Monday, April 22, 2013

Buttermilk Bread

Lately I've been enjoying one of the first things I taught myself in the kitchen:  yeast breads.  When I was a sophomore in college, my roommate convinced me to join a cookbook club.  We each got two free books and had to order and pay for two books.  I've long forgotten what the two paid-for books were, but I still have the two free ones, both bread-baking cookbooks.  My very first excursion into yeast-bread baking was a success, and I was hooked.  In fact, I was so in love with homemade bread that for ten years I made all (and I do mean all) my own bread:  rolls, buns, loaves, pita, and all the sweet yeast breads like donuts and coffeecakes, and every non-yeast bread you can think of as well.  

I love everything about yeast breads: the yeasty fermenting smell of the yeast as it proofs.  Mixing the ingredients together and seeing the gluten begin to form stretchy threads.  The physical feel of the bread in my hands as I knead and feel it take on a smooth texture, and of putting my shoulders into turning and folding.  Seeing it rise, not once, but twice, as the yeast does its magic. Smelling the warm aromas as it bakes.  And finally, slicing it and tasting it, still warm from the oven.  

The slow process of bread baking is part of the attraction for me.  I know many people prefer to rush through it, using bread machines, fast-rising yeasts, and other shortcuts.  For me, it's like a lot of things: it's not the destination as much as it is the journey.  I like the connection I have with my food when I take time with it.  I like the journey of bread baking; it satisfies something much deeper than just my hunger.

Although I don't bake as often as I did during that ten-year period, I so dislike paying too much money for too-often poor-quality store-bought bread that I tend to make my own bread frequently.

Here's a loaf that makes great sandwich bread.  It has a fine grain and a slightly-nutty, slightly-tangy flavor; it slices well and makes great toast.  And yes, it's from one of those two original books.

adapted from A World Of Breads, Dolores Casella


  • 1 c. buttermilk
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 2 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/3 c. butter
  • 1/2 c. warm water
  • 2 T. yeast
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 6 c. flour (unbleached or a mix of unbleached and whole wheat)


Gently heat the buttermilk with the butter until the butter is melted.  Stir in most of the sugar and the salt.  Set aside to cool to lukewarm.

Proof the yeast in the warm water with the remaining sugar (1 t. or so is plenty).

Combine half the flour and the baking soda.  Add cooled buttermilk and yeast and stir until smooth and you can see the gluten begin to form.   Add as much more flour (ideally not more than 3 more cups) and knead until smooth and elastic.  

Place in a greased bowl and cover with a damp (not wet) dish towel.  Let rise in warm place until doubled.  Punch down, form into two loaves, and place in greased bread pans.  Let rise again.  Bake at 375 for 45 minutes or so.

Remove from pans, cool on racks until you can't stand it any more, then slice and enjoy!


I think this would make a great cinnamon raisin bread, with coils of cinnamon, butter, and golden raisins.  


If you aren't familiar with bread-baking, there are plenty of good resources on the internet.  But if you really want to know about the journey of bread-baking, pick up some of the older cookbooks, make a cup of tea, and settle in for an evening. You might find that the journey is worth it.  

It's all part of cook, eat, dance, love!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Date Nut Bread

Recipes for date nut bread -- like recipes for almost anything, any more -- are all over the internet.  I don't know how this one compares to what's popular right now.  I just know it's one I've been baking for 40-plus years, and it's stood the test of time, at least for me.  The recipe is from "A World Of Breads," Dolores Casella, one of two bread cookbooks I've had since the early '70's.  I still use both of those cookbooks regularly.

To get right to it:


  • 2 c. chopped, pitted dates
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. salt
  • 2 c. boiling water
  • 2-6 eggs (depending on how rich a bread you want.  I use 2-3)
  • 1 c. brown sugar (note:  this is a decrease from the recipe in the book)
  • 1/2 c. soft (not melted) butter
  • 3 c. flour
  • 1 c. nuts (I use pecans when I'm giving this for gifts but I like walnuts, too)


In a bowl, combine dates, soda, salt; pour boiling water over all, stir, and set aside to cool.

Beat eggs until well-blended.  Add sugar and butter and beat until light and fluffy.  Stir in flour; add date mixture and nuts.  Blend.  Batter will be on the liquid side.  Pour into two greased loaf pans.  Bake 350, 55-60 min.

Slice and enjoy!


You can add vanilla or almond extract (2 t.).  Or, use 1 c. orange juice in place of part of the water.  Try different dried fruit (cranberries with the OJ would be good).  Experiment!


I like this warm with butter but it doesn't need any spread at all, it's moist and full of fruit and nuts and just really good.  It's also good for cream cheese sandwiches (add some chives or fresh herbs of your choice) or with other cheeses (like goat cheese) or peanut butter.  Good with tea and coffee.  Good for breakfast or a snack.  Good with savory soups.  Heck, it's just good!

Cook, eat, dance, love!