Mary’s Bread • from the Beachside Quilting Retreat

Marysbread_9At our recent Beachside Quilting Retreat, Mary — our hostess — brought a loaf of bread to serve us that first night and we all raved over it, asking her lots of questions, jotting down the recipe.  Two days later, when we went to Summerland’s antique store, where we found two pumpkin-shaped Le Creuset pots: I bought one and she bought the other, and that afternoon, we had a bread-making lesson in between all the sewing and quilting.  While the ingredients are simple and easily whipped into a ragged-looking dough, it’s her cooking method that sets this bread apart.  The heavy enameled cast-iron pot is set into a cold oven, which is then preheated for a long period of time.  This is what she calls the “brick-oven” method of baking as heat and moisture surrounds the baking dough, ensuring a nice crust.  This recipe makes three loaves.Marysbread_1
Measure out 3 cups lukewarm water.  Add 1 and 1/2 T. yeast (2 packages of regular yeast) and 1 T. kosher salt (table salt is okay); let it sit for a few minutes to “bloom.”  Stir in 32 oz. flour, roughly 6 to 7 cups.  Stir with big spoon and cover with plastic wrap, letting it rise in a corner of the kitchen. While it will rise for a total of 2 hours, after it’s risen for roughly 1 hour set the cast iron pot with its lid into a cold oven and preheat the oven for 45 minutes to a temperature of 475 degrees F.

Marysbread_3When the dough has risen for two hours, divide into thirds by grabbing about one-third of the dough. Mary says it’s ragged looking, but keep going. Using lots of flour that’s been spread onto either a pastry cloth or a cutting board, shape it into a ball. Cut an “X” into the top of the dough using a sharp knife or razor blade.

Marysbread_4 Marysbread_5Set ball into hot pan, being careful not to burn yourself. Cover with the preheated lid and cook for 20 minutes.

Marysbread_8Uncover, and cook for 10 more minutes or until it is a nice golden brown. Either tip out the bread — or grab from the pot — onto a counter and/or rack; let cool.

Cook’s Notes:
On the second and third loaf (since the dough has been in the fridge), put the dough out onto the floured surface to come to room temp while the oven heats up. Mary says she has left the dough in the fridge for as long as 12 days. The only noticeable effect has been that the dough gets more sour-tasting.


After rising, I divided the loaves into three, shaped the first one (lower left) and started it baking.  I did cut an X into this one.

To the second blob, I added 1/3 cup sunflower seeds, massaging it through the mass.  After shaping, I then pressed onto the top: pepitas (sunflower seeds), a shake of poppy seeds, a shake of sunflower seeds, a shake of kosher salt; no cutting of an X in the top.  After the first loaf came out of the oven (I only have one pan), I baked that.

To the third blob, now quite sticky as it’s been rising a little more, I added 1/3 cup chopped high quality baking chocolate and 1/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans. (Don’t use white chocolate chips as you want the chocolate to melt into the bread, not remain intact; look for the bar type of white chocolate that has cocoa butter in it.) It’s a lot to mush into the bread dough, I admit, but when it was time to shape it, I concentrated on poking the bits back into the loaf, keeping them from emerging from the top.  When it bakes, as I also didn’t cut an X in the top.  The dark blobs (above) are the melted, baked chocolate that did emerge through while baking, but it tasted fine.

I did this loaf last in case there was residue of chocolate in the pan: there was, but it brushed right out.  That would be something to check for if you are making all three loaves with the white chocolate.

I would like to try mixing the chocolate/pecans with the flour and incorporating it that way, but this time, I wanted three different loaves.

Pear-Persimmon Bread

This recipe was prompted by buying four gorgeous persimmons from a neighbor’s table, set up on the sidewalk with a box (with a slot) where I could put my dollar.

First step to the bread: thinking the persimmons were the Fuyu variety and trying to serve them for a side dish.  Oh, pucker-up-city! But they were gorgeous.

Next step to the bread: letting them sit out on the counter until they were, as one cook said, the texture of a wobbly water balloon.  Yes, that means the Hachiya (a kind of a wedge-shaped persimmon) is ready.  It also helped that I had two pears that were mush, and didn’t want to let them go to waste.  After hunting for a pear-persimmon combination, I used James Beard’s Persimmon bread recipe as a starting point, but had to make a few changes.  Like no cognac because I don’t do alcohol.  And monkeying with the recipe to accommodate the pears.  But here’s mine, which makes two 9-inch loaves of bread.

2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
2 cups sugar
1 cup melted butter and cooled to room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
2 cups persimmon/pear puree (from about 2 squishy-soft Hachiya persimmons and 2 very ripe pears)
2 cups walnuts, chopped
1 cup cranberries

Oven 350 degrees F.

Grease and flour 2 loaf pans, tapping out excess flour.

Measure the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, mixing them together with the blade attachment.

Prepare the fruit puree: rinse the persimmons, then cut the thick flowery stem out of the top.  Place in a food processor. I don’t peel mine at all. [One of my persimmons turned out to be rather hard on one side, so I put it in a small bowl and microwaved it until it was soft and cooked and matched the softness of the other persimmon (desperation measure).]  Peel, core and add the pears to the food processor, then puree the fruits together.

Melt the butter in a small microwave proof bowl (about a 4 cup bowl), add the eggs to this and whisk, then add the pear-persimmon puree and whisk.  Add this mixture to the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl and blend on a low speed for about 1 minute.  Scrape all around the bowl to make sure the dry ingredients are being incorporated, then blend for about another minute.  Add nuts and cranberries.  (The original recipe says you could also add raisins, apricots, dates, or a mixture of these fruits.)

Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (Mine was done at 55 minutes–it is a darker bread, but you don’t want to get it too done.)  Turn out of pans and let cool on wire rack.

It must be good because Dave gave it his Second-Helping-Stamp-of-Approval.

It’s pictured here on my Grandmother’s china, which I got from my mother this year. The very first recipe I ever tried for persimmon bread was my grandmother’s, written out on a 3 x 5 index card. I still have it in my recipe file.  It has canned persimmons and shortening in it, which is why I decided to create a new one.