Loving Hands at Home: Baked Goods

mixing bowl“What kind of toast do you want with that? White, wheat, rye, sourdough . . . or homemade?”

There’s only one possible answer to this question, right?

I was asked to make just this choice a few days ago in a local diner and, of course, I said, “Homemade!” Then I looked at my companions and asked, “Who would choose anything but homemade?”

But as I thought about it, I remember my younger self, the girl who grew up on the farm. She took for granted home-baked breads and cookies and cakes and loved nothing better than Wonder Bread and Oreos and Hostess Twinkies.

In my memory, there was always something freshly baked sitting on the kitchen counter. My grandmother was the baker and she made everything, but the items I remember best were her loaves of bread, the tender dinner rolls, the sour cream cookies, the deep-fried doughnuts, and the lemon meringue pie.

We had it so good and we didn’t have a clue.

My sister and I ate everything my grandmother baked and enjoyed it. But we thought the biggest treat in the whole, entire world was when we stopped to visit particular friends of my parents.

These friends had a designated drawer for cookies and all the cookies were store bought. They came in crinkly cellophane packages and were crunchy and crispy, while my grandmother’s cookies were soft and chewy.

My grandmother’s cookies were as homey and comforting and real as she was. They were a given in our lives.

The store-bought cookies were exotic and decadent and, what? Cosmopolitan? Sophisticated? I’m not sure but it seemed like an adventure to eat them.

I like a little adventure as much as the next person. I like to take a trip and see the sights and leave my home behind, while I venture out.

But, boy, do I love to come home. Being in that big world always makes me appreciate home more, and recognize that it’s the place for me.

I’ve traveled in the world of store-bought baked goods for a long time now. I’ve gotten over thinking they are exotic and decadent and sophisticated.

Now, of course, I wish I could go home, to that kitchen where you never knew what was coming out of the oven next but you knew it would be warm and chewy and comforting.

I can bake bread. I’ve found recipes for sour cream cookies and made them. I’ve gone so far as to deep fry doughnuts.

You know what I’m going to say—it isn’t the same.

I’ll probably never have baked goods that measure up to my memories but I’ll keep looking. I’ll go to farm stands and order the doughnuts they just fished out of the fryer. I’ll buy old, stained copies of community cookbooks and look for the right sour cream cookie recipe. I’ll always order the homemade bread at the local diners.

Because, even if they don’t take me all the way, they bring me closer to a place I’d love to be.

recipe box

Baking Hands at Home: Brown Soda Bread

IMG_2986Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.
James Beard

There may be no activity more “hands at home” than baking bread. With a zillion different kinds of bread available in every store, many of us still look for opportunities to bake our own, and it always seems to be appreciated!

I remember fondly the days when my grandmother made bread for the farm. She made all the bread for the household and used a standard yeast recipe for white bread. When the bread came out of the oven and she rubbed the crust with a stick of butter, heaven came to earth for us kids! We’d sneak into the kitchen, when no one was looking, and use our fingernails to peel pieces of buttery crust off the top of the bread. Then we’d sneak away, leaving naked, crustless bread behind, like no one would notice. How did we get away with that?!

I have been known to bake yeast bread and love it but I’m more likely to make a quicker bread. When we first visited Ireland, we learned to love the earthy, dense soda bread that is so associated with the Irish. I’ve read that it didn’t originate in Ireland at all and, honestly, I don’t care about its history—I just love the way it tastes.

And I love how easy it is to make! When I got home from that trip, serendipity kicked in and I found an issue of Bon Appetit magazine that featured Irish cooking. Their recipe for soda bread became my standard. For a while, I made it so frequently the recipe was imprinted on my brain. And then I just stopped making it and I don’t know why.

But I came across the recipe last week and made it and rekindled my love for it! It is not at all sweet, like some recipes for soda bread can be, and it has no extras added in, although I’m told some people like raisins in their soda bread (ick).

This bread is heavy and cake-like; it is perfection straight out of the over with butter and I might even like it better toasted with peanut butter. In fact, just typing that sentence got me so excited, I went directly to the toaster and am currently chewing and typing at the same time!

I think the bread must be pretty healthy, too, because all the packaging for the ingredients seems to be in shades of red, orange, and yellow, the way marketers signal consumers that food is “natural.” And marketers would never mislead us, right? I hope it’s somewhat healthy, since I’m going to be eating a lot of it now—it’s a fall and winter kind of bread! Enjoy!

IMG_2972Brown Soda Bread
Bon Appetit, May 1996

1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
1 ¾ cups whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons toasted wheat bran*
3 tablespoons toasted wheat germ*
2 tablespoons old-fashioned oats
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar (packed)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½  salt
2 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into pieces
2 cups (about) buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Butter 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.

Combine first 8 ingredients in large bowl; mix well.

Add butter; rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles fine meal. This is my favorite part because it makes me feel like a real cook. You rub the cold butter and dry ingredients between your thumb and fingers, making that gesture like you do when you’re talking about money. (Does that make any sense?)

Stir in enough buttermilk to form soft dough. I used about 1 ½ cups and it seemed like enough this time.

Transfer dough to prepared loaf pan. Bake until bread is dark brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. I cooked mine about 37 minute.

Turn bread out onto cooling rack. Turn right side up and cool.

* My wheat bran was “untoasted” so I actually put these two ingredients
in a cast iron skillet over medium heat and stirred them around until
they smelled like they were toasting. I’m not sure in makes a lot of difference in the final product.