Tag Archives: Beard on Bread

STOP – Drop, don’t roll

Biscuits, that is.

Stop Drop and Roll is still great advice near a FIRE, but biscuits are less intimidating and are quicker and easier if you make drop biscuits instead of cut kind.

pillsbury biscuit

Easy. Quick. Smell great in the oven. Eaten so fast, often with butter or honey, that you don’t notice the taste is lacking. It’s the chemical aftertaste that reminds you you have other options.

Drop biscuits move you past the biscuit perfection issues  and into the wide world of biscuit much more gently.  Instead of rolling the biscuits, which then need to be cut , you make the dough  a little more like batter and drop it by spoonfuls – or scoopfuls – onto the baking sheet and just pop it into a preheated oven. Having the oven good and hot is one way to make a better biscuit.

Parmesan Drop Biscuits

2 cups AP flour

Grated Parmesan cheese

bakewell cream

It really does make the biscuits higher and lighter – heavenly

1 Tablespoon double acting baking powder (or Bakewell Cream, my fave)

½ teaspoon salt

½ stick butter (1/4 cup)

1 cup of milk

  1. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl with the baking powder and salt.
  2. Mix in the grated cheese
  3. Using your finger OR 2 knives OR a heavy fork OR a biscuit mixer (ill)blend the flour and butter together into fine particles
  4. Add the milk and stir the dough just enough to gather it all together. Don’t over mix at this point or you’ll get tough, rugged, more like hockey pucks than biscuits, biscuits.
  5. Drop by spoonfuls on an ungreased cookie sheet.
  6. Bake in a preheated 450° oven for 12-15 minutes
  7. Serve hot
  8. Makes about 12 biscuits.


James Beard. Beard On Bread. p. 160-1.beard on bread



stop sign drop

for when it’s not about biscuits

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Filed under Autumn, Bread, Recipe, The 1980's

Irish Breads

There’s more than one way to loaf around in Ireland…..

Soda breads

White and Brown

Brown Soda Bread

Brown Soda Bread

Soda Bread in farls - a griddle cake

White Soda Bread in farls – a griddle cake


Irish Oatcakes (they're not just in Scotland or Wales)

Irish Oatcakes (they’re not just in Scotland or Wales)


Waterford Blaa - in the Irish Food Guide

Waterford Blaa – in the Irish Food Guide

and Cakes.

This is called Irish Bread with Golden Raisins, but really it's tea cake, even if it shows up in The Boston Globe and even if Sheryl Julian and Julie Riven say bread - it's cake

This is called Irish Bread with Golden Raisins, but it is really not bread, even if it shows up by that name  in The Boston Globe and even if Sheryl Julian and Julie Riven say it’s bread – it’s cake.

Most of what will be passing for Irish bread this week is actually cake – tea cake and seedy cake. If it has sugar, butter, seeds or raisins in it – it’s a cake and not a bread. It’s delicious and delightful, please enjoy,  allowing  me my Marie Antoinette moment by letting you all eat cake, but bread is bread and all that added stuff is cake.

Oatcakes have morphed into a kind of biscuit – or cookie – for the most part and are probably the most traditional bread of Ireland, although not the most famous. Oats and griddle baking go back to the medieval period when Ireland was saving civilization for the world. Don’t believe me? Read Thomas Cahill.    How_the_Irish_Saved_Civilization

Blaa is a sort of yeasted white bread roll, perhaps named from the Norman ‘blanc’ when they stopped in to conquer  Ireland. Recently it was a headline in a New York Time travel article, Dining in Dublin from Boxty to Blaa ( http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/02/travel/dining-in-dublin-from-boxty-to-blaa.html?_r=0 ) which includes  In November, I spent a week in Dublin eating my way through some of these restaurants, most of which opened in the last few years. It was my fourth visit to this stately city of Georgian townhouses and lively pubs, and I’ve never eaten better.”  a sentence I hope to make my own some day.

Soda Bread is the kind of bread that screams “Irish Bread” in the month of March around here. It is a bread that is leavened with baking soda and not yeast. Commonly referred to as “quick bread” they go together quickly – no rising time – and are ready as soon as they come out of the oven. Many of them are best warm….and are improved the next day by toasting, because they do stale up almost as quickly as they cook.

Because milk is an important part of the Irish diet – it’s called the Emerald Isle because of all the grass that grows there, which I great fodder for cows, so the butter and beef of the country is not a cliché, but an important part of the culinary landscape for centuries – Soda bread is often made with sour milk or butter milk. The slight acidity level of this liquid actually makes the soda work better.

The classic Soda Bread is a pound of flour and a pint of sour milk, a spoonful of soda and a little salt. Mix together, form into a rough ball, slash a cross into the top to allow the steam to escape the middle so it bakes all the way inside OR to divide it into quarters, or farls, for griddle baking.  The cross  has no religious significance, or if it does I’d like to see a reference from someone who isn’t a detractor about the superstitious Irish. But in typical Irish fashion, we accept the venom of our detractors into as compliments. thus confusing them, and then start to believe our own press. Sigh.

And now for a recipe that isn’t particularly Irish in it’s origins, but turns out a really nice loaf in American kitchens.

Irish Whole Wheat Soda Bread

3 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup all purpose flour (four cups of flour is roughly a pound – measure it by weight if you have a scale…..)

1 Tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon double acting baking powder

1 ½ -2 cups buttermilk (2 cups is a pint, and a pint’s a pound the world around….)

  1. Combine the dry ingredients. Make sure there are no lumps in the soda, it’ll leave dark patches in the bread. I toss it into a bowl and use a whisk to combine everything.
  2. Add enough buttermilk to make a soft dough.
  3. Knead it until it comes together, maybe for a minute or two. It should be firm, velvety and able to hold it’s shape.
  4.  Form into a round loaf and place on a greased cookie sheet (or on a silpat on the cookie sheet). IF the dough is a little slack and starts to schlump on the sheet, butter a 8-inch cake pan or casserole dish and bake in that to give the bread it’s form. (How do I know this? You know how I know this)
  5.    OR in a genius move from the current Martha Stewart Living Good Thing: form the dough into 16 equal pieces and place on a lined cookie sheet – YES – Irish Bread in Individual Loaf Form!!!! I’m planning to freeze it at this point, and then making as much bread as I need at any given moment. (Marthastewart.com/soda-bread http://www.marthastewart.com/1055131/pull-apart-soda-bread)Or divide into farls and bake on a griddle and let me know how it works for you.
  6.    Bake in a 375° oven for 35-40 minutes. The loaf will be brown and have a hollow sound when rapped with your knuckles. 
  7.   James Beard let the loaf cool before slicing….let it cool at least a little, it makes it easier to slice. Slather with butter…maybe some marmalade….with bread like this who needs cake?

From James Beard. Beard On Bread. Alfred A. Knopf. 1973. pp.164-5

James Beard

James Beard

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Filed under Bread, Holiday, Irish

That 70’s Bread Man

More like bread-men – James Beard on the one hand; Edward Espe Brown on the other. This post is mostly about JB. That’s how I think of him – JB.

These two pretty much represent the extremes of 1970’s bread baking – one writing for Middle America, publishing in newspapers and more than a few glossy magazines .

Cuisine and James Beard - the back cover was the back of his head

Cuisine and James Beard – the back cover was the back of his head – and the magazine cost $2!

The other, writing from a Zen Center in California – uber hippie.

Edward Espe Brown

Edward Espe Brown

Beard on Bread beard on bread and The Tassajara Bread Book the-tassajara-bread-book_1 were my go-to guides.

In my efforts to be ‘all-natural’ I made more than a few….. door-stops and….hockey pucks, which I hope gives no offense to door stops and hockey pucks. By this time I had 4 younger brothers, and they all had friends, and no one ever went hungry and no one actually got ill…..

James Beard had a section on whole-meal breads; (not all the hockey puck came from Tassajara, which had and still has a killer three layer corn bread and the bestest and tastiest, easiest  gingerbread, but I digress).

James Beard could be a little cranky about some things:

“One doubtful fashion in bread making today, however, is the tendency to acquire as many different flours and meals as can be found and incorporate them all into a single loaf, without thought for texture, for crumb, or for the other attributes by which a fine loaf is judged…….The irony of the health trend is that many of the course flours and meals found on the market, particularly in health food stores, are often quite dirty and, if anything, a risk to one’s health.” (xii/Introduction)

You see? He was on a fine tear about the jumble loaf, the loaf that begins with an odd mix of every which thing with “HEALTH” as an end product, and not a loaf of bread that you should like to eat, especially after you’ve been through the trouble to make it. The dig against health food stores was just unnecessary.

It’s the end of his Introduction that got me to go back time after time, and eventually buying my own copy:

“You can throw a recipe together, or you can be meticulous and, chances are, both approaches are likely to produce a good bread. It is a mysterious business, this making of bread, and once you are hooked by the miracle of yeast, you’ll be a breadmaker for life.”

Hooked by the miracle,I’ve signed on to the breadmaker life. Still baking, still learning.

Some of the things I still turn to, like the Sally Lunn is more properly a cake. Other, like Cream Biscuits, are, bread-ish. Dill Seed Bread – the bread with cottage cheese and dill seed or weed in it, is SO totally ‘70’s, EVERYONE had a version of it. The first pita bread I ever made, I made from here. Portuguese Sweet Bread, Italian Holiday Bread (which I shaped into a ring and made for Easter), ditto. My youngest brother was a huge fan of the English Muffin Bread.

But the one I made a lot when I need a lot of bread, and continued making when I didn’t have a lot of time and I could freeze it until I needed it was an oatmeal bread. Maryetta’s Oatmeal Bread. This makes three loaves, and after making it once, I just always made sure I had three loaf pans. I have never tried to divide this one. It was never too much. If I could figure out how to fit 6 loaf pans in any oven I’ve ever had, I would probably double it. Three is good, just right, just like in Goldilocks.

Maryetta’s Oatmeal Bread

From James Beard’s Beard On Bread. p. 106. Alfred A. Knopf, NY. 1973.

4 cups boiling water

3 cups rolled oats (traditional, not quick or instant)

7-8 cups AP flour (I often use ½ whole wheat)

2 packets yeast (or 1 big tablespoonful)*

1-2 tablespoons salt**

4 tablespoons melted butter***

½ cup mild molasses

  1. Pour the boiling water over the oatmeal in a large bowl and leave to cool.
  2. Stir in 2 cups of the flour and the yeast (so you don’t want this more than 103 so it will encourage the yeast to grow and not kill it off. This is slightly warmer than blood warm)
  3. Place in a warm, draft free (cat-free) place to rise, uncovered, until doubled in bulk.
  4. Punch down and work in the salt, the melted butter, molasses, and enough flour to make a smooth, pliable, firm dough. 10 or so minutes by hand – you can’t knead too much by hand! Work out those anxieties!
  5. Divide the dough into three equal pieces and form into loaves to fit into 3 buttered 9x5x3 inch loaf pans.
  6. Allow to rise again, uncovered, until doubled in bulk.
  7. Bake in a 350 oven 40-60 minutes, or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom (slip the bread out of the pan – use potholders! – and rap away. Knock-Knock. Hollow sounds like a hollow-core door sounds when you knock on it. You’ll hear it. Otherwise you’ll hear a thud thud thud, and then it needs a little more oven time. After you’ve made it a few times, your nose will tell you the done smell, so the rapping becomes a double check.)
  8. Cool thoroughly before slicing (or let cool enough to let the middle finish baking before ripping in – warm bread does not slice well. It also stales up faster, so you might as well eat the whole loaf, good thing there are 2 more for later.)
  9. Makes great toast, should there be any left the next morning.

*I buy yeast in bulk, and I think a packet is 2 ¼ teaspoons….close enough.

** James Beard like LOTS of salt. I like not so much. He recommends the 2 Tablespoons, I like less.

***The original calls for salad oil; I never have that and olive oil is very distinctive and not great with molasses, so I’ve been using melted butter for years.


Filed under Books, Bread, Influencers, Recipe, The 1970's