Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mary Leaf's Cardamom Bread

A few years ago at Christmas, my sisters and I all received an amazing gift from our mother ... that is absolutely priceless and precious to all of us.  We each received a cookbook containing the recipes we grew up with, recipes my MOM grew up with, recipes that mom loves, recipes that we've shared together ... it is so simply amazing, because it is personal, touching and unique to our family - it embodies our love for food, company in the kitchen, and our family's history - beginning with Mom's grandmother and many other influential women that strode into her life.  It is a living document that we all talk about updating from year-to-year, and sometimes do ... and it happens to be our "go-to" cookbook when seeking out a familiar, savory treat that we grew up with or crave being 500 miles from home!!

One age-old, tried-and-true recipe in the cookbook is probably the most vague recipe for bread that I have ever followed ... most bread recipes tend to be somewhat complex, even my favorite recipe for French bread (with only yeast, water, flour and salt as ingredients) contains multiple steps ... but this one is unique in that the directions are easy -

1. Scald milk and cool to approximately 105*
eggs in their little "hot tub" warming up
before being added to the dough
2. Combine ingredients (there is no quantity for flour - only a note to add as much as you need for a smooth, elastic dough) and knead.
3. Let rise til double.
4. Form loaves and let rise, brushing with egg mixture and sprinkling with sugar.
5. Bake at 350* for about 30 minutes.

Scalded milk? How do you know it's scalded? I just
think of that perfect cream of wheat smell
from winters in the woods at home <3
 old green (R) v. new white (L)
Wow!  This is when a prior knowledge of bread-making can be handy! Hahah  I scald my milk, adding to it the sugar and butter.  A tip for cooling it quickly? Partially fill your sink with cold water and set the pan inside .. stirring it periodically.  Use your finger as a thermometer - once it is only slightly warmer than body temperature, it is the perfect temperature!  A highlight of using this method, is that the milk+sugar+butter tastes awesome ... =)  While the milk mixture is cooling, I combine salt, flour and yeast in my stand mixer bowl and set to pealing and chopping my cardamom.  A spice grinder/mortar+ pestle would be handy here .. but since I have neither, I chop my cardamom seeds by hand, doming my left hand over the knife while my right hand chops ... that way minimal cardamom escapes the cutting board.  I don't typically add sugar to the tops of my loaves, but once I remembered the vanilla scented sugar I have lingering in my kitchen, it couldn't be avoided. <3

chopped cardamom
On a December trip to Penzey's I discovered that there are, in fact, multiple types of cardamom.  Previously, I had only known about the green pods ... and I knew they were hard to come by, having purchased some at our Farmers' Market only to be asked for MORE by a sister after admitting I found a giant packages (about 1/3 c.) for less than $3.50!!  It is hard to find cardamom that is still in pod form ... and our family recipe doesn't say "add 1/2 t." it says ... add 12 pods ... and besides, fresh ground is best, anyway, right?

There are black, green and white pods .. with the black and green varieties being utilized for Indian cooking .. and the white being most common in Scandinavian cooking .. Ah ha! So .. away with my old, dried up green pods .. and in with my fresh white pods .. the scent is so amazing .. Mmm <3

This bread makes the best toast!

The original recipe is massive, where I have used as much as 9 c. of flour ... thanking those in heaven and on Earth for our giant stand mixer ... so I usually use a half recipe.  You can see in my pictures that I also chose to use half of the dough for little clover leaf rolls <3

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