James Beard. Photo courtesy of the James Beard Foundation.
This week's Taste of the Past looks at a 1979 visit James Beard made to Minnesota. The "dean of American cookery" dropped in to help open his friend Chuck Williams' first Minnesota branch of Williams-Sonoma cookware store, located on the second floor of Harold, the upscale women's specialty store on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis.
Chuck Williams, at the Mall of America branch of the cookware store that bears his name. Star Tribune file photo.
Beard was talking up his previously published "Beard on Bread" cookbook. When Knopf reprinted the title in 2009, it included a forward by Mr. Williams. "Jim, as James Beard was known to his many friends, loved to make bread," he wrote. "He loved the feel of the dough against his hands, and, as he often expressed, 'You really can't make good bread unless you can feel the texture, softness, and elasticity of the dough through your hands.' Ask him how long to knead the dough and the answer would probably be: Until it feels right!
"Jim was an imposing sight standing at a table with a mound of dough in front of him, his large hands caressing the dough, turning and folding it, until just the right moment, when he would stop, poke it with a finger, and pronounce it ready for rising.
"During the months and months this book was in its formative stages, bread was an all-consuming interest for him. It was a rebellion against the lifeless and characterless bread found on the shelves of the American supermarket. America had developed the automobile, the airplane, and the refrigerator, and had won the wars, but had failed miserably at making bread. Soft, spongy pre-sliced white bread with little flavor, slathered with butter or margarine And topped with peanut butter or jam, was what America was eating. There was little objection from most people, but Jim thought differently and was on a crusade to correct this sad state of breadmaking.
"Even though breadmaking has changed considerably since the publication of 'Beard on Bread,' the book is as viable today as it was in 1973. With its simple instructions and easy-to-follow recipes, new dimensions in breadmaking have been created for the home cook. To quote Jim: 'I find it always pleasant at the beginning of the day to 'proof' the yeast, to plunge my hands into the dough and bring it to life, to watch it rise, and to wait for the moment when the finished loaf can be taken from the oven. There is no smell in the world of food to equal the perfume of baking bread and few greater pleasures in eating than sitting down with a slice of freshly baked bread, good butter, and a cup of tea or coffee.' I heartily agree."
Mr. Williams is right. This book is still relevant. Here are two recipes.
Makes 1 large free-form loaf or 2 small free-form loaves
Note: This recipe must be prepared in advance. From "Beard on Bread" by James Beard (Knopf, $16.95). "Unlike the usual recipe for limpa, which is so popular all through the Scandinavian countries, this calls for beer and extra honey, which gives it quite a distinctive quality," wrote Beard. "The dough is very pleasant to handle, and the finished bread has great flavor, nice texture and an attractive appearance."
1 package active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 c. warm water (100 to 115 degrees, approximately)
2 c. ale or beer, heated to lukewarm
1/4 to 1/2 c. honey (to taste)
2 tbsp. melted butter, plus extra for bowl, baking sheet and brushing
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cardamom (optional)
1 tbsp. caraway seeds
2 tbsp. chopped candied or freshly grated orange peel
2 1/2 c. rye flour
3 c. all-purpose flour
in a large bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in water and let proof for 5 minutes. In a medium bowl, whisk together ale (or beer), honey, butter and salt. Add beer mixture to yeast mixture and stir to combine. Add cardamom (optional), caraway seeds and orange peel and stir to combine. In a large bowl, whisk together rye flour and all-purpose flour. Add 3 cups of flour mixture to yeast mixture and beat very hard with a wooden spoon. Cover with a cloth or foil and let rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir down and add enough remaining flour to make a fairly stiff, although sticky dough. Turn dough out on a board, using 1/2 to 3/4 cup additional rye-all-purpose flour if needed to work the dough until smooth and elastic. Knead well, and while the dough will not lose its tackiness entirely, it will become smoother. Shape dough into a ball, place in a buttered bowl, and turn to coat dough with butter on all sides. Cover dough and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Punch down, shape into 1 large bowl or 2 smaller balls and place on a greased baking sheet. Brush with butter, cover loosely with waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours and preferably 3 hours. Remove from the refrigerator and let sit, uncovered, at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake bread until it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, about 75 to 80 minutes for a large loaf and 40 to 45 minutes for smaller loaves. Remove from oven and cool on racks before slicing.
Makes 1 ring loaf.
Note: This recipe must be prepared in advance. From "Beard on Bread." "This is a sensationally good and oddly textured sweet bread or coffee cake," wrote Beard. "It has been known as monkey bread for as long as I can remember. I have never seen an explanation for the name; perhaps it has stuck because of the bread's silly shape. I have also heard it called bubble bread. It is made in a tube pan, and if you follow directions carefully you will have a very light finished product that can be cooled and sliced or served warm and pulled apart in little clumps. You must, however, take special care in the baking to see that it is thoroughly cooked before it comes out of the oven."
2 packages active dry yeast
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. warm water (100 to 115 degrees, approximately)
1 c. (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature, divided, plus extra for bowl
1 1/2 tbsp. salt
1 c. warm milk
3 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
6 to 7 c. all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading dough
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. currants, presoaked
In a large mixing bowl, combine yeast, sugar and water. While this is proofing, combine 1 stick butter, salt and warm milk and stir, melting butter (butter does not need to melt completely). Add milk mixture to yeast mixture. Stir in eggs and egg yolks. Beat with a wood spoon or with hands to blend thoroughly. Add flour, 1 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition (after first 5 cups it will get harder to incorporate the flour and the dough will be very sticky). Turn out dough onto a flour board, and using a baker's scraper or large spatula, scraped under the flour on the board, lift the dough and fold it over. Continue this procedure, adding more flour until the dough is no longer sticky and can be kneaded with your hands. Knead a full 10 minutes, until dough is elastic and pliable. Shape into a ball and put in a buttered bowl, turning to coat all over with butter. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm, draft-free place to rise until doubled in bulk. Punch the dough down and let rest for 5 minutes. Turn out on a lightly floured board (using about 1 tablespoon flour) and shape again into a ball. Let rest for another 5 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile butter a 10-inch tube pan. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine second stick of butter with brown sugar and currants, stirring as butter melts. Remove from heat. Pinch off enough dough to make golf ball-sized balls. roll balls in melted butter mixture, line the bottom of the tube pan with them, and continue to arrange them in loose layers. Pour what is left of the melted butter mixture over the top. Cover loosely with an aluminum foil tent, place in a warm area and let the dough rise to the top of the tube pan. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake bread for about 1 hour; it may take a minute or two more. Tap the top; it will sound hollow when the bread is ready. (If top browns a little too much, don't worry, because bread will be inverted). Unmold and let cool before slicing, or serve warm and pull apart.