Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Did somebody say....fresh-baked BREAD?!

There are few foods so intrinsically tied to the human heart, stomach (and nose, for that matter) than bread. Anyone who has caught the distinctive and alluring smell of bread as it is baking in the oven knows exactly what I mean. Your mouth absolutely waters and addictively, you want MORE. In days gone by, this is a smell that I believe would have solidified what is meant by the word "HOME". If home is a place of safety, love and security then bread is its tummy tickler--the ultimate comfort food. Back in the day, it would have been mama's or grandma's job to bring out the doughbox to mix up a week's worth of dough, fashion it into small loaves for rising (the Pennsylvania Germans used rye coil baskets for this purpose) and ultimately would have baked their precious cargo in a brick bake house oven. Oh my-can't you just smell it!
Standing on guard behind the cast iron oven in Joseph Schneider Haus is the wooden doughbox (or Bokmoi as it was known to the early Pennsylvania German Mennonites). A household tool staple at one time, the doughbox took many forms--sometimes on legs so it could stand independently while the Hausfrau worked her dough, other times it was without legs, as above, so that it could rest on a table or bench. (see a compendium of different doughboxes here) Take note, as well, of the rye coil baskets that are holding the rising bread dough balls. The balls of rye bread dough have been coated generously with none other than lard and are then wrapped loosely in linen as was the fashion in the 19th century (and earlier). Wheat bread dough was risen in a similar fashion but was not coated in lard, rather it was brushed with melted fat and then coated with a light dusting of flour. It was similarly wrapped in linen while it rose. More curious are the redware jugs that are covered with linen and that sit ready on top of the doughbox. Wonder what these contain.....? The answer in a minute...

Something else to consider is--where are you going to bake the dough once it has been risen? In this case, the answer is: the Bakofen or Bakeoven in the outdoor Bake House. These types of ovens, like the doughboxes, differ from culture to culture and from region to region, depending upon such variables as weather and whether or not the bake oven is privately owned or shared by a community. In fact, some bake ovens are (and were) communally owned whereby women would bring their unbaked bread to the oven and someone--the village baker--would bake it for them, most commonly for a price. Such activity would allow women the comfort to converse and visit with one another in public (something that many women did not often do, since many were most commonly engaged with their families and home, only. Men were more likely to venture some distance from home and their farms as they took goods to markets for sale or conducted business in another town). To this end, community bake ovens could provide women with a socially-sanctioned reason to be alone and in public at a point in time that this was a rare occurrence.
    Bake ovens were most commonly made from stone or brick that could be heated up enough to bake all sorts of things like pies, breads, etc., in quantity and all at one time.To begin the process, a nice roaring fire was needed to distribute the heat throughout the bake oven cavity...

Once the wood has burned down to glowing coals, they are broken down with a metal rake (a Kich) and the contents are taken out of the oven. Sometimes this meant that they were scraped onto the floor and swept into a nearby hearth (yes!), other times they were scraped into a waiting metal container. This outdoor oven has a metal chamber door that is visible in the centre of the photo, above. Once the glowing coals are removed, the interior floor of the oven is washed with a rag mop (or my favourite Pennsylvania German word a Huddel Lumpa) and the dampers are closed to hold in the heat. These are the wooden boards that are visible at the top of the photo. Unseen and at the end of them, they have flat metal damper sheets that slide into crevasses in the brick wall and act to close off the oxygen to the oven ensuring the end of any flames (but not the heat, which is effectively held by the hot brickwork floor, walls and ceiling of the beehive cavity inside the oven, itself).

A Pennsylvania German favourite: Zwiebelkuchen or Onion Pie, a popular German flatbread similar to modern pizza that has a cream base but no tomato sauce. 

 Any number of goodies were prepared for the coming week. Yes, this would have meant that the Hausfrau had to have a certain amount of meal planning in mind to prepare everything in advance to feed her family for the next week. Contingency plans would have had to also include entertaining guests so extra food would also be baked in anticipation.
Once the baking was arranged in the hot bake oven, the door was closed for about an hour, depending upon what was being baked and then the door was opened to reveal.....a wonderful display of fresh delicacies for the family and friends who would gather at table.
With the baking done, there was only a moment to enjoy a cup of coffee before getting on with the tasks at hand. A woman's work is definitely never done....especially in the early 19th century!
Ahhhh, but before I forget, remember that redware pitcher that was covered and sitting on top of the doughbox? Well, it contained liquid home made yeast (thanks to airborne 'wild yeast" from the air around us that occurs naturally) and that was fermenting over the course of several days. This is what the average woman would have been using to leaven her bread instead of our modern commercial yeasts. All homes had some form of a yeast crock (Sotzcrok) that would have contained live yeast cultures that were similar to what we know today as sourdough.  Over the centuries, many forms of leavening could have and would have been used such as: brewer's yeast (a by-product from brewing beer), hartshorn, pearlash and the aforementioned wild yeast to name a few. For more information on these substances see this downloadable free e-text from archive.org on leavening agents: Historical Leavening Agents

Last year, I participated in a wonderful day long workshop at the Waterloo Region Museum called the Forgotten Foods Symposium. I enjoyed facilitating the bread-making workshop in the Peter Martin House and would like to share with you some of the recipes I made with the participants.

Flatbread (Onion Pie—German “Zwiebelkuchen”):

Many cultures have produced their own versions of flatbreads. Some of these flatbreads were more sophisticated than others—meaning some were leavened and others were not. Unleavened flatbreads were most commonly made from 3 basic ingredients such as flour, salt and water (without the addition of yeast or sourdough starter). One of the advantages of flatbreads in early pioneer farming communities was that a hearty meal could be made from a simple flatbread and could be carried into the fields for lunch. One such example is the Swabian German Onion Pie (from the south--central area of Germany).  

1 cup of warm water
1 tsp of sugar
1 ½ tsp granulated yeast
½ cup of warm water (2nd amount)
3 ½ cups flour (approx.)
½ tsp salt
¼ cup butter, cut into pea-sized pieces
3 eggs

Mix: 1 cup of warm water with 1 tsp of sugar. Stir. Add 1 ½ tsp yeast to the liquid and let sit in a warm area for about 10 min. or until mixture gets bubbly. Set aside.
In another bowl, sift flour and salt and mix together. Add butter and rub mixture to form fine crumbs. Make a well in the centre. Beat the eggs into yeast mixture and pour into well in the middle of the crumb mixture. Add ½ cup warm water, stir and work into a stiff dough. Knead 5-10 minutes on a well-floured board until dough is no longer sticky. Cover with a clean towel and let rise until doubled in size (about 90 minutes). Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190C) and lightly grease a baking sheet. Press down the raised dough with oiled hands and roll out to about ¼ to ½ inch thick. Spread an even layer of sour cream over the entire surface of the dough in pan. Keep the layer on the thin side (about ¾ inch thick). Toppings may now be added.
Note: If you have a bread machine, you may substitute any bread dough recipe for the crust in this recipe—just set your machine to dough. When it is completed, remove the dough from the case and cut into two halves. One bread dough recipe will make 2 crusts for an onion pie.


Sprinkle the top of the pie with 2 cups of shredded white cheddar cheese (I prefer extra old). Chop about 4 cups of onions and, after frying them in butter, evenly distribute over the top of the pie. At this point, chopped herbs may be sprinkled lightly over the pie, if you wish e.g. parsley, chives, thyme, oregano, etc. Finally, cooked and crumbled bacon may be sprinkled generously over the top (about 1lb of bacon). Bake in oven until crust is golden brown. Cut and enjoy!

Scripture Cake (also called Bible Cake):
The earliest Bible Cake recipes were found in British cookery books published in England during the late 1700’s. Even the war between England and its American colonies in 1776 didn’t dampen the enthusiasm that women had for Bible Cakes. Dolly Madison, wife of US President James Madison, was a prolific hostess and was apparently quite fond of Scripture Cake—so much so that it was a favourite feature on her hostess table! The recipe is always written in the form of a riddle that is meant to be both instructive and practical. One can solve the riddle by looking up the listed Bible passages thereby finding the specific ingredients needed to make the cake. (Use a King James Version.) This forms a dense fruitcake that is similar to a spicy German Königskuchen or Kugelhof that one often sees around Christmas. Recipes for Scripture Cakes differ on amounts of ingredients and occasionally the Bible verses used to find them; this particular recipe is based on a recipe that was found in ‘Key to the Pantry’, published by the ladies of the Church of the Epiphany in Danville, Virginia in 1897.

Note: This cake may be baked in two 9-by 5-inch loaf pans, with a reduction in cooking time of about 15 minutes (as opposed to making it in a bundt pan). Adjust your cooking times accordingly.
¾ cup Psalms 55:21 (butter)
1 cup Jeremiah 6:2 (sugar)
3 Jeremiah 17:11 (eggs)
¼ cup Judges 4:19 (milk)
1 tbsp. I Samuel 14:25 (honey)
2 ¼ cups Leviticus 6:15 (all-purpose flour)
1/4 tsp. Leviticus 2:13 (salt)
1 tbsp. Amos 4:5 (use baking powder)
1 tsp. II Chronicles 9:9 (
pumpkin pie spice blend or can use 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, 1/4 tsp allspice)
1 cup I Samuel 30:12 (raisins)
1 cup Numbers 13:23 (chopped dried figs)
½ cup Numbers 17:8 (chopped, toasted almonds)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour 2 loaf pans (or one bundt pan, if desired).

In large mixer bowl, beat Psalms 55:21 until light and creamy. Add Jeremiah 6:2 and beat till fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add Jeremiah 17:11, one at a time, beating well after each. Mix in Judges 4:19 and I Samuel 14:25.

In separate bowl, sift together Leviticus 6: 15, Leviticus 2:14, Amos 4:5 and II Chronicles 9:9. Remove 1/4 cup and set aside. Add half of remaining mixture to mixing bowl and blend thoroughly until well blended to make batter. Remember: Follow Soloman's prescription for the making of a good boy—
Proverbs 23:14 (beat well) and your cake will be both successful and good!

In separate bowl, combine the last 3 ingredients (plus the 1/4 cup that was set aside). Toss to mix. Gently fold this into batter. Fill loaf pans about 3/4 full and bake for about 35 - 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool on rack for 15 minutes and remove from pans. Cool completely and before serving, dr
izzle with Burnt Jeremiah Syrup.

Burnt Jeremiah Syrup:
1 ½ cups Jeremiah 6:20 (sugar)
½ cup Genesis 24:45 (water)
¼ cup Genesis 18:8 (butter)
In a 2-quart saucepan over low heat, melt sugar, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. After sugar melts, continue cooking, stirring continuously, until it is a deep golden brown. Add water and cook, stirring frequently, until smooth. Remove from the heat, add butter and stir till until it melts; allow cake to cool.
Drizzle over cooled scripture cake and garnish, if desired, with whole Genesis 43:11 (almonds).

Potato Flake Sourdough Bread

Potato flakes make an easy starter for modern sourdough bread. Where the frugal wife would have historically recycled her “potato water” to make sourdough, we will skip this step and use potato flakes to simulate the effect. This recipe is also a variation of what is historically known as “friendship starter” that would have been shared from one woman to another and would have formed the basis for many home-made breads. Sharing one’s starter with a friend would have been a very personal act that tied friendships and communities with food preparation and sustenance. In some cases, starters were passed on from a mother to her daughter upon her marriage. Other accounts tell us that the pioneers carried starters with them from their old homes as they journeyed to set up their new homesteads.

If you pay attention to your starter, you can keep it going for a very long time—there are historical accounts that claim that some starters or “mothers” were reportedly over a hundred years old and still viable for use. This starter recipe will continue to gather wild yeast from the air and will get better over time. Keep in mind, however, as with most yeast breads, you will need to plan ahead for rising time when you use a sourdough starter to bake bread—especially if you need to take it out of the refrigerator before using. And don’t forget to feed your sourdough or it will die.
Starter (first time):
1 cup warm water
½ cup sugar
2 ¼ teaspoons dry yeast
3 level tbsp instant potato flakes

Starter Feeder Mix (subsequent times):
1 cup warm water
½ cup sugar
3 tbsp potato flakes

(NOTE: the starter feeder mix does not require that you add yeast to it since it is now getting wild yeast from the air). It is a living, fermented product similar to other fermented foods/bacteria found in yogurt or sauerkraut. Yeast is bacteria.

Ingredients To Make Bread:
6 cups bread flour
1 Tablespoon salt
½ cup sugar
½ cup oil
1 ¼ cups warm water
1 cup sourdough starter (See below)

First Time Starter Directions:
Mix water, sugar, yeast and potato flakes.
Let ferment on counter for two days. Then feed with starter feeder (below).

Starter Feeder Mix:
Combine water, sugar, and potato flakes. Add to starter. Let stand on countertop eight hours. Refrigerate 3 to 5 days, then make bread. After using 1 cup of the starter for dough, pour one cup back into container and refrigerate. Discard any other starter you didn’t use from what you have taken from original starter. Store your starter in refrigerator when not in use.

When you are ready to make more bread or every 3 to 5 days add starter feeder mix again. Stir well and leave on the counter overnight or all day (about 12 hours).

To Make Bread:
Add flour, salt, sugar, oil, and water to starter. Mix well. Knead on a floured surface for 5 to 10 minutes. Put dough into a greased bowl. Cover with a wet dish towel and let it rise in a warm place overnight or all day (about 12 hours). Punch down. Knead on a floured surface to get any air bubbles out. Spray 3 loaf pans with cooking spray and divide dough approximately equal into the 3 pans (shaping into loaf form). Let rise 6 to 8 hours, covered loosely.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 25 to 30 minutes.

The process seems complicated but is quite simple: make a starter, use one cup of it at a time to make bread but remember to feed it (replace what you took) with the starter feeder mix before you return your remaining starter to the fridge where it will hibernate until you need to bake bread again.

And with that, next time you are tempted to run to the store to buy your bread, why not make some the old-fashioned way--from scratch! I guarantee that the smells coming from your home will be absolutely enchanting and intoxicating!

Good eating, folks, from my hearth to your home!