Browsing Tag

bread

book review, recipe

Lilac Girls + Poppy Seed Cake

No matter how many WWII novels I read or stories I hear, I’m still astonished at the atrocities that took place and how many people were able to overcome and survive such horrifying ordeals. Though I usually devour these books, which are often natural page-turners, I find them hard to get through mentally. Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls was no exception.

Inspired by the real Caroline Farriday and a group of Polish prisoners called “the Rabbits,” this novel tells the story of three women whose lives intersect at the Ravensbruck, the only Nazi concentration camp for women. In alternating chapters, we follow Kasia, a Polish teenager who becomes one of the Rabbits; Herta Oberhauser, a German doctor stationed at Ravensbruck; and Caroline, a New York City socialite, who does her best to assist in the war effort from abroad.

Though I’d be interested in finding out more about the real Caroline, I found her chapters to be the least compelling. Honestly, her storyline was the reason I couldn’t give this book a full 4 stars on Goodreads. (I would’ve given it 3.5 if Goodreads allowed it, but they don’t – one of my pet peeves.) Kasia’s and Herta’s chapters, on the other hand, had me turning the page constantly. I liked that Kelly told the story from such different points of view.

In one of the bright spots at Ravensbruck, Kasia and her sister receive a package from their father and unwrapped it to find not only chocolate and a sign of hope, but some poppy-seed cake as well. As she put it, “Polish cake would be good medicine.” I hadn’t heard of poppy seed cake before, but I knew it was the recipe to make this time around. I found one from Jenny Can Cook and set to work.

Upon starting the recipe, I realized I only had half as many poppy seeds as I needed. I’d bought one 2.6 oz bottle of poppy seeds at the grocery store, because the pickings were slim. If you find yourself in the same situation, you may want to pick up two containers, or if you’re trying this for the first time, you may want to make a smaller loaf instead, like I did. When I made it, I adjusted the recipe and made a half-sized loaf instead of the full recipe (I included the full recipe below).

First, I ground the poppy seeds 2 Tablespoons at a time, until they were moist and looked a lot like wet coffee grounds. I added boiling water to a small bowl and stirred in the poppy seeds until they were all moistened, letting them stand uncovered. Then, using the same grinder, I ground up my toasted almonds.

In a large bowl, I combined the flour, yeast, sugar and salt. To that I added, the warmed milk (slightly less than 120 degrees F since I was using active dry yeast), followed by the oil and the egg. Using an electric mixer, I beat it on high for about 2 minutes, and then added in the extra flour, beating it until it formed a mass. Mine was slightly sticky when I transferred it to the board, so I ended up adding about a Tablespoon more of flour (to my halved recipe). I should’ve taken a picture of my messy dough fingers, but it wouldn’t have been safe to grab my phone to do so. Dough everywhere!

I kneaded it and let it rest for 10 minutes while I combined the filling. To the poppy seeds, I added the ground almonds, lemon and orange zests, sugar and vanilla extract.

I rolled the dough out to about 5” x 6” (again with the halved recipe) and spread the filling on the top, almost to the edges.

Then, I carefully rolled it, placed it seam-side down, and tucked the ends under, placing it on a parchment-lined baking sheet. I covered it with a cloth and left it untouched in a warm place (aka my upstairs on an 80-degree July day) for about an hour and a half.

I opted to top it with an egg wash and poppy seeds before baking, thinking the glaze might make it too sweet. It also didn’t seem like Papa’s bread for his girls would’ve included a glaze, but I could be wrong. If you prefer a glaze, see the recipe notes.

I baked it for slightly less than the recipe called for due to size, but even with halving the recipe, I think it could’ve used maybe 5 minutes longer (or 30 minutes total) in the oven. It was hard to let it cool for a long time once it came out of the oven, but trust me, it’s much better when it’s fully cooled. I also personally like the outside thirds of the bread better than the middle third.

I hope you enjoy! Have you read the Lilac Girls? What did you think?

Poppy Seed Cake

  • Servings: 1 loaf
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Dough Ingredients

  • 1½ cups bread (or all purpose) flour
  • 1 packet (2 tsp/7 gms/1/4 oz) yeast – instant or active dry yeast
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅔ cup 1% milk heated to 120-130° F for instant yeast (or 110-120°F for active dry)
  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • 1 egg
  • about ¾ cup extra flour

Filling Ingredients

  • 1 cup poppy seeds
  • ⅓ cup boiling water
  • ¼ cup ground toasted almonds (20 count)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • zest of ½ a lemon and ½ an orange

Directions

  1. Grind poppy seeds (see note below). Place in a small bowl, stir in boiling water & let stand uncovered.
  2. Grind almonds and set aside.
  3. Place flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in large mixing bowl.
  4. Stir in milk followed by oil and egg.
  5. Beat on high for 2 minutes. Stir in extra flour until dough forms a mass.
  6. Place dough on floured board and knead 100 turns (about 2 minutes). Cover and let rest 10 minutes.
  7. Meantime, add ground almonds, sugar, vanilla and zests to poppy seeds.
  8. Roll dough into a 10 x 12 shape. Spread filling almost to edges, roll starting at 10-inch end and place on parchment-lined baking sheet, seam side down. Pinch and tuck ends under.
  9. Cover with a towel and rise in a warm spot for 1½ hours or until double in size.
  10. Before making, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with additional poppy seeds.
  11. Preheat oven to 350° F and bake for 35 minutes. Allow to cool fully before slicing and serving.

From: Jenny Can Cook

Instead of coating the top with poppy seeds, if you prefer a sweeter bread you can add a glaze. Allow baked cake to cool for 10 minutes and drizzle with glaze, made using 1 cup powdered sugar and about 2 Tablespoons milk, added slowly.

If using a spice grinder, grind seeds slowly, about 2 Tablespoons at a time, until they feel moist – about 10 seconds per each portion. Scoop out any that stick to the bottom of the grinder as you go. Once they are all ground, use the same grinder to grind the almonds.


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book review, recipe

The Kitchen House + Cracklin’ Bread

As you may know from my latest life update, Scott and I recently moved into our first house. The following Monday, I ventured out to find the local library and become a member. I also found out about an upcoming semi-annual used book sale hosted by the Friends of the Library – it was just a few weeks away, and I was so excited I hadn’t missed it! I ended up buying 13 books that day and The Kitchen House was one of them.

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I’d read about half of the books I bought and took a gamble on the other half. Not sure of where to start, I posted the haul on my online book club’s page and was overwhelmed with suggestions to start with Kathleen Grissom’s novel; so I did. It’s not exactly the expected tale of Southern plantation life, and I loved it all the more for that.

After her parents die on the journey from Ireland to the States, newly-orphaned Lavinia is taken in by the master of a tobacco plantation and placed under the care of Belle, a slave in the kitchen house. Though she lives and works with them, the difference between Lavinia and her adopted family becomes more and more clear as she grows up. She is given opportunities that are intended to improve her life, including whisking her off the plantation and providing her with an education.  

Eventually, the bond Lavinia shares with her adopted family puts them all in a precarious situation and tough choices must be made. I found myself rooting for Lavinia, Belle and every one of their family members.

Early on, Belle makes cracklin’ bread, cornbread with “crunchy bits of pork fat” mixed in. Lavinia and Fanny ate the cracklin’ “with zeal” and, from that point on, all I could think about was making my own cracklin’ bread. I couldn’t get my hands on any cracklin’, nor was I exactly sure of how to go about finding the pork bits to make it, so I unfortunately had to substitute with bacon crumbles. Don’t worry, the recipe I found from Southern Living said it’s okay, but maybe it’s just trying to make northerners like me feel better.

It was very easy to make, and I started by rendering down my bacon. Once it cooled a bit, I chopped it into small crumbly bits. I preheated the oven to 425 and melted the butter in my skillet.

In a bowl, I used a whisk to mix the cornmeal, baking powder and salt (making my own self-rising cornmeal) with the flour.

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In a separate bowl, I mixed together the buttermilk and eggs before adding to the well in the middle of my dry ingredients. I added the crumbled bacon as well and stirred until just wet. I poured the whole mixture into the hot skillet.

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After baking for about 25 minutes, the cracklin’ bread was a beautiful golden brown.

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Grannie’s Cracklin’ Bread

  • Servings: 8-10
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Ingredients

  • ¼ cup butter or margarine
  • 2 cups self-rising cornmeal*
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2½ cups buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup cracklings**

Directions

  1. Place butter in a 9-inch cast-iron skillet (or other oven-safe skillet), and heat in a 425° oven for 4 minutes.
  2. Combine cornmeal and flour in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture.
  3. Stir together buttermilk, eggs, and cracklings; add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened. Pour over melted butter in hot skillet.
  4. Bake at 425° for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.

From: Southern Living, by way of MyRecipes.com

*If you don’t have self-rising cornmeal, you can make your own by adding 1 TBS of baking powder and 1 tsp of salt to 2 cups of regular cornmeal.

**1 cup cooked, crumbled bacon (12 to 15 slices) may be substituted for cracklings.


Here is the rest of my book haul. What should I dive into next?

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book review, recipe

The Round House + Indian Fry Bread

On an Indian reservation in 1988, a woman is attacked but the details are immediately unclear as Geraldine is reluctant to discuss what happened. Both her husband and thirteen-year-old son Joe give her space to recover while still determined to do what they can to bring her justice. Joe strikes out on his own investigation, bringing him and his friends to a sacred meeting place on the reservation, The Round House.

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Louise Erdrich’s novel has been highly praised and is award-winning, but I didn’t like it very much. I thought using the son’s perspective to tell the story was an interesting choice, creating more suspense surrounding the attack. Overall, though, while the central plot was gripping, there was so much extra going on in the story that I found it distracting and was ultimately pulled away from Geraldine and her family’s plight.

Often on adventures around the reservation, Joe and his friends were fed Indian fry bread – occasionally with jam or honey, occasionally in the form of tacos. In looking up the history of fry bread, I found that it also comes with a story of pain and suffering. (You can read more here.) It seemed like the perfect food to accompany this novel.

Allrecipes had a recipe for fry bread that many commenters hailed as authentic and the most like their grandmothers’. I also poked around and found one from The Pioneer Woman that had a few more ingredients and included details on making Indian tacos. I sort of combined the two when making my bread.

First, I combined my flour, salt and baking powder.

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Then, I slowly added my warm water, stirring it with a spoon until it was all added, and then kneading it with my hands. Once the mixture was well combined, I covered the bowl with a dish towel to let it rest for about 45 minutes.

I then separated the dough and rolled it into smaller balls, forming about 12 (which will depend on how large you decide to make your fry bread).

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In my cast iron skillet, I heated a little over an inch of shortening until hot. While it came up to temperature, I flattened each ball into a large disk and created a little hole in the middle of each to keep it from forming too much of a “dome” while frying.

I fried each piece of bread for about a minute on each side, until each side was a nice golden brown.

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When done, we ate them warm with some jam (and tried some honey too). I didn’t make Indian tacos this time but will definitely have to try them out in the future. Check out the finished product, plus a look at my new red kitchen – so happy it’s finally a reality!

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Indian Fry Bread

  • Servings: 8-12
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Ingredients

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1½ cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 4 cups shortening for frying (1-2 inches in the skillet)

Directions

  1. Combine flour, salt, and baking powder. Stir in 1½ cups lukewarm water. Knead until soft but not sticky.
  2. Cover bowl with a dish towel and allow to rest for 35-45 minutes.
  3. Shape dough into balls of about plum-size and then flatten into patties between 4-7 inches in diameter (depending on how large you want them). Make a small hole in the center of each patty.
  4. Fry one (or two) at a time in 1-2 inches of hot shortening, until the bread turns golden brown – about a minute. Flip and fry for another 45 seconds to a minute.
  5. Allow to dry on a paper towel. Serve warm with jam or honey, or use as a base for Indian tacos.