Thursday, September 9, 2010

It's As Plain As Toast, And A Brown Bread Recipe

Every time I go over to my dad's house, I end up rummaging around the cookbook shelf. My mother came to Canada in the 1970's a relative non-cook. So when she married my father, she purchased a bunch of cookbooks to help her learn some basic recipes and pad out a repertoire of good, humble, hearty dishes. These books mean so much to me now because in those batter-splattered, stuck-together, yellowing pages, she made measurement conversions and left comments about recipes she tried and recipes that failed. Exclamation points seemed to work on a system much like Michelin Stars; to receive three exclamation points meant it was a cracker of a recipe that would likely be repeated.

My mother favoured the simple and tasty. She enjoyed good food but was not prone to trends or showiness. All those aspic jellies and fancy appetizers like vol au vents were never to make an appearance at our table, and those recipe pages in the books go unmarked, unstained, ignored. She did make a mean meatloaf that resembled a ham and cheese jelly roll, and a life-changing filet mignon with a mushroom-sherry cream sauce. And on a recent pillage, I uncovered her hand-written cheesecake recipe; the cake that ushered in new years, birthdays, graduations, just-becauses. The cake that served as both dessert and breakfast the morning after. I will one day make that cheesecake. Anyways, that last pillage also yielded me this;

A 1973 copy of the classic 'Beard On Bread.' I was so excited to find this! Have I mentioned that it is one of my goals in life to be able to make decent homemade bread? However, I do take issue with the name of this book. I realize that 'Beard' is James Beard's last name. And I'm aware of the almost delicious wordplay of the title. But may I just say that every time I look at the title, all that comes up is a rather unfortunate visualization of a beard hanging out on a loaf of bread? And the alternates I came up with don't help much: 'Beard Bears Bread', 'Beard Bakes Bread', 'Beard's Bread' - all of them make me think, quite literally, of an improbably animate beard involved in the complex process of bread making.

But the recipe I selected, entitled 'Myrtle Allen's Brown Bread' is actually the easiest, best-tasting loaf I've ever made. A precursor to the now famous 'No Knead' bread that made the rounds on all the food blogs, this loaf requires minimal handling and only 1 rising period, and can be likened to the delicate tartness and density of a rye bread.

You start off by dissolving the yeast in warm water and molasses and let it get puffy. I was not all that fond of the creepy face that looked up at me. That was not in the recipe book.

The other neat thing about this recipe is that you warm up the flour in the oven before hand. I have no idea what this does, but I'm sure it's entirely scientific and therefore well above my understanding. So after it comes out of the oven, you combine the flour with the creepy yeast face and gently form a shaggy dough:

Why yes, that IS a springform pan instead of a loaf pan! I didn't have a big enough loaf pan so I improvised. And then I let it sit longer than Myrtle recommended. Way longer. About 12 hours longer. Because I'd read somewhere that the rising time is what imparts the flavour, and I was determined not to make another pretty, tasteless loaf. And may I just say that baking a loaf right before going to bed is the best possible smell to go to sleep to? And also the best thing to wake up to, because in the morning, breakfast is a foregone conclusion:

Plain, simple, humble toast with peanut butter and honey. Served with fresh coffee, a great book and a quiet morning stretched out in front of me. Heaven. And can I just tell you that I did something I've been wanting to do for a while now? I disabled my StatCounter. I decided that while it totally excited me to see where all my readers come from and how long they were visiting my blog, I didn't actually need to know. It started altering the magic of food blogging for me, because when I started this blog, I said what probably every blogger says: "If only 1 person reads this, I'll be happy." So I'd like to get back to that principle; that I'm doing this for the love of it, for good food, for my handful of dear readers and for myself. And that's enough for me.

Myrtle Allen's Brown Bread, from 'Beard On Bread' (Recipe Rating: !!!)

3 3/4 cups whole wheat flour, preferably stone ground (nope, didn't have that, used regular)
1 1/2 packages active dry yeast (about 2 1/2 tsp yeast if you have a jar instead of packages)
2 cups warm water, 100 - 115 degrees F. approximately
2 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp salt (I'm going to try using a bit less next time)


1. Put the whole wheat flour in a large mixing bowl and put in a warm oven (set as low as possible) Both the flour and the bowl should be warm when you make the bread.

2. Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water and blend in the molasses. Let proof. Add another 1/2 cup of water. Combine the flour, yeast mixture, and salt. Add enough warm water to make a wet, sticky dough (about 1 cup or more, according to the flour.)

3. Pour directly into a buttered 9x5x3 inch bread tin. Cover and set in a warm spot, allowing the bread to rise by 1/3 its original size. Preheat the oven and bake at 450 degrees F for 50 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from the pan and leave on the rack in the turned-off oven for 20 more minutes to give a crustier finish.


  1. mmmm that looks so yummy. i can almost smell the scent of freshly baked bread! i have a little fear of yeast, but this looks easy .. and it's definitely a perfect vehicle for peanut butter!

  2. Thanks Leslie! I think I'm going to make it again today! Don't fear the yeast; it's actually wonderful because it demands that you leave it alone!

    And I find just about anything - spoon, fingertip, pretzel - is a perfect vehicle for peanut butter; I love the stuff! Have you seen the Peanut Butter Boy's blog? Yum!