a fantastic dinner at the on-site restaurant, Red Salt). I ate lobster tail for the first time–an even bigger surprise, since apparently my jet lagged brain did not read the entry for the ravioli carefully enough and so I didn’t see it coming–but what I really loved was the bread, served with a delicious butter and a small bowl of red salt for sprinkling on top.

Glass Beach on Kauai

Glass Beach on Kauai (mostly black sand and scampering crabs when we visited at dusk, very sparse sea glass)

We did put on real clothes long enough to check out the beer at the Kauai Island Brewery & Grill one night and to grab a pizza at Brick Oven (which gets bonus points in my mind for their fabulous mascot). And for a big road trip one evening, we drove halfway around the island to catch a meal at the vegetarian-friendly Postcards Cafe.

Koa Kea Pool

Photo by @briansacawa

By the time we set out on the 1.5 hour drive, I think I may have built up the restaurant in my mind beyond reasonable expectation. The venue was charming and the staff excellent, but I didn’t find my entrée of tofu, vegetables, and rice in a coconut curry broth to be remarkable in any way. Perhaps that was just a poor selection on my part, but since the GF/V options seemed to be a point of pride for the establishment, I was ready to be dazzled. The trio of artichoke/mushroom/walnut, creamy roasted eggplant, and traditional olive tapenades that we started with was indeed fabulous, however. And there was another sidelight brought to the table that really captured my attention: slices of house-baked bread sharing a basket with a dish of macadamia nut butter. I quizzed the friendly waiter about the makings; this was a souvenir of island life I was intent on taking home with me.

Yes, in the midst of tropical drinks anchored down with fresh pineapple slices and excellently prepared seafood everywhere you looked, leave it to me to get obsessed with the bread and butter. Home again and dreaming of the seashore, I took to baking some rosemary bread just so I could top it with my new favorite spreads.

Macadamia Nut Butter & Red Salt

Macadamia Nut Butter

1 cup macadamia nuts
1 tsp. agave nectar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 scallions, sliced

Place nuts in the bowl of a food processor and let run for a couple of minutes, stopping to scrape down sides as needed. Once the nuts resemble a coarse meal, add agave, salt, and scallions, and continue to process until the butter has achieved desired smoothness.

The butter at Postcards is very chunky. If I had reserved another quarter cup of the nuts, I would have hand chopped those and stirred them into the finished butter before packing into a serving bowl. Next time!

Where All Roads Lead: Banana Bread


When I thought about working on a banana bread recipe, my mental picture book immediately flipped back to the stop Brian and I made in Maui along the phenomenally picturesque Hāna Highway (a.k.a. The Road to Divorce Court, due to how stressful the single-lane, twisty driving can be–just add rain for extra fun on the way back!). A little detour on this trek put us in front of a food cart that our guidebook indicated was an island must-try–Aunt Sandy’s banana bread at the Keanae Landing Fruit Stand. While some quick Googling did not turn up the famed roadside attraction’s secret recipe, it did teach me that I am not the first food blogger to have considered re-inventing it at home.

Nor the second.

Not to be put off the path so easily, however, I read and researched various takes on banana bread in general and the Hawaiian vacationer’s experience in the specific, and even re-examined my vacation photographs, looking for clues. However, as the recipes got more and more complicated, my memories were telling me that the bread was quite upfront about its banana-ness. With that image in mind, I decided I would start with the banana bread recipe that appears in my heavy duty vegetarian cookbook for the fat-to-flour-to-baking-soda-to-liquid proportioning (the science of baking still eludes me somewhat), strip it down even further, and build it back up. In the end, I didn’t ditch the walnuts nuts, but chopped them small (while dreaming of macadamias), swapped coconut oil for butter plus a handful of shredded coconut for added tropical-ness, and spiced it up as suited my tastes.

Genuine vacation photo of Aunt Sandy's banana bread. I don't see nuts. Do you see nuts?

While the road to Hana may be narrow and fraught with blind curves and steep drop-offs, the path to tasty banana bread seems wide open, welcoming interpretation. I wouldn’t dream of comparing mine to Aunt Sandy’s, but even from miles away, the attempt has left me feeling just a bit of that Hawaiian sun. In Baltimore. In February.

banana bread ingredients

Aunt Molly’s Banana Bread
based on 100 internet recipes and 1 woman’s memories of Maui

1/2 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup brown sugar (up to 1 full cup if you like it sweeter)
2 eggs
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups AP flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat over to 350F. Grease a 9″x5″ loaf pan and line bottom and sides with a piece of parchment, leaving enough overhanging that you’ll be able to lift the bread out when baking is complete.

Measure flour, baking soda, salt, spices, nuts, and coconut into a medium bowl and run a whisk around it to evenly combine.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or using a hand mixer, cream oil and sugar, then mix in the eggs one at a time, and then bananas and vanilla extract, scrape the bowl down in between additions. Next, stir in dry ingredients with a spoon just until combined and spread evenly into the loaf pan. Bake for 55 minutes, or until golden and cake tester comes out clean. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.

When cool, wrap it in plastic wrap and carry it around in your purse for a couple hours in order for the full vacation/nostalgia effect to kick in. Best rabidly torn off in hunks and eaten when desperately in need of an afternoon snack, legs knee deep in warm ocean water.


Pas Grand Chose


After two consecutive weekends making sourdough bread using recipes that took literally days to complete, I was transfixed by this little gem while paging through the new King Arthur Flour catalog with my morning coffee: a recipe for French Herb Bread. It wasn’t just that I had recently stumbled across an adorable little bag of Herbes de Provence in my pantry (a souvenir of a French vacation–sadly, not mine). It was that the whole kit and kaboodle went into the mixing bowl in one go and would come out of the oven just a few short hours later. I was smitten, and the butter wasn’t even melting on the bread yet.

By 8:15 a.m., it was measured and mixed and proofing in the oven. By lunchtime, there was toast and by 11 p.m. there was still time for just one more slice before bed, with no one else the wiser. Good thing it’s a quick mix.

French Herb Bread

Look, ma! One bowl (and practically clean already).

French Herb Bread
from King Arthur Flour

1 1/4 cups warm water
2 T olive oil
3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) AP Flour
2 T nonfat dry milk
1/2 cup dried potato flakes
2 T herbes de Provence
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. instant yeast

Place warm water and yeast into a bowl or stand mixer. Stir to dissolve. Add remaining ingredients and mix, then knead, by hand or by dough hook. Mine was soft and light, but not sticky. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for one hour.

French Herb Bread dough

After the first rise is complete, deflate dough and shape into a loaf. Place in a lightly oiled 9″ x 5″ loaf pan, cover loosely with greased plastic wrap, and allow to rise again until it has crowned about an inch over the rim of the pan. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F. My second rise took no more than 30 minutes, so don’t delay getting your oven to temperature.

Bake the bread for 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.