Category Archives: Baking from Scratch

My $75 Loaf of Bread

I am trying to adjust to my new normal. As a public employee in Wisconsin, transitioning from a teacher contract to an employee handbook, life has become very uncertain. People expect change to happen at work each year. But this school year, the wide variety of changes feel like a roller coaster ride with mainly a series of plunges and I am not a thrill seeker.

So, to give myself a feeling of control, and financial as well as mental stability in this time of cuts and uncertainty, I put myself on a strict monthly budget and took a second job at night.

Looking for a positive spin to this new need for frugality, I decided to resurrect the motto of my grandparents “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

Dad grew up on a Depression era farm in North Dakota. He didn’t know he was poor until he was an adult and was informed so by people who had money. While his family was not rich in dollars, they were rich in food, family support and laughter. One of my fondest memories of my ‘granny’ is spending time in her kitchen as she created the most incredible baked goods.

I have longed to recreate the homemade bread that I can still taste if I close my eyes. I remember watching Granny hold a huge loaf of bread against her chest as she walked around the dinner table slicing portions for all of us to savor fresh from the oven. And I have thought, I can make my own bread. It will be delightful and… save money.

Finding a bread recipe that is equal to my memories has been a challenge. And, the flops I have created in my kitchen over the last few months have been disappointing.

Recently, I found a recipe for no-knead bread that was intriguing. Unfortunately, the recipe (adapted from Jim Lahey) called for a heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic). I went to my cupboards and like Old Mother Hubbard my cupboards were bare and did not hold a covered pot that could withstand 450 degrees in the oven. So, I went shopping. With my coupons, I purchased a cast iron pot for $71.43. Seriously. That was more than I planned (certainly not in my budget) but I really wanted to make this bread!

Following a recipe I found on The New York Times website for No-Knead Bread, I set to work. I mixed up my ingredients and then waited for 18 hours. As my dough did its thing, I was reminded of all of the dough Granny had in various stages of proofing in covered bowls in her pantry all those years ago.  I always thought it was weird (and slightly unsanitary) that she let dough sit out for what seemed like days.

As one day turned into the next, my dough was finally ready. I flipped it into my heated pot and baked my bread with fingers crossed. The smell of baking bread infiltrated every corner of our home. I could hardly wait to taste my first slice and when I did, I closed my eyes and savored.

I finally realize the secret of bread, which I wish I had learned from my experiences long ago…Great bread takes time.  And, as it turns out, a little bit of money.

I plan to stir up my fifth batch of bread dough this morning. Each time I bake a loaf, I divide my number of baked loaves by my original $75 investment (the cast iron pan + ingredients). Today’s loaf will bring my cost down to $15 a loaf. Makes me smile.

No-Knead Bread - Finished Loaf (294068096)
No-Knead Bread – Finished Loaf (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Sugar Cookie Comfort

“When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered· the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory” -Marcel Proust

Grandma was predictable. When we traveled to her home, she would look out her dining room window watching for our arrival. Once we were spotted, she would rush outside and embrace us in hugs. My siblings and I vied for her attention as we were ushered into the house for dinner. Dinner was delicious comfort food. Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, corn, and strawberry banana jello. Dessert always followed. Sugar cookies and Cass-Clay vanilla ice cream.

These foods, especially when combined within one single meal, awaken vivid memories of grandma. Preparing them with my children is a way to introduce and connect her to them. Her sugar cookies are easy to make and difficult to resist. The buttery dough is silky and makes perfectly round cookies every time.

Sugar Cookie Comfort
2 cups butter (room temperature)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter. Add eggs and sugar. Beat well. Add sifted dry ingredients and vanilla. Mix thoroughly. Form into small balls (heaping teaspoonful size). Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten with bottom of a glass dipped in sugar. Dip glass in sugar between each cookie press. Bake for 10 minutes. Makes 5 dozen.

Below is a copy of grandma’s recipe in her own writing. She used 1 cup butter and 1 cup shortening. I prefer butter so in my version of her recipe I skip the shortening and double the butter.

Double Chocolate Creme de Menthe Cake

I could always count on mom. She was the go-to person when you needed help, comfort or a listening ear. As I grew older, I was happy to return the favor whenever I could.

Once a year, mom would make her Double Chocolate Creme de Menthe Cake. And every year, she lost her copy of the recipe. I came to expect her panicked phone call asking for the recipe. This always entertained me because, one… she was the one who gave me the recipe and two… she could never find the recipe even though she wrote it down each time she called. My copy of the recipe is still on the dot matrix printer paper I used when I wrote it all those years ago. Never heard of this kind of paper? You are not alone. Dot matrix paper is no longer available (or necessary).

Ironically, I now, once a year, get a phone call from my daughter asking for this recipe. I find it comforting to have this tradition unbroken for the last 20+ years. I have kept the recipe on this same paper because it’s hard to lose and the women of my family count on me to find it. While I am not worried that I’ll misplace this recipe, I think it’s time to update and get it into digital form.

As with all recipes passed down in my family, you may not find exact amounts or precise instructions. This is where common sense and your own creativity comes into play. I hope you use this recipe to start some of your own quirky traditions.

Double Chocolate Creme de Menthe Cake
1 package chocolate cake mix
1 package instant chocolate pudding
4 eggs
1 cup water
1/2 cup cooking oil

Mix all ingredients together, beating for 4 minutes. Pour into greased and floured Bundt pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes. Test cake at 45 minutes (just in case). Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Drop on cake plate and cool completely.

Grasshopper Filling/Frosting
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
2/3 cup creme de menthe
2 cups whipping cream

Soften gelatin in cold water. Heat creme de menthe on low to warm. Once warm, add softened gelatin. Stir until dissolved and then cool mixture in pan. Whip the cream in a bowl. Fold whipped cream into cooled gelatin. Refrigerate filling for 10 to 15 minutes.

Split cooled cake in 1/2. Spread grasshopper filling between the layers then replace top layer of cake on the filling. Spread remaining filling over the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate until served.

Swedish Apple Pie Recipe from a Norwegian

When I married, mom went to her recipe box and found simple recipes for a novice (me) to create in an apartment kitchen. She felt it was her duty to make my culinary start not only easy but sublime. Our family really, really enjoys food, but it has to be good or we turn up our noses.

One of the first recipes I tested and which heralded a place in my own recipe box was Swedish Apple Pie. I always wondered how mom got this recipe, after all she was not far removed from her Norwegian roots and I had grown up hearing about those Swedes. Yet, here it is. A simple, easy and delicious apple pie. Enjoy!

Swedish Apple Pie
Fill pie plate 3/4 full of sliced apples. Sprinkle over 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 tablespoon sugar. In a separate bowl or pan, melt 1 1/2 sticks butter. Add 3/4 cup sugar, 1 cup flour and 1 egg. Mix well (it will be thick). Pour mixture over apples and spread to cover. The thick dough surrounds the apples to make a wonderful crust. No need for a rolling pin! Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes.

My own twist…the original recipe called for 1 cup sugar not the 3/4 cup noted above. I reduced the sugar because I am trying to reduce sugar in my life without sacrificing flavor. Amazingly, reducing sugar in your life reduces your waistline. I have it on good authority (the web) that you can reduce the amount of sugar in most recipes by one-fourth without sacrificing flavor. In this recipe it worked.