Breads and Crackers

Easy Herb Batter Bread – (the first bread I learned to make)

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My mom belonged to a local garden club when I was a kid – and well beyond that, actually.  They did a lot to make the town look nice – the trees planted along main street were their doing, for instance.  "Project Beautification" is a program I seem to remember…

Anyway, another project one year was a little cookbook called Indian Run Gardeners Cook Book.  The name "Indian Run" refers (if memory serves) to a little brook that runs parallel to part of Route 108 near Old Mountain Field.  All the members of the club provided a menu and at least one recipe for that menu. 

Here's the cover of my copy. 

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The books were "bound" with green yarn looped through the two holes in the side.  Yesterday I went crazy looking for my book.  I was scanning my cookbook shelves, just looking for that green yarn.  Couldn't find it.  It's a skinny book, so I thought it was just hiding.  But no…not where it should be.  Not where it might be.  WHERE WAS IT????  I felt a sense of panic.  This is a little snippet of my childhood, this little book.  It represents, on some level, a lot of who my mother was to me at that time.  The cooking and the gardening parts of her. 

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It's not that I needed the bread recipe it contained.  I have it written down elsewhere, and I could probably recreate it from memory if I had to.  But I wanted the book itself.  I wanted to scan the cover and a couple of the pages into the computer to use in this post.  But beyond that – IT SHOULD BE HERE – WHERE IS IT???

I finally found the poor thing.  The green yarn is gone.  The front and back cover are separated from the stapled body of the book.  The whole thing was shoved to the back of a shelf, hidden by bigger hard-covered books.  I was so glad to find it.  No matter how many other stuffed animals she has, Julia wants her pink elephant at bedtime, and if the elephant's not in her bed, the house is turned upside down and inside out in order to find the pink elephant.  That's kind of how my search for this little book felt.

Anyway.  You can see the year at the bottom of that page above.  1977.  I don't remember what time of year the book was put together, but anyway, I was about eleven or twelve when it was "in production." (yes.  so you can do the math.  yuck.)

And for whatever reason, I was called upon to do an illustration for the book.  I had taken art classes for some time, maybe that was why.  I don't remember.  But here it is:

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I don't know how PC it is now, but of course it's a nod to the name of the club, the name of that brook, and so that is what I was asked to draw.  I think it's funny.  The fact that this probably wouldn't be done now…that the whole thing would be done on a computer and photos of the club members and maybe scenic shots of the towns and gardens would fill the gaps in between text passages.  The book would be spiral bound and would have plastic-coated cover pages.  Very polished and professional…but lacking a bit of the charm of the pre-computer age.

This is my mom's page:

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The little hand-written measurements beside the typed ones are mine – I must have halved the recipe for some reason at some point. 

This, as I said in the post title, is the first bread I learned to make.  I can see in my mind the brown earthenware bowl with warm water in it…the dry yeast sprinkled on top.  I remember mixing the ingredients with a wooden spoon, and the smell of the yeast and the herbs blending together.  And I remember the sense of surprise and satisfaction when the dough doubled in size – just like it was supposed to!  I did it right!  And, best of all, I remember the taste of that first slice – always cut sooner than recommended, well before the loaf had cooled.  This is a taste of childhood, of home, and of memories of warm kitchens on chilly afternoons over all these years.

I've moderned things up a bit – I used my monster toy – my 6 qt Kitchenaid Mixer – instead of a bowl and a wooden spoon.  But no matter how you combine ingredients – the aroma will be the same.  Swoon-inducing.

Shall we?

Printable Recipe

The first thing you want to do is assemble the ingredients.  Here we have all the small things – left to right in the back row – yeast, sugar, salt and shortening.  Front row – dried oregano, dried thyme, and fresh basil.  I didn't have any dried.  If you're switching between dry and fresh, the equivalency ratio is about a teaspoon of dry to a tablespoon of fresh.  The flavor is more concentrated in the dry so you would need more fresh to compensate, as I did in this case.  Fortunately, we still have a ton of basil out there.

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The other two ingredients are water and flour.

You put two cups of warm water into your mixing bowl, and sprinkle the yeast on top.  Whisk the yeast in so it's all combined with the water.  Then leave it alone for a bit.

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You want to give the yeast time to prove that it's still active.  Those bubbles in the picture above are just froth from when I whisked the yeast and water together.  They will pop. 

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Now yeah, there are still bubbles, but they're not all because of me any more.  See that thicker looking section of tan?  That's the wet yeast, and it's producing some of these bubbles now.  Once this has happened, go ahead and add in the other "small" ingredients except for the salt.  (Salt can kill or slow down the yeast, so add that along with flour next.) 

Now, yesterday when I was doing all this, I had just made some coffee and Bill asked if I wanted to go outside and look at what's still growing.  So, mugs of coffee in hand (and me with a camera, just in case) we went outside and looked around.  We still have tomatoes, zucchini, various peppers, and a VERY late-bloomer of a giant pumpkin.  I figured the batter would be okay for a few minutes without me.

And it was – it was more than okay – it was pretty busy, actually.  Here's what I saw when we came back inside:

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Pretty cool, huh?  I hadn't even fully combined it yet – you can see the chunk of shortening up on the top left behind the paddle.

Stir that down…

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and then add the flour…

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Two cups first (and the salt)…

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and so on, a cup or so at a time…

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until

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it looks like that.

Now, push the mixer speed up a notch or two and let it run for a few minutes to develop some of the gluten.

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It's never going to look like dough – as the recipe tells you, it's a batter bread.  It's not going to develop the same structure and texture as a bread that you knead.  Just keep that in mind.

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Now that it's all combined nicely, you want to scrape the batter into a lightly oiled bowl,

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cover it with plastic wrap,

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and set aside to rise.

The recipe says to let rise until doubled in bulk – about 40 minutes.  So I wrote down the time when I covered the batter, and kept an eye on the clock.

40 minutes later (give or take a minute)…

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and you can see through the plastic that the batter has expanded.

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See?

Next, you want to stir it down…

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like so, and then scrape it into a standard (9 x 5 x 5) loaf pan (which you have lightly greased first) and cover.  (* It's probably a good idea to lightly oil the plastic wrap you cover the batter with, because otherwise when you remove the plastic before baking, the plastic will pull the batter and wreck some of the height and structure.  I should know, heh heh.)

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Here it is before you cover it.  You should also preheat the oven at this time.  375 degrees F.

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The top of this batter should look better – smoother and higher than it does.  Remember what I said about not wanting your plastic to stick?  Here's why.  It's still got some height, but it could look a little better.  Oh, and that pan?  That's not dirty – it's seasoned.

Put the pan on a rack in the middle of the oven and set your timer for about 25 minutes.  Some ovens run hot, others run cold…you want to check on it before anything unfixable happens.

Here's mine at about the 25 minute mark:

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You can see the lovely height it has now – when it goes into the oven, all the little pockets of air inside expand with steam from the moisture in the batter.  So in addition to the rising the batter does before it goes into the oven, the sudden exposure to heat gives it that extra boost.  The top is golden, but the sides are still white and the whole thing is rather squishy inside.  If you took it out now, it would collapse on itself.  And it wouldn't be cooked.  So you'd have a lump of gush with a pretty hat on it.

I let mine go for another 20 minutes all together, and when I took it out, here's how it looked:

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The crust is a nice brown now, and the sides (though you can't see them in this shot) are browned too. 

Here's the very top, close up:

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Don't you wish you had a scratch-n-sniff monitor screen right about now?

And here's a view from below:

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Another thing to keep in mind when you're trying to decide if the bread is ready to come out of the oven is the bottom of the loaf.  If you think it's ready, tip the bread out of the pan (onto your hand with an oven mitt on it or something – don't burn yourself in the process!)   You want to tap the bottom of the loaf with your fingers, and if it sounds hollow, you're good to go.  It's also a tactile thing – the bottom should be crusty – not quite as crisp as the top because it's been sitting inside the pan amid all the heat and humidity…but it should feel firm and finished.  If you tap on it and you don't feel a crispness, if it feels and sounds more like you're tapping a hunk of cheese, then put the bread back in the oven.  You need to bake it longer.

Now, the hardest part for me – ALWAYS – is waiting the right amount of time before slicing it.  If you slice into it right away, you'll be tearing the bread rather than slicing through it.  The innards are still steamy and damp, and they'll just stick to your knife.  So you're supposed to let the bread cool.

This is far easier said than done if, like me, you lack willpower in the presence of starch.

I waited as long as I could, and then I cut a slice:

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It was still kind of wet inside, and there was some pulling against the blade, but not too, too badly. 

Want a closer look at the inner structure?  Here –

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Structurally it's weaker than homemade bread from kneaded dough.  The shortening and sugar in the batter help soften it as well.  I'm thinking it I'd let the mixer work on it longer, more of the gluten would have developed.  So next time I'll let it go for a while.  But still – it's a batter, not a dough.  It's wetter and softer.   

Alas, I have no more pictures of the bread.  In fact, I have very little of the bread left at all.  My family (me included) descended on it like vultures on a zebra carcass, and there's only a little bit remaining wrapped up on the counter. 

The bread makes excellent toast to go along with your eggs over easy, in case you were wondering. 

You can change the herb combination if you want – one time I put in Bell's poultry seasoning – it was like a slice of Thanksgiving dinner.  You can also leave out the herbs all together and make a nice loaf of white bread. 

Anyway, this is the first kind of bread I learned to make.  It was easy, and yummy, and I've made a lot of it over the years.  If you've never made bread before, give it a shot. 

Your house will smell fabulous.

Enjoy!

5 thoughts on “Easy Herb Batter Bread – (the first bread I learned to make)

  1. I recently found your blog and I am in LOVE! I love to cook and you have inspired me to try baking my very first loaf of bread. My kitchen smells fabulous and I am restraining myself from slicing the loaf too soon. Now I can’t wait to try your soft, white bread recipe.

  2. wow,amazing. I like your website. it is the best site i ever wanted to visit. thanks again. i admired your breads,they are fabulous and very delicious!!

  3. What a delightful web site. It just warmed my heart so. Love the pictures too. Printed out the herb batter bread recipe and I cannot wait to try it out!!!!

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