Sunday, 18 May 2008

A meal for the Puritans: intercontinental blog challenge #3

Firstly: happy birthday, Junior Bro! I'd like to think that you're reading this on your new laptop, but I suspect that 14-year-old boys have more interesting things to look at on the web. Ah well, this square older sister wouldn't have it any other way.

Anyway, this post is another installment in my fun challenge with Lisa from Unique Little Bits. We each cook a dish from the other one’s cuisine after a particular theme. This time I suggested bread, although since Lisa has written about some really professional-looking breads on her blog I am a little worried about how my efforts will pass muster!

The two American breads that sprang to mind when I was deciding what to make were cornbread, and steamed Boston brown bread. I’ve made a nice pumpkin cornbread before, but it comes under the heading of ‘savoury scone’ for The Scientist, so I always end up eating it on my own. I thought that the brown bread – which looked quite sweet from the recipes I found – might suffer the same fate, so I decided not to tell him what was in it beforehand and go for it anyway!

When I looked up the history of brown bread I discovered that it’s based on the ingredients available to early Puritan New Englanders – rye and cornmeal flours, which eked out the more precious wheat flour. Also, since ovens weren’t that common, the bread was steamed, usually in a cylindrical jar or mould. I found a recipe which baked the bread in the oven but I wanted to stay true to the spirit of its origins, so I steamed mine. I didn’t have a big coffee can, which is what’s usually used to make it in nowadays – in fact I didn’t have any tin cans at all as we’d only just done our recycling. So I improvised with an empty glass jar (the one which had held the applesauce which has already featured as prompting several other baking endeavours – this sauce keeps on giving even after its demise!). I steamed it by standing the jar on top of an improvised trivet in a saucepan, inverted the matching steamer basket over the top to accommodate the height of the jar, and then covering the holes in the steamer with a lid. I love it when science meets pragmatism! Anyway, despite the making do, the bread steamed fine, although I had been a bit worried about how thin the dough was – really more of a batter than a dough. I suppose it’s supposed to be like that.

Ready for steaming (top), and posing an intractable problem (bottom)

More perceptive readers may already have noticed a problem with my loaf, however: the neck of the jar was narrower than the base, making it almost impossible to get it out! I thought about ships in bottles; I thought about those clever science experiments you do with children to get an egg inside a bottle with a narrower opening. But my thoughts didn’t get me any further to getting my loaf out, and The Scientist informed me that the egg in bottle principle worked on the basis that there was spare air in the egg which could be sucked out. My loaf looked pretty dense and I wasn’t confident about any spare pockets. In the end I abandoned the scientific principles and cut it up inside the jar. This is why there is no picture of it beautifully sliced – it was more of a rustic carving.

It may not have passed the science (or the common sense) test, but I’m happy to say that it did pass The Scientist test. He thought that it tasted a lot like malt loaf, which he really likes - dark yet sweet, and with a soft, slightly chewy texture. We both enjoyed it served with Boston baked beans and apple sauce, which are its traditional accompaniments, and some grilled corn on the cob.

Update: go and take a look at Lisa's lovely looking Bara Brith speckled bread here

Boston brown bread (from Martha Day Complete Baking)
Makes 1 loaf

45g cornmeal
45g plain white flour or wholemeal flour [I used half and half]
45g rye flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/s tsp bicarb of soda
45g seedless raisins
60ml milk
60 ml water
60ml molasses or black treacle

1. Line the base of one 1 pint cylindrical metal or glass container - a tin, jar or heatproof glass coffee jug, with greaseproof paper.

2. Mix together the cornmeal, plain or wholemeal flour, rye flour, salt bicarb of soda and raisins in a large bowl. Warm the milk and water in a small saucepan [I did it in the microwave] and stir in the molasses or treacle.

3. Add the molasses mixture to the dry ingredients and mix together until it just forms a moist dough. Do not overmix.

4. Fill the jug or tins with the dough to about 2/3 full. Cover with foil or greased greaseproof paper and tie securely.

5. Bring water to a depth of 2inches to the boil in a deep, heavy-based saucepan large enough to accommodate the jug or tin. Place a trivet in the pan, stand the jug or tin on top, cover the pan and steam for 1 1/2 hours, adding more boiling water to maintain the required level as necessary.

6. Cool the loaf for a few minutes in the jug or tin, then turn it on its side and the loaf should slip out [ha!]. Serve warm, as a teabread or with savoury dishes.


LisaRene said...

Very inventive strategy for steaming bread! The outcome of the perfect loaf of brown bread trapped in an applesauce jar makes for a very entertaining post :) I'm glad you were abel to extricate the bread and enjoy it with the meal you prepared. You assembled the perfect combination with the Boston Brown Bread, applesauce, beans and corn, very well done!

I have never made Boston Brown Bread or any steamed bread and am curious to give it a try. I was happy to see that the recipe doesn't require eggs and contains no fat - that's a plus!

The Scientists appreciation of malt loaf has me curious as I've never heard of it. I imagine the malt is the type used to make beer. I'll have to do a bit of research and give a malt loaf a try as well.

Johanna said...

Looks like fine puritanical fare - I have seen recipes for this steamed brown bread and been quite interested - I hadn't got as far as thinking what to cook it in - would probably be less traditional and do a loaf tin in the oven but love your experiments - just like Julius Sumner Miller (did you have him on the cadbury adverts?)

Lysy said...

I'd recommend trying it - it's very easy, with no yeast or rising. In fact it's really more like making a cake batter.

I don't recognise the name Julius Sumner Miller, but I could just be being clueless! I appreciate the sentiment anyway!

Malt loaf is a lovely dense-yet-chewy tea bread - not unlike Lisa's Bara Brith in spirit but much darker. It's a nice treat toasted or just spread with a little butter (plus it's low fat and so beloved of amateur rowing crews everywhere). I buy it periodically to eat as a snack but The Scientist generally hoovers it up before I get round to eating any!

Johanna said...

I checked wiki - - and he is an American scientist but did Australian cadbury adverts when he used to talk about the egg going in the bottle and then say 'why is it so?' Can't remember if he told us why