Discovering the Legendary Family Babka

Once upon a time, there was a woman named Julianna. She was born in Poland in the mid-1800’s but immigrated to upstate New York around 1900. There, she married a man named Marcin, and had a baby named Martha. Occasionally Julianna, Marcin and the baby would travel to Chicago to visit with relatives. It was there in the Windy City, in a busy house, that Julianna met a little boy named Allen.

The first time Allen met Julianna he was scared to death of her. To him Julianna seemed very old and very gruff.  But Julianna, who was well-intentioned at heart, just settled in her old Polish ways, possessed a special skill. A skill so special that it could charm anyone, even a scared little boy named Allen.

Juliana’s special talent was baking and her most charming confection was a twisted bread called babka. Everyone in the busy house in the Windy City loved Julianna’s babka. The best in all the land, boasted her proud husband Marcin, who had a belly as round as Santa’s. Everyone agreed.  Even the little boy named Allen, for as soon as he took his first bite of the cinnamon flavored treat he watched all his fears of this old woman fly right out of his head.  It tastes like Christmas, he proclaimed! From that point forward, Julianna  no longer seemed quite so scary. She returned again and again to visit and quickly became little Allen’s most anticipated house guest. As long as she brought the babka, that is:)

That’s a true story from the family archives. Julianna was the second wife of my great, great grandfather, Marcin who hailed from the pretty pastel city of Poznan, Poland in the 1800’s. The little boy named Allen was my dad who was born in Chicago in the 1940’s.

Dad playing with a batch of kittens circa 1946

This information all came courtesy of a notebook of memories my dad filled out about a decade ago. Somehow this information of the famous babka got overlooked in the curiosity department and I never got the chance to ask my dad more about Julianna, Marcin and the famous yet mysterious family bread. A few days after my dad died, I came across the notebook of memories again and was reintroduced to the story of the babka.

Even though Marcin and Julianna shared 10 kids between them, there is no known recipe that’s been passed down through the family. Marcin’s daughter Jozefa, (my great grandmother) died from burns sustained in a kitchen fire when she was just 37, leaving eight children behind. That terrible family tragedy left little opportunity for conversation about lineage, ancestors and recollections when it came to Marcin and Julianna.  No one wanted to dredge up the sad circumstances surrounding Jozefa’s death in order to understand the family that came before her. So a silence fell on that side of history. For a long, long time distant relatives became just a blur of hazy facts and faces. I’m on a mission now though to learn more about my great great grandparents and about that beautiful pastel city where they came from…

Poznan, Poland

It will be a tricky endeavor since I’m dealing with foreign languages and far-off places, but they deserve the effort and it will be fun to see what gets discovered. In the meantime, this one little snippet of a food remembrance from my dad is a cherished link to knowing more about the lives of family members who lived over a century ago.

I don’t have any pictures of Julianna or Marcin yet but I do have a few photos of Jozefa, like this one taken on her wedding day in 1902. Sixteen years later she would die from the fire.

Because I’d never seen, or even heard about babka before it was referenced in the notebook, a new baking adventure was definitely in order. I scoured my vintage cookbooks but found absolutely no mention of it. Luckily, a great recipe was discovered online and the babka came into being in October. Two weeks ago, I posted it on Instagram and shared the story about Julianna.

It turned out to be a really fun and interesting baking project. If you are as unfamiliar with babka as I was, it is one of those cinnamon based desserts that is like a little slice of heaven for the season. Buttery, warm and full of aromatic spice, it tastes like a cross between a cinnamon role and a coffee cake.  Fittingly, (for this story anyway!) the word babka means grandmother in Polish and is a traditional heritage food of both Poland and the Ukraine. Historians suspect that it may date all the way back to the 16th century.

Babka comes in two classic variations – chocolate and cinnamon – and can be augmented with a variety of toppings including streusel, nuts, raisins, spices and dried fruit. Usually it comes in two shapes as well – either round or loaf style.  I chose to make the cinnamon version and baked it both ways – in loaves and rounds. The round version turned out to be a little fancier looking but the loaves are a bit easier to slice, so it comes down to your preference. Either way, it’s a winner of a recipe that tastes great at all times of the day, and is equally enjoyable at breakfast, during a mid-day snack or a late night nibble.

The key to an ultra flavorful babka lies in the freshness of the cinnamon. So if you can, try to find a spice shop in your neck of the woods that offers it freshly ground which would be most ideal. Luckily, as if Julianna was supporting my endeavor, a lovely new spice shop just opened up in my city, so I used Supreme Saigon cinnamon in my recipe. If you don’t have a good spice shop in your area, no worries, you can always order some online or buy a brand new container from your grocery so that you can experience the full bouquet of flavor.

New spice shop in the city!

Making babka from scratch is a three step process, but don’t let that intimidate you, as this is a very easy dessert to make. The only downside to homemade babka is the amount of time (about six hours) it takes to make from start to finish.  That’s because it is a yeast bread and requires time to rise twice. It is well worth the wait though. It also freezes well, so if you were feeling extra ambitious you could double or triple the recipe and stack the babka up in the freezer for homemade goodness all winter long!

Cinnamon Babka

{This recipe was sourced from family-friends-food.com and the Modern Jewish Baker Cookbook by Shannon Sarna}

For the dough:

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

1/3 cup + 1/2/ teaspoon cane sugar

1/2 cup lukewarm water

4 1/2 cups organic all purpose flour

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 cup whole milk

3/4 cup butter (melted)

2 eggs

 

For the Sugar Syrup:

2/3 cup water

1 cup cane sugar

1 tsp vanilla

 

For the Filling:

3/4 cup butter, melted

1/1/2 cups cane sugar

2 tablespoons cinnamon

pinch of salt

In a small bowl, combine the yeast, 1/2 tsp sugar and the lukewarm water. Stir to combine and then set aside for about 10 minutes so that the yeast can foam.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, 1/3 cup sugar and vanilla, mixing until everything is blended together. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, scald the milk and then remove the pan from the heat and let it rest for 1 minute.
Using a hand mixer, combine the water/yeast mixture, the milk, and the melted butter to the flour mixture and blend to incorporate. Then mix in the eggs, one at a time.
Continue mixing on a low to medium speed for 7 full minutes until the dough is shiny, elastic and smooth.
Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with a warm damp towel. Allow to rise 1 to 2 hours.
While the dough is rising make the simple syrup by combining the water, sugar, and vanilla in a small saucepan. Bring to a low boil until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Next make the filling by combining all ingredients in a medium bowl and mixing thoroughly. Set aside.
When the dough has risen, cut it into two equal halves. Roll out one half on a lightly floured surface until it’s about 1/4″ inch thick. Try to roll the dough in as rectangular shape as possible.
With a sharp knife trim the rounder edges of the dough so that they form straight lines, which makes the babka braids look more tidy down the road.
Next spread half of the filling evenly all over the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch rim around the edge.  Ideal tools for this are a frosting knife, a spatula, the back of a spoon or even your fingers.
Then starting at the bottom edge, tightly roll up the dough (jelly roll style) to the very top edge.
Once your dough is all rolled up and resembles a log shape, trim each end with a sharp knife and then cut the log length-wise down the middle to expose the filling inside.
Now that you have to halves of one log, braid the two halves together, alternating one section on top of the other so that it looks like this…
Place the braid in a greased springform cake pan.
Repeat the above steps with the other half of the dough. And then curl the second braid inside the first braid and smoosh the two braids together lightly (like you are squeezing a basketball between your hands) so that it creates some space between the sides of the pan and the dough.
Finally, drape a moist kitchen towel over the pan and set aside to rise for 30 more minutes.
While the dough is rising again , preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bake the babka in the oven for 40 minutes, then take it out and brush the top of the bread with two light layers of the sugar syrup. Return it to the oven and bake for another 20 minutes.
When it is ready, the babka will be a golden brown on top and the internal temperature will be 185 degrees. Place the pan on a cooling rack and brush the top with three more light layers of the sugar syrup. Let it cool for 10-15 minutes before removing the babka from the pan. The sides will be be rippled with ribbons of dough…
Slice and serve either warm or at room temperature. The babka pairs really well with a cup of strong coffee, tea or espresso.

Thanks to its bountiful size and rich texture, it makes an ideal holiday food since it can serve a lot of people, transports well and can be frozen for months ahead of time.
When I first posted the babka story on Instagram, several people sent messages requesting the recipe, so I’m pleased to be sharing it here on the blog today. I loved this bread so much that it is now going to be a new annual holiday baking tradition in my house. And I hope it becomes one of yours too. When my dad first met Julianna, she was in her 90’s. I love that she was still baking for her family at that age and still possessed the ability and desire to convince a small little boy that sweetness can be found even behind a sometimes gruff exterior.
Cheers to Julianna, Jozefa and my dad for providing glimpses into past family lives, to Helen and Shannon for providing the recipe and to Savory Spice for opening up shop just in time for this cinnamon-filled baking adventure. Hope you guys will be just as smitten with babka as I am.

 

Blackberry Baking with the Legendary Sally or Solange or Whatever She Once Was Called

In the historic baking world there’s a legend that springs from a yeast bread.  Depending on the sources and the provenance of specific recipes, facts about this legend vary widely and wildly. In some tales she’s a 17th century girl, in others an 18th century woman.  She was French. She was English. She was colonial American. She was an ordinary teenager, she was a famous baker, she was a lowly domestic servant. She had a name that was either Sally or Solange or Madame or Marie. She was a real human being but she then again she was a fake and then yet again someone else’s flight of fancy. For three centuries, this baking icon has tumbled through time on the flimsiest of resumes. This is the story of Sally Lunn and a cake (or it might have been a bread) that made her famous.

This weekend, after coming home from the market with a batch of blackberries that were so deliciously ripe they smelled like wine, I discovered a vintage recipe that is as difficult to describe as the lady it was named after. Called Fresh Blackberry Sally Lunn, it came from Meta Given’s 1957 Encyclopedia of Modern Cooking.  Surprisingly, out of a stack of forty different vintage cookbooks spanning the early 1900’s to the early 1980’s, Meta’s book was one of just a few that contained any recipes for fresh blackberries at all. Homemade jam and blackberry pie unified the books that did include the fruit, but Meta’s was the only cookbook that combined blackberries with a cake in the name of Sally Lunn. I love any recipe that is unique and stands out. The name Sally Lunn sounded curious and since I’d never heard of her before I had a feeling this might be fun to share with you too.

Like the age old conundrum of who came first – the chicken or the egg – there are two different variations of a baked good that purportedly  made Sally Lunn famous. One was a yeasted savory bread that looks like a cross between a bundt cake and a hamburger bun…

The yeasted bread version from the Williamsburg Cookbook, 1981 edition
Another version – not quite as bun-like on the bottom. Photo also from the Williamsburg Cookbook, 1981 edition.

and the other is a sweetened tea cake that looks like something between a blueberry pancake and a cobbler…

You wouldn’t be wrong to call either variation a Sally Lunn, even though they are two completely different types of food. Because of that, her name has popped up in recipe titles in a myriad of ways. There’s the Sally Lunn Bun, Virginia Sally Lunn, Sally Lunn Bread, Sally Lunn Cake, Sweet Sally Lunn and just plain old Sally Lunn among others.  Likewise, in indexes, you’ll find her popping up under L for Lunn, S for Sally or more specifically under category sections that include Cakes, Breads, Desserts, Baked Goods, Tea Cakes, Yeast Breads, Coffee Cakes, Coffee Breads, etc. So how could one possibly mythical person be identified with two types of very different yet specific baked goods over the course of hundreds of years?

As it turns out no one knows. And thus far it has been impossible to authentically identify any true source that leads to Sally and the bread and cake that share her name. Lots of ideas about her float around.  She was a teenage maid servant named Sally Lunn who delivered a newly invented bread to her master of the house, who in turn delightfully named it for her. She was a talented French baker named Solange, who escaped to a bakery in England where she began to make a popular brioche-style confection that looked like the rising of the sun. She was a working class woman in 18th century England crying out her name in the streets as a sales tool for the bread that became her trademark. There’s even a historic eating house in England that speculates they might have been the site of Sally’s original bakery in the late 1600’s.

Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House in Bath, England

I like to believe the theory that Sally Lunn was an actual baker living in 1700’s England. The story details how she invented a sweet yeast bread that became very popular at first locally, then regionally, then across the sea. With this theory, it makes sense then that references to Sally Lunn would have shown up in early American cookbooks, a favored recipe brought over by the English as they colonized America. Possibly, at some point in history, when yeast either became too expensive, or there was a shortage, a non-yeast cake version was invented by some other creative and clever baker in the 1800’s who used all the same ingredients of Sally Lunn bread minus the yeast. Thereby keeping the name Sally Lunn in the recipe title. By the time, the 1950’s rolled around perhaps Meta made her own creative choice by marrying blackberries into the non-yeast version Sally Lunn cake. Whether this is an accurate assumption or not, no one will ever know for certain unless some of Sally’s baking notes happen to show up. But with all this mysteriousness that surrounds Sally and her two contributions to the baking industry, I think she’d be happy knowing that at least her name stayed attached even though the origin story didn’t. It is after all, the ultimate branding success story, 1700’s style!

Meta Given’s two volume Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking of Cooking from the 1950’s

Meta Given was a legend in the culinary world in her own right. A nutritionist at heart, she set out to write some of the most comprehensive cookbooks of the 1950’s that included recipes for people across the entire economic spectrum. Her books featured everything from thrifty staples like squirrel stew to elegant French dishes with layered sauces and nuanced flavors. Her mission was to make cooking fun, enjoyable and accessible for everyone while also making it nutritious and creative.  I’m so pleased to present her lovely sweet treat of a dessert that highlights the juicy, sun ripened flavors of blackberries nearing summer’s end. What I love about this cake in particular is that it is pretty healthy – using small amounts of sugar, butter and flour. The blackberries really keep the cake moist and add a familiar sweet tart flavor similar to cobbler but with a velvety more dense consistency like a blueberry pancake.  If you wanted to add an extra dash of sweetness you could drizzle the whole cake with honey or follow Meta’s suggestion of adding a lemon sugar glaze once the cake is out of the oven, but I loved it just as it was… simple and summer-y.

Meta Given’s Fresh Blackberry Sally Lunn Cake

1 pint box of freshly picked blackberries (enough for 2 1/2 cups)

1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons salted butter, softened

2/3rds cup sugar ( I used raw cane sugar)

1 large egg

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 cup sour cream*

1/2 cup whole milk*

(*Note – The milk measurement was left out of the original recipe, but was included in a revised edition in 1959. I used the sour cream/milk combination but you can also substitute those two ingredients for 1 cup of buttermilk).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter well an 8 1/2″ inch springform cake pan.

Drop berries into a bowl of cold water to rinse and remove any stems or leaf debris. Swish berries gently and then by by hand remove them to a colander to drain. Once the berries have drained in the colander transfer them to a medium size bowl and gently toss them with 1 tablespoon sugar. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, and salt together. Set aside.

In another bowl, whip the butter, sugar and egg together until creamy. Stir in lemon juice using  a wooden spoon and then add the flour, sour cream and milk, blending until smooth.

Gently fold in the blackberries until just well distributed. Turn batter into prepared pan.

Bake until golden brown (about 40-55 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Once ready to remove from oven, let cake cool slightly in pan on a cooling rack before serving either lukewarm or at room temperature.

In addition to enjoying the end-of-season fruit harvest this month, Fresh Blackberry Sally Lunn cake also freezes well. So if you choose that storage method you’ll still be able to taste the warm days of summer even on the coldest winter nights. And because it does have a pancake-esque quality to it, it wouldn’t be terrible to serve it for breakfast or even alongside a summer salad for brunch or lunch. This Fall, I’ll share the other version of Sally Lunn as we dive into bread baking season to see how these two, and if these two compare in any way other than by name.

In the meantime, cheers to Sally and to Meta for baking delicious food that withstands not only multiple decades but multiple centuries too!  If you are interested in learning more about Meta and her cookbooks, find a few in the shop here. The Williamsburg Cookbook will also be heading to the shop shortly as well, in case you want to catch up on your colonial fare before heading into the holiday season. Find that one coming to the cookbook section shortly. And finally, this cake was styled using the lovely vintage 1960’s Italian cut glass cake stand which you can find in the shop here.

The Cake That Fed An Entire Town: {Part One} On Election Day in 1700’s America

Once upon a time in history long, long ago there was a cake that fed the whole entire town on Election Day. Called simply, Election Cake, it was an active participant in the voting scene of early America. But while the recipe’s origins are as old as the United States itself, the exact history is a little bit varied depending on which source in which state is telling the tale.

The first American cookbook was written by Amelia Simmons and published in 1796. Her second edition of this cookbook, published two years later in 1798, features the first published recipe for Election Cake.

Essentially though, everyone pretty much agrees that it boils down to the early days of New England (some say Connecticut, some say Massachusetts) when Election Day was celebrated in the Spring and considered one of the biggest party days of the year. Enjoyed with the same amount of zeal as our modern St. Patrick’s Day festivities, Election Day in 1700’s America was a boozy holiday full of ale and camaraderie and community support. Only people weren’t celebrating one particular heritage like we do the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. They were celebrating everyone’s heritage, as Americans, on Election Day. The fervor was for freedom. And the cake was needed to sop up everyone’s spirits (the ale especially).  It also provided a little motivation to actively vote for the political candidates of the day, because even in 1700’s America, people (and politicians!) were aware of the powerfully compelling nature of cake and its ability’s to attract favor.

Being such a big festivity in the lives of Colonial America, with people traveling from miles around to attend special gatherings,  it made sense to local residents, at the time, to bake one enormous cake to serve all who showed up. So out of thirty quarts of flour and fourteen pounds of sugar and ten pounds of butter, Election Cake was born from the loving hands and hearts of local women who couldn’t vote themselves but could at the very least feed the men who were voting for them. Some historians say that this proves that women were important members of the political spectrum even back then when they had no vocal authority.  I don’t know about that, they may have just looked at the voting day in a practical feed-the-masses way,  but it is fun to think that while they were baking, they were also discussing political topics among themselves. Even if they were just hushed whispers while they were mixing batter and melting butter, I like to think they were formulating their own ideas about what should and could happen in the future shaping of America.

An election cake recipe from 1889 by Ellen Wadsworth Johnson. Photo courtesy of connecticuthistory.org

The interesting thing about Election Cake though is that it is not really cake. Since its inception it has really been more of a fruit and spice studded bread than a traditional cake. And in true American spirit it has been revised and enhanced and reworked over the centuries into numerous different versions like breakfast buns, frosted bundt cakes and drunken fruit cakes. The core of the recipe remains the same though – flour, butter and sugar – but over the years different variations have been included and excluded that involve milk, eggs, raisins, currents, citrus fruits, whiskey, rum, brandy, wine, confectioner’s sugar, etc. Baking equipment differs too. Originally, back in the day when one giant cake was made, it was too big to fit into any bakeware so it just baked free-form on the oven floor. Next came bread loaf pans, a smart decision that produced numerous easy-to-handle loaves that could be made by numerous hands. Then there was the bundt cake method, the cast iron skillet method, the baking dish method, etc.

The 1965 edition of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook originally published in 1898.

For this post, I’m making the Fannie Farmer version from her 1965 Fannie Farmer Cookbook, which was first published in 1898. True to form, this recipe has changed a bit over the Fannie Farmer years too. The 1960’s version involves raisins, whiskey and loaf pans. Her original recipe from 1898 called for figs, sour milk and bread dough starter.

The bulk of this project lies in waiting for the dough rise (six hours!).

A nine hour baking project from start to finish, this is a kitchen adventure that will unfold over two days and two blog posts. Tonight, we discussed the history behind the recipe, and tomorrow we’ll discuss the actual recipe and how it all turned out. Will it indeed be more like a raisin bread rather than a fruit cake, as it is listed in Fannie’s cookbook? Will our modern palettes fall in love with this old fashioned recipe enough to resurrect it and recommend it in the Vintage Kitchen?  Will it become a repeat labor of love on future days of election or will it be a one hit-not-so-wonderful? Only time will tell in this case. Tune in tomorrow for the 2018 Election Day results, vintage kitchen style…

 

Katharine’s Norah’s Cousin’s Irish Soda Bread: From the Kitchen of the Hepburn Household

If you’ve been a long-time reader of the blog, you’ll know what big fans we are of Katharine Hepburn.  Last Fall, we made her famous Lace Cookies. The ones that were in constant request at both her city house and her country house, so much so, that extra batches were kept on hand either freshly baked or on standby in the freezer. Was Katharine always the one baking away? Sometimes. But mostly it was Norah, Katharine’s longtime personal cook, domestic helper and treasured friend.

Norah Considine. Photo from the book At Home With Kate.

Norah Considine worked for Kate for 30 years, day in and day out, making the kind of food that Katharine loved best – simple, hearty and well-balanced. Sometimes though Norah would sneak-in her own recipes, a combination of food from her Irish heritage and dishes that she made up on the fly to feed her five kids. With guests continuously coming and going from the Turtle Bay city townhouse and from Fenwick, the Hepburn family compound in Connecticut, mealtimes were always eventful and Norah was always up to the task to make them as delicious as possble. Cooking for everyone with equal aplomb, making meals that were thoughtfully prepared and proven to please, Norah was accustomed to feeding an ever-evolving crowd that ranged from household staff to famous celebrities. In turn, she became a little bit famous herself, with returning guests regularly requesting her rum cake, or her beef stew, or her creamed chipped beef on toast.

Katharine Hepburn’s townhouse in the Turtle Bay neighborhood of NYC

Even though Kate liked to run a tight ship, she was generous with her friends and her staff. Every year on St. Patrick’s Day, Kate would leave New York City and head to Fenwick, so that Norah could have the townhouse to herself to entertain her friends and family for St. Patrick’s Day. This party was no small gathering, sometimes counting over 100 people or more.  But no matter what the attendance numbers were, large or small,  Kate always wanted Norah to be the star of the show for her special event, so she’d graciously leave in order to give Norah the run of the place.

For a change, Norah would cook for herself and her friends, and she would relax into the traditional celebrations of her heritage day.  At these parties, you didn’t always know who was going to be attending – friends and family flew in, drove in and walked over from all corners of the city, the country, and the world. There were homemade costumes and contests, musicians and dancers and tables full of traditional food and drinks. One of the edibles Norah always made for these parties was her cousin’s Irish Soda Bread, a recipe that traveled all the way from Ireland.

This was the soda bread recipe that was legendary in Norah’s family and in Katharine’s house. It has fed hundreds of people throughout hundreds of parties and like, Kate’s Lace Cookies, it represents wonderful memories and extraordinary experiences.  Not bad for a humble bread born out of lean economic times.  With a consistency somewhere between a fluffy cake and a crumbly cornbread, Norah’s cousin’s Irish Soda Bread is a decadent little treat both sweet and hearty in a satisfyingly nourishing way. One slice makes you understand how it fortified a country for two and half centuries.

Although technically, not really Irish in origin (the Native Americans were the first to come up with the general idea), Ireland has been proclaiming soda bread a national staple since the 1830’s. Because it contains no yeast, an expensive ingredient in times past, soda bread gets its bulk from baking soda which chemically raises the dough when combined with flour and any acidic property like sour milk, buttermilk, or in Norah’s case, sour cream.  Some people even add a touch of orange juice or lemon rind to their soda bread for an extra dose of certainty that the chemical reaction will yield a tall and fluffy loaf.

That are lots of variations on the traditional soda bread recipe, but Norah’s is interesting because it includes caraway seeds and sour cream and just a little bit more butter. Super fast and easy to put together, this recipe only takes about 15 minutes to prepare and bakes to a crunchy, golden brown within an hour. Norah recommended enjoying it warm, just minutes out of the oven, or if you want to wait a bit,  let it cool to room temperature and toast it with a little butter right before you are ready to serve it. The one drawback of Irish soda bread is that it dries out quickly – so if you are not going to serve it the day you make it, then it is best to freeze it and reheat it when the occasion arises.

Not as hard as biscotti and not as dense as cornbread, Irish soda bread lands somewhere in the middle as far as form. It pairs beautifully with any salty meat like ham, sausage or brisket for a savory-sweet combo, and would be marvelous with a soft creamy-textured cheese like Brie or goat cheese.  In an adventurous mood, we might even top a toasted slice with cream cheese and bacon and kale for an interesting brunch option or serve it alongside baked apples or a chopped salad of pear and fig.  In the next couple of months, we’ll be experimenting with Norah’s soda bread recipe, trying out some different food pairings. Once we’ve determined our favorites, we’ll post them here on the blog.

In the meantime, we encourage you to try this delicious holiday bread and look forward to hearing your thoughts on it.

Norah’s Cousin’s Irish Soda Bread

4 cups unbleached flour, plus more for dusting

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup granulated sugar

2 cups raisins

4 teaspoons caraway seeds

4 eggs

1 pint sour cream (2 cups)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 sticks, salted butter, plus more for pan

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, raisins and caraway seeds.

Roughly chop the butter into the flour mixture and combine to the point that the mixture looks like coarse meal. You can do this with the tines of a fork, a wooden spoon or your own two hands. Set aside.

In a small bowl combine the sour cream, eggs and baking soda.

Mix well and then slowly add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients…

Mix until combined and until the bread is no longer sticky. You might need to add as much as 1/4 cup extra flour to this process, but be careful not to overmix the dough.

Ideally, you want the dough to be just smooth enough so that you can pick up in your fingers and transfer it to a lightly floured cutting board without it sticking to your hands.

On the board, shape the dough and then transfer it to a greased 2-quart baking pan. Keep in mind – the dough expands to fit its baking container and then rises – so if are using something other than a 2-quart dish – just be aware that it will grow in size.

Bake for 1 hour. Cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before removing from the pan and slicing.

However you choose to spend St. Patrick’s Day, whether it be at a big house party like Norah’s, or at a simple celebratory supper for a few (much more Kate Hepburn style) we hope you have a wonderful holiday full of good food, good friends, and good spirits!

Cheers to Kate and to Norah and to Norah’s cousin, whose family recipe has traveled across countries and continents and kitchens and time. Happy St. Patrick’s Day with much love from In The Vintage Kitchen.

That’s Norah (wearing the polka dot blouse) in the midst of her St. Patrick’s Day merrymaking.

New England Style: Three Vintage Bread Recipes You’ll FALL in Love With

bread2

Now that Autumn is here and the temperatures are cooling and the holidays are coming in close, there is nothing that trumpets the start of the cozy Fall season more than baking homemade bread. This week in the vintage kitchen we are exploring three different types of bread – one quick bread, one muffin recipe and one sandwich bread, all tackled the old-fashioned way. Meaning without a bread machine or any fancy paddling mixers.

Inspiration begins back in the late 1960’s when food writer and cookbook author June Platt was living here…

littlecompton-ri

in the picturesque seaside town of Little Compton, Rhode Island. Tasked with writing a reigional cookbook made up wholly of New England fare, June compiled a list of over 250 recipes that represented the belly and bounty of diverse Northern appetites.

Her recipes were published in 1971 under the title June Platt’s New England Cook Book…

June Platt's New England Cook Book

and contained recipes both historic and modern for all meals of the day including cocktail hour, appetizers, party fare, preserves, homemade wine and the infamous bread featured here in this post. Let’s look at what’s in the oven…

BREAD No. 1

If you are anything like Ms. Jeannie, you find sandwich bread making a bit of a challenge. Usually when Ms. Jeannie attempts such creations her bread comes out weighing 18 pounds and has both the texture and composition of packed clay. Right when the oven door opens and the weighty wonder gets hoisted onto the cooling rack, she knows instantly  that she’ll need not a bread knife but a handsaw to cut into such a terrible beauty of an endeavor.

But things have changed dear readers. Ms. Jeannie can no longer say that baking is dreadful and that light, fluffy sandwich bread eludes her. Thanks to June Platt she has found her perfect sandwich bread. Easy to make, simple to bake.  Success at last! Although it is is yeast bread and therefore takes some hours to fully prepare from start to slice, it is WELL worth it and very simple. You’ll never want to eat any other bread again.

Brown Bread

Like New Englanders themselves, this bread is humble, hardy and versatile. According to June Platt, legend has it that this recipe stemmed from a farmer who was so fed up with his wife’s terrible cooking that he took to the kitchen himself keen on preparing something (anything!) edible. As  Louisa May Alcott (a fellow New Englander) said necessity is the mother of all invention, and so Farmer made his bread and named it after his wife Ana and her (damnable) cooking talents…

Anadama Bread

(makes 2 loaves)

1/2 cup white stone ground cornmeal

2 cups boiling water

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup dark molasses

1 rounded teaspoon salt

1 yeast cake dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water

4 cups flour* (see note)

  1. Stir cornmeal very slowly into boiling water, using a wooden spoon.
  2. When thoroughly mixed add the butter, molasses and salt. Try to work out any lumps by flattening them out with the back of the wooden spoon against the side of the bowl or pan.
  3. Cool to lukewarm.
  4. Add the yeast dissolved in the warm water.
  5. Add the flour, one cup at a time, stirring with the wooden spoon, to make smooth dough.
  6. Place on a lightly floured board or canvas and knead well.
  7. Place dough in a well-buttered bowl and cover with a cloth wrung out in hot water.
  8. Allow to rise in a warm place, free from drafts, until more than double its original bulk (or for about 2.5 hours).
  9. Preheat oven to 400 degrees , and butter two 9″inch bread pans.
  10. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board again, knead lightly and shape into two loaves.
  11. Place dough in the buttered pans , cover with a towel wrung out in hot water , and allow to rise again until doubled in bulk (about one hour).
  12. Place the loaves in the pre-heated oven and bake until they are a deep golden brown (about 45-50 minutes).
  13. Place on a wire rake to cool before removing loaves from pans.

This a fun recipe to work on while you have a whole home day planned. Because it does take some time you may want to double up on the recipe and make four loaves of bread so you can stick some in the freezer for later use.

*Ms. Jeannie followed this recipe and the steps exactly with the exception of the flour. She used 2 cups all purpose flour and two cups of cake flour which is little bit lighter in texture.  This combo may have aided in a slightly fluffier loaf.

Moist, flavorful, easily sliced (no handsaw required!) this sandwich bread is perfect for everyday use in the versatile sandwich department. Hopefully it will become a household staple in your kitchen, like it now is in the land of Ms. Jeannie.

*** Update 10/26/2016***

Another batch of bread was made this time using all-purpose flour (in place of cake flour) and olive oil (in place of butter) and it came out equally as wonderful and delicious. The all-purpose flour makes it the tiniest tiny bit more dense but other than that there are no noticeable differences in either taste or texture, which leads Ms. Jeannie to believe that this just might be the most versatile and easily experimental bread recipe ever. Next time, she’ll try it with a sprinkling of nuts, seeds and/or whole grains to see what happens. Stay tuned on that front or experiment yourself and let Ms. Jeannie know how it all turned out in the comments section below.

BREAD No. 2

Fruit and nut breads are always an instant favorite and an easy go-to for busy morning breakfasts. Ms. Jeannie never passes on homemade banana or berry breads and likes to experiment herself with different flavor combos when it comes to quick breads.  Since we are in the middle of nut season, June Platt’s vintage recipe for Cranberry-Orange-Walnut Bread sounded wonderfully delicious and in-season. Only there was one slight problem. Cranberries.

Ms. Jeannie scoured high and low, store to market to store again. There were no cranberries to be had anywhere in her fair city, fresh frozen or otherwise. A bit too early for Thanksgiving relish season, perhaps, New Englanders must have made this bread in the colder mornings of November instead of October.  Out of season, but not out of spirit Ms. Jeannie substituted. And then substituted again. Dried sour cherries replaced fresh cranberries and almonds replaced walnuts.

Cherries seemed fitting on the historic side – George Washington was a fan after all. On the flavor side they are sweet yet tart like a cranberry and the dried version seemed like the next best thing. Just be sure when preparing this recipe you look for pitted sour cherries. Ms. Jeannie found her cherries at the international market inside her local farmers market and they were not pitted. That added a sticky extra 30 minutes in the prep department.

cherry1

Sour Cherry – Orange – Almond Bread

(makes 1 loaf)

2 cups sifted flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 egg ( well beaten)

Juice of 1 orange (about 1/3 cup)

Freshly grated rind of 1 orange (about 1 heaping teaspoon)

1/4 cup cold water

1 cup granulated cane sugar

1/4 cup melted butter

1 cup dried sour cherries, roughly chopped

1/2 cup whole almonds,  roughly chopped

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9″ inch bread pan.
  2. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the beaten egg, orange juice, grated rind, water and sugar.
  4. Add the sifted ingredients and stir just long enough to mix. Stir in the melted butter. Fold in the sour cherries and almonds.
  5. Spoon mixture into the loaf pan and bake for 1 hour (or until inserted toothpick comes out clean). Oven temperatures really vary the timing on this one so keep your eye on it.
  6. Let cool on wire rack.

Because the almonds add a little hearty protein and the cherries mingle tartly with the sweet orange and cane sugars this bread is almost like a soft protein bar. Two slices are very satisfying especially when served warm with a little butter. A lovely alternative to oatmeal on those frosty winter mornings and a great bread for holiday house guests with its fast, festive and easy to freeze attitude, this bread will make holiday entertaining a breeze in the brunch/breakfast department.

Cherry orange almond bread

Bread No. 3

Our final bread comes to us by way of Vermont. June Platt had a special soft spot for the state and especially loved the maple syrup that sweetened all matter of meals in Fall and Winter. Her recipe for Vermont Johnnycake Muffins is ideally suited as a companion for a warm bowl of chili with its dense composition and hint of maple sweetness. Essentially it is a cornbread muffin with a cute name. But as Ms. Jeannie knows living in the South there are two VERY different camps on the subject of cornbread. Northerners like their cornbread sweet, Southerners like their cornbread sour (or non-sweetened if you will). Ms. Jeannie prefers hers a a little on the sweet side but not so sugary that it tastes like cake. This Johnnycake is a hospitable meet-you-in-the-middle between North and South. A cornbread for everyone.

muffins1

Vermont Johnnycake Muffins

(makes 8 muffins)

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour

2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cornmeal

2 eggs, well beaten

1/3 cup milk

1/4 cup maple syrup

6 tablespoons melted butter

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together , add the cornmeal and sift again.
  3. Combine the remaining ingredients and add to the dry ingredients, stirring only enough to dampen all the flour.
  4. Pour into well-buttered muffin tins and bake in a hot oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.

June suggests serving these handsome guys with Maple cream or Maple Butter. Ms. Jeannie suggests a little bit of jalapeno jelly, a dollop of goat cheese and a drizzle of honey.  Like the other breads above, these muffins freeze well and can fill up a hearty appetite in a half second. Its just the kind of fortitude you need when shoveling snow or battling that freezing wind rolling in off the coast.

Vermont Johnnycake Muffins

Released to great critical acclaim, all the recipes in this cook book re-introduced regional delights that were overlooked and underrated in mid-20th century America.  June helped bring them out of hiding 45 years ago and in turn four decades later, Ms. Jeannie is shining a spotlight on them again today. So whether you are looking for something new to bake-up this season or you are like Ms. Jeannie just trying to bolster up your bread baking abilities look no further than New England dear readers!

To explore more vintage recipes from June Platt’s New England cookbook, including the wonderfully named Beach-Plum Jelly, Rinktum Ditty, Cranberry Troll Cream, Red Flannel Hash and the classics-  Lobster Rolls, New England Clam Chowder, Boston Baked Beans, etc etc etc… visit this link here.

Cheers and happy baking from June, Jeannie and all of New England!

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Our Readers: Scones, Wedding China and Homemade Jam

The other day when Ms. Jeannie went over the year in review, she mentioned making a batch of cinnamon-nutmeg scones. If you don’t recall, here is what they looked like:

Scones, antique ironstone and vintage Royal Jackson china.
Scones, antique ironstone and vintage Royal Jackson china.

Blog reader, Amy, wrote in to request the recipe agreeing that such a simple treat would be the perfect partner to mull over one’s thoughts with. This recipe is an easy one  and made even better by adding home made jam on top.

Ms. Jeannie’s sister, Marianne, makes AMAZING jams and jellies. Those pictured above are the latest batch she just sent. It is a happy day whenever a box of goodies arrives from her. Mr. Jeannie Ology can hardly contain himself while the box gets unwrapped. This gift box included: Blackberry, Raspberry, Orange Cranberry and Italian Plum jams (Italian plum not pictured – because it’s already been devoured!).

Each jar holds a magnificent concoction of flavors – this one is cranberry orange.

The perfect amount of jam vs. chunky fruit.

Marianne picks all the fruit herself, in the Seattle summer months (aka the non-rainy season!), and then gets to work canning away. She also makes her own labels – so cute! She was a true Martha Stewart way before anybody knew about the actual Martha.

Gorgeous jam in a gorgeous package!
Gorgeous jam in a gorgeous package!

She’s actually really crafty in all the creative areas. When Ms. Jeannie’s other sister, Christine, got married in 2010, Ms. Jeannie and Marianne put together all the floral arrangements and wedding bouquets.

Wedding flowers in route to the wedding!
Wedding flowers in route to the wedding!

Their work space for the bouquet assembly was the hotel room floor the morning of the wedding.  It was festive and fun to see a floor full of flowers.  The arrangements came together with ribbon and laughter. It was frantic but in a good way and left such an edible memory – one of her favorites of the entire wedding weekend.

wed

So, as you can see Marianne’s creativity knows no limits. From jam to floral arrangements – she’s a one woman wonder.

Back to those scones…  Ms. Jeannie recommends, that once you remove them from the oven, you should add a healthy dose of butter and jam on top of each scone while they are still warm. Hopefully you are lucky, like Ms. Jeannie and have an excellent jam source too.

Nutmeg-Scented Scones

Makes eight triangle shaped scones.

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup golden brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons freshly grated whole nutmeg or ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 egg white, beaten to blend with 2 teaspoons water (for glaze)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar

Preheat oven to 425°F. Combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in processor; blend 10 seconds. Using on/off turns, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add sour cream. Using on/off turns, blend until moist clumps form. Turn dough out onto floured work surface. Knead 4 turns to form ball. Flatten dough to about 3/4 inch thick circle. Cut into 8 wedges. Brush with egg-white glaze; sprinkle with 2 teaspoons sugar and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Transfer to baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart.

Bake scones until tops are golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer scones to rack and cool slightly.

Recently, RoseMary from Shasta Lake Shop on Etsy, also wrote in about the Royal Jackson china (pictured with the scone). This is what she had to say:

“FYI The Autumn pattern was discontinued in the early 1950s. I was married in 1952 and chose it as my fine china pattern. I was devastated when in about 1953 I received a call that the pattern was being discontinued. I had just a few pieces, probably a service for 6. Replacement services were unknown at that time. It wasn’t until 50 years later that I found someone on ebay who had many of the pieces. I bought everything he had. Now I can set a table for 20+ people with all the extra serving pieces. Homer Laughlin also made a matching pattern in semi-vitreous china. Don’t know what its called or much about it but bought a set to help fill out my pattern for a while.” – RoseMary, The Shasta Lake Shop

Ms. Jeannie loves hearing stories like these! She tried to do a quick search for the Homer Laughlin pattern that RoseMary mentioned but she couldn’t come up with anything yet. If you know what the pattern name is, please write in!  This china is so pretty – Ms. Jeannie couldn’t imagine having an entire set. RoseMary is one lucky lady!

Set of 6 Royal Jackson teacups - available in Ms. Jeannie's shop.
Set of 6 Royal Jackson teacups – available in Ms. Jeannie’s shop.

When Ms. Jeannie got married she didn’t register for one specific china pattern. Instead she registered at Fishs Eddy, which is a vintage/contemporary china store in New York City.

The magical Fishs Eddy store on Broadway and 19th Street in NYC. Photo credit: David Mills.

They sell a mix-match of vintage and antique dishes mostly from old hotels and restaurants, and then they offer some unique new patterns from designers like Cynthia Rowley too. Basically every time you visit – it’s a new experience.

So Ms. Jeannie registered for a color scheme (blue and white at the time!), which meant any piece of china that fell under those two colors was a gift in the making. Some people thought Ms. Jeannie was brave for being so whimsical in giving guests the “pick whatever you like” experience – but Ms. Jeannie thought of it as an adventure. Besides – there was nothing at Fishs Eddy that she didn’t like – so how could anyone go wrong? As long as it was blue and white – it was perfect!

And as it turned out, each piece that someone chose as a wedding gift, carried with it a little bit of personality from the gift giver. So it became a great memory stacked on top of another great memory. This is the kind of stuff Ms. Jeannie loves most about china. It’s not only the beauty of the actual piece – it’s the beauty of the memory that it represents too.

A big thank you for sharing your thoughts, dear readers! Ms. Jeannie looks forward to more conversations. Until then, happy reading (and writing!).