From Ireland: Myrtle Allen’s Brown Bread

St. Patrick’s Day is almost here, and one old man’s fancy turns to thoughts of bread. Not Irish soda bread but a wonderful moist yeast bread from Ireland that you don’t knead. The recipe below is a variation of the one in Beard on Bread, one of my favorite cookbooks. In it James Beard describes how he found the recipe at Myrtle Allen’s inn, Ballymaloe House, in Ireland. If you like a firm bread that is wonderful with butter and cheese, give this one a try.

INGREDIENTS:

3 3/4 cups whole-wheat flour
1/4 tsp. white sugar
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
2 cups warm water (100 to 115º)
2 T dark molasses, dark corn syrup, sorghum or honey
2 tsp. salt

PROCEDURE:

Put the flour and salt in an oven proof mixing bowl and place in a warm oven with the oven thermostat at its lowest setting. Leave it in the oven about 10 minutes. The flour and bowl should be warm when you mix the dough.

Take one-half cup warm water, add one-fourth teaspoon sugar and stir in the yeast. Allow to proof. Dissolve the molasses (or honey or syrup) in the remaining one and a half cups water. When the flour feels warm to your fingers, remove the bowl from the oven. Stir the yeast mixture into the molasses water and pour the liquid into the flour.

Stir with a wooden spoon until you have a sticky dough, almost like a very stiff batter. At times of low humidity you may need a little more liquid. If so, add water. If the dough seems too thin, add a tablespoon or two of flour and stir in well. Since you do not knead this dough, I have found that stirring it well for a minute or so gives a better texture.

Put the dough into a buttered nine by five by three-inch bread pan. Tap the pan on the counter to remove any air bubbles and smooth the top. As soon as you have put the dough into the pan, preheat your oven to 425º. Allow the dough to rise uncovered in a warm draft free place until it is even with the top of the pan.

Bake the bread for thirty-five to forty-five minutes or until the crust is nicely browned and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Remove the bread from the pan and leave it in the turned-off oven for a few minutes to make the crust crisp. Put the bread on a rack to cool. Brush the top and sides with a little butter while the loaf is still hot.

NOTES: Substituting honey, sorghum or corn syrup for the molasses changes the flavor of the bread so much that you might call it a new recipe. All four work well. I have used ordinary clover honey and a dark prairie honey, which has a lot of flavor, and both make excellent bread.

A friend introduced me to sorghum, and I very much like the flavor of the bread made with this syrup. Today sorghum is produced in relatively small quantities by farmers in Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina and other states in the southern part of the U.S. You can find it in many larger supermarkets and organic food stores.

Once you put the batter in the pan, the dough will rise quickly, so watch it carefully. If it rises over the top of the pan, the loaf will fall during baking but it will taste fine.

Mom’s Cinnamon Rolls

From my vantage point under the table, I could see that one lady was wearing black stockings.  Thick black stockings.  It was a winter afternoon, so some of the other ladies probably were wearing stockings as well, but I remember only the black ones.

Not that I had a fetish for black stockings, but the stockings my mother wore for church were brown, and I had never had the chance to inspect black stockings at close range before.  And it was very close range, because our kitchen table was not very big.

Perhaps I should explain.  I was four years old.  My two younger sisters and I were supposed to be napping in our bedroom while my mother hosted a kaffeeklatsch with some of the neighbor ladies.  My sisters promptly fell asleep like good little girls.

I did not like naps.  As soon as I heard Mom and her friends talking in the kitchen I eased the bedroom door open and tiptoed to the kitchen doorway.  Mom had her back to me as she cut warm cinnamon rolls on the stove, and her guests were watching her while they all carried on a lively conversation.

It was an opportunity too good to pass up.  I dropped to my hands and knees and squeezed under the table.  I sat there cross-legged while the conversation continued above me.

“Hot cinnamon rolls!” 

“Wonderful on a cold day!”  (I wanted some.)

“Good coffee. Is it Eight ‘clock?”  (I didn’t drink coffee, excepts with lots of milk at Grandpa Hopp’s, when Mom wasn’t around.)

“How are Chuck and the girls doing?”

“Fine, they’re no trouble at all.”  (This statement was about to be revised.)

But soon the conversation turned to subjects that were less clear.  I knew who Helen Trent was and Dinah Shore was one of Mom’s favorite singers, but I did not know much about meat prices or yarns and patterns or recipes.  And then someone said,

“You may not have heard, but Marie is PG.”

“No!”

“Are you sure?”

“Did she tell you?”

“When is she due?”

“Early April.”

“That was quick.”

More shocked exclamations whistled around the table, and I perked up at this news.  I did not know what PG meant, but clearly this was important.  I crawled out from under the table and asked politely, “What’s PG?”

More shocked exclamations and red faces from my mother and four other women who had been talking about sex in front of a little boy.  I tried to get an answer again on the way to the bedroom, but Mom told me to lie down and take a nap.  At least I stayed in the bedroom until my sisters got up.

I am not sure who was at this particular gathering, but the regulars were “Grandma” Weingarten, Mrs. Teller, Mrs. Berard and Mrs. Dietz.  With my limited field of view I couldn’t be certain, but I was pretty sure that the black stockings belonged to Grandma Weingarten.  I also am not sure that “Marie” was the name.

One thing that I am sure of is that Mom’s cinnamon rolls were popular with just about everyone who had one.  I checked with my sister, and we agree that she made them with regular bread dough, often dividing the dough from the double batches she made, so there were two loaves of bread, a pan of dinner rolls and a pan of cinnamon rolls for dessert or breakfast.

Here is a recipe that produces a loaf of bread and cinnamon rolls like Mom made.

INGREDIENTS FOR DOUGH:

2 cups milk
2 T sugar
2 tsp. or 1 package yeast
4 T butter
2 to tsp. salt
5 to six cups all-purpose flour

INGREDIENTS FOR FILLING:

1 cup brown sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
1/4 cup raisins
4 T butter

INGREDIENTS FOR GLAZE:

1 cup powdered sugar
Dash of salt
2 or 3 T milk or half and half
1 tsp. vanilla extract

PROCEDURE:

First make the dough.  Warm a half cup of the the milk to 100 to 110 degrees and stir in the yeast along with a dash of sugar.  Allow to proof.  Warm the rest of the milk and melt the butter.  Stir the butter, salt and sugar into the milk.  Stir in two cups of flour (a cup at a time) into the milk and mix thoroughly.  Add the yeast and stir well. You should have a thick slurry.

Stir in about 3 or 3 1/2 cups more flour (again a cup at a time) until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.  Let the dough sit in the bowl for 5 minutes or so, then turn it out on a well-floured board and knead until it gets smooth and satiny.  A spatula or baker’s scraper makes it easy to turn the dough the first few times to coat the surface with flour.

Add more flour as necessary.  This will take six to ten minutes, depending on how fast you knead.

Grease the mixing bowl with butter, oil or shortening and put the ball of dough into the bowl, turning it to put a thin film of grease on the surface.  Cover the bowl with a damp dish towel and set the bowl in a warm draft-free spot until the dough has doubled in size.  This will take two to three hours.

While the dough is rising, stir the dry ingredients for the filling together in a small bowl.  Make sure that the raisins are separated.  Since we normally use unsalted butter, we add a bit of salt to the filling.  If you use salted butter, omit the salt from the filling.

Punch down the dough and turn it out onto the floured bread board.  Knead it for two or three minutes, then let it rest for a minute.  Melt the butter for the filling and lightly grease a four by eight inch loaf pan.  Cut the dough in half with a knife or baker’s scraper.

Shape half of it into a loaf and put it it into the pan.  Roll the other half into a nine by thirteen inch rectangle.   Using a basting brush, lightly butter a nine by thirteen inch cake pan and paint the surface of the dough with butter except for about an inch on one long side of the rectangle.

Spread the filling over the surface of the dough, leaving the unbuttered edge free of filling.  Rub a little water on the unbuttered edge to release some gluten from the flour.  Roll the dough into a thirteen inch long tube.  Cut it into twelve equal slices with a sharp knife and place them in the pan.  Scrape any filling that may have escaped from the slices evenly over the top of the rolls.

Cover the loaf and the pan with a damp towel and set in a warm draft-free place to rise until doubled in size.  This will take about an hour.

When the dough is nearly ready, preheat the oven to 375º.  Set the loaf and the rolls on the middle rack in the oven.  Bake the rolls twenty to twenty-five minutes.  The loaf will take thirty to thirty-five minutes.  Test the rolls after twenty minutes by tapping on one in the middle of the pan.  If it sounds hollow, the rolls are done.  Take them from the oven and set the pan on a rack to cool.  Turn the loaf out of the pan and tap the bottom after thirty minutes.  Again, if it sounds hollow it is done.  Tip in out of the pan and set it on a rack to cool.

Let the rolls cool ten to fifteen minutes, then dribble on the glaze with a fork. Make the glaze by stirring two tablespoons of milk or half and half and one teaspoon of vanilla extract into the  powdered sugar with a dash of salt. If necessary, add more liquid to make a medium thick sauce or a little more sugar if it seems too thin.

Voilà!  A loaf of bread and cinnamon rolls like Mom used to make!  These are best served fresh from the oven, but you can always warm them at medium power in your microwave for a few seconds before setting on the table with plenty of butter.

NOTES:  First, a definition:  A kaffeeklatsch is a gathering of women who drink coffee, eat well and exchange news, sometimes called a bridge group today.

Second, an apology:  In the Procedure section above I may have included too many details, but I hoped to make clear each step of the process.

People often tell me that they do not have the time to make bread.  It is true that it takes several hours from start to finish, but most of the time is just waiting for those little yeast cells to do their thing and the oven to finish off the loaves.

At most you will spend half an hour stirring ingredients, kneading and shaping loaves.  The rest of the time you can read, write, watch TV, mow the lawn, take a walk, nap or do anything else that can be enjoyed in a hour or so.  Just remember to check your bread when it is about time.  Our daughter-in-law gave me a timer on a lanyard, which is a marvelous tool for someone like me who gets distracted.