Elizabeth A.S. Brooke

Crafting, traveling and everything in between.

Cooking (and baking) gets faster

One big plus to moving from 2500-feet above sea level to 466 feet? Cooking and baking are faster!

The first two loaves I’ve baked have been much browner than I’d like. Here’s a prosciutto loaf I made with hard salami.

Salami loaf

And I baked the bread for the minimum recommended time.

Last night I tried cutting the time down by five minutes. I think that did the trick.

Cheddar Loaf

This is a cheddar loaf. I haven’t cut into this gorgeous bread yet. I’m dreaming of toasting it and slathering it with mayo for a extra special egg sandwich. Or maybe making the ultimate grilled cheese and dipping it in spicy tomato soup. Mmmmm!

The prosciutto loaf, by the way, is also a new one. It was tasty and is more versatile than you might think. I spread a knock-off brand of Nutella on it a couple of mornings. It wasn’t bad. The loaf dried out a little sooner than I would have liked, but I think that’s due to the over-baking.

Both recipes, of course, came from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible.


Oatmeal Poppy Seed Bread

I’ve never heard of oatmeal poppy seed bread, but it sounded promising.

Oatmeal Poppy SeedBread

Oatmeal Poppy Seed Bread

This recipe is from Bill Neal’s Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie, which I’ve written about here, here and here. I bought this book at Mabry Mill a few years ago and have enjoyed reading the history of various recipes and learning from Neal’s tips.

Neal created this bread recipe from different old Southern recipes. I think it works nicely.

Sliced oatmeal bread

I don’t usually make loaves with more wheat than bread flour. This recipe has a ratio of 3:1:1 of wheat, bread flour and oatmeal. Surprisingly, this bread doesn’t crumble as I thought it would. I meant to put in a tablespoon of additional wheat gluten, which is supposed to hold loaves together more, but forgot. Seems like I didn’t need to.

The bread makes delicious sandwiches and, I bet, would make great French toast.


Cranberry-Banana-Walnut Quick Bread

This cranberry-banana-walnut bread may look “ugly as sin,” as Chris put it, but it’s damn good! (Recipe here or a variation here.)

Cranberry Banana Walnut Bread


I made this bread for Aunt Shirley earlier this week and it turned out lovely. The bread didn’t stick anywhere and browned nicely. I did have to cook it an additional 10 minutes, but it slid right out of the pan with no problem.

For this go ’round, I did change the ratio of bread flour to cake/pastry flour from 1.5 cups: 0.5 cups to 1:1. I’m not sure that would have caused the bread to stick more though.

It seems like my Christmas baking has turned out the same for the past couple of years. Some funny disaster will happen and I’ll be left somewhat empty handed. Last year, nothing was turning out. I added too much butter or sugar into sugar cookie dough, so I had to pat it out and cook it into a big lemony mass. Breads fell apart and didn’t hold their shape. Around 8 or 9 p.m., Chris told me to stop with what I had and rushed out the door to Food Lion to buy provisions. So most of what people got last year were store-bought goodies with a surprise from me tucked in here and there.

This year Chris was on cookie duty. They turned out pretty and delicious. I’m 1 for 2 on the bread. I think I’m going to stop now.

Herman recipe

So it’s been a few weeks since I introduced you to Herman.

I haven’t enjoyed the loaves as much as I had hoped, but I decided to be patient as the starter developed more flavor with each feeding. I’m glad I waited!

This week’s loaf has been delicious. Not on its own, but as a sandwich. The bread is soft and has a slight buttery taste, thanks to the tablespoon of butter in it. It’s really noticeable when the bread is warm or toasted.

The first taste was Tuesday for breakfast – an egg, tomato and onion sandwich. Here’s a couple of slices:

Sourdough slices
This bread was made from this recipe, which I found on the All Recipes website. It makes two loaves so cut everything in half for one.

If you want to try your hand at making your own Herman, here’s the recipe (altered a bit for my preference):


2 cups flour

3 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 pkg. active yeast (equal to 2 1/4 tsp.)

2 cups warm water (no hotter than 110℉)

1. Mix all ingredients and cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap.

2. Allow mixture to sit out at room temperature for 3 days, stirring at least once a day.

3. After 3rd day, the starter is ready for baking bread. Store in refrigerator.

Feeding: Feed the starter every few days (I do it every 4-5 days or so) and after taking some of it to bake bread. To feed, remove 1 cup of starter and throw it out. Replace with 1 cup flour and 1 cup water. Stir and place in frig until next feeding.

If you are taking out starter to make bread, add in volumes of flour and water equal to what you removed. For example, if you take out 1 1/2 cups of starter to make bread, then add in 1 1/2 cups flour and 1 1/2 cups water.

Let me know how it turns out! I’d like to know what you call your sourdough starter.

Flaxseed bread

I’m still baking bread. I was regularly baking bread until about 2 years ago. Then things got a little too busy and keeping up with the baking schedule was too much. So back to store-bought bread we went.

Flaxseed Bread

Flaxseed Bread

This is flaxseed bread from the The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. I love this book! I’ve made the white sandwich bread, cracked wheat loaf, dinner rolls, potato bread, bagels and pita bread. It’s hard to choose a favorite from the list. Every recipe I’ve attempted has turned out amazing.

The sandwich breads have had a great crumb (texture) and complex flavors, especially if I let the bread sit overnight in the frig. For the pita bread, leaving it overnight in the frig really is the way to go.

I’ve wanted to make the brioche, but it seems you need a stand mixer because the dough is very sticky. So that’ll have to wait for sometime in the future if and when we get a bigger kitchen with more storage.

I made flaxseed bread earlier in the summer. Besides sandwiches, it makes a really good French toast. The bread is also has a very quick rise — 2 – 2 1/2 hours instead of the 4+ hours for the other sandwich breads in the book. It calls for different types of flours, but it’s worth it because of the taste and quick rise time.

1 Comment

This is Herman

I’d like you to meet Herman.


Herman is a sourdough starter. I got the recipe to make it from an old N.C. Extension Office cookbook from the ’80s. My mom used to make a lot of sourdough when I was growing up and I thought I’d try to make some. Turns out, her recipe and many others use instant potatoes or potato water for the starter. This one, for Herman, uses flour, water, sugar and yeast. Herman has been sitting out for 3 days at room temp. I kept it stirred everyday and, today, took out about 2 cups to make some sourdough bread. To the remaining starter I added more flour and water, stirred it and put it in the frig until I need to feed Herman again (in a few days with flour and water) or want to make more bread.

BTW, there’s a tradition of naming your sourdough starter, for some reason. A friend told me earlier today that she calls her starter “my pet” because, like a pet, she needs to keep it fed and watered. I’ve just started this process so my starter will keep the name Herman (the name of the recipe) until I come up with a different name. Kind of like when you adopt a dog that already had a name from a different family and you decide to give it a new name later.

The traditional way to make sourdough is to mix water and flour and leave it sitting out to “capture” yeast, which is naturally in the air. It could take several days, even a couple of weeks, to grow the starter before you can even use it. I’m worried about contaminating the starter with bad stuff (the starter will turn colors if the wrong things begin to grow) and wasting the tons of commercial yeast I have already, so I just used what I had on hand.

Here’s the bread I made today:


Rolls for steak and onion sandwiches and a small loaf for soup or lunches later in the week. I think the crust may be a little too hard, but maybe it’s supposed to be that way? One source I read said this is a like a white bread, but with a thicker crust. I hope it tastes good, at least.

Bread baking tips

I’ve already written about Bill Neal’s book here, so you know I’ve started experimenting with bread baking.

For bread baking, Neal gives some tips I’ve found pretty helpful:
1. Don’t use too much flour — you want the dough to be sticky.
2. Slice through the top of the dough with a really sharp knife right before putting it in the oven. This helps gases and moisture to release and keeps the bread from being “doughy” in the middle.
3. Dust flour on top of the dough if you want a softer crust, water if you want a crunchier crust.

A friend of mine also suggested added a tablespoon of gluten per cup of wheat and other hard flours to help it rise and hold together better. (No more than 3 tbsp. per loaf though, she warned.)

I’ve tried all the above suggestions and my breads just keep getting better and better. We can eat a sandwich without the bread following apart, the dough is rising beautifully and I also get a nice crust (I like a harder crust so I don’t dust the dough with flour before baking.)

I’m going to keep experimenting though and, hopefully, I’ll be able to alter the recipe and make all kinds of sandwich breads in no time.

Here’s the recipe I’m using at the moment (I’ve altered a recipe many times, so this is my own creation):

Honey Wheat Bread

2 1/2 cups warm water
1/3 cup honey (or molasses)
1 tbsp. sugar
1/3 cup shortening
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tbsp. gluten
3 1/4 tsp. yeast
1 tsp. salt
3 cups of bread flour

In a bowl, mix water, honey, sugar and shortening. Mix wheat flour, gluten, salt and yeast and add it to the bowl. Beat with mixer until well blended. Add 3 cups of bread flour and knead for 5 to 8 minutes or until stiff dough forms. Let dough rise until double, usually about 30-45 minutes. Divide dough and place in two greased loaf pans. Let rise until double again, about an hour. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes.
Other breads I’d like to try are bagels, graham crackers, French bread and brioche (a type of French bread).

I also would like to try regular crackers again because I didn’t have much luck in the past. Though I finally got the crackers crisp enough, they became soggy/soft after a week and some even molded. I kept them in an airtight container, but I guess that wasn’t enough.

I’d like to check out Rose Levy Beranbaum’s book, “The Bread Bible,” which I think I heard about over on the angry chicken blog, though I searched the blog and can’t find the book mentioned. I did find the book in a store in Savannah, but I couldn’t bring myself to pay the full $36 for a book I may or may not use.

Some of the recipes called for bread machines or bread mixers, neither of which I own or have space for in my tiny kitchen. If possible, I need to stick to hand mixing. This may limit the types of breads that I can make, but I’m okay with that for now.

So, I’d rather find a used copy so I can test the book out and see if it’ll work for me.

Also, Rose has a blog. Visit her here.