Best of the Best from Alaska cookbook, 288pp
edited by Gwen McKee and Barbara Moseley
Quail Ridge Press, Brandon Mississippi, 2003
Cooking on page 32
We spent two weeks in Alaska earlier this year. When we weren’t looking at the amazing sights (including the Northern Lights), I was scrounging through souvenir and book shops for promising cookbooks.
My friend, Milly, spotted and bought this one, and was kind enough to share it with me so I could copy the recipe on page 32. That recipe comes from a cookbook called Best recipes of Alaska’s fishing lodges. Don’t know what page it’s on in that original book.
This is the second time I have cooked from the Best of the Best series. The first recipe was for picadillo from the other BIG state in the USA—Texas.
Russian black bread
2 cups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 packages active dry yeast
1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
3 cups rye flour, divided
3 cups unbleached white flour, divided
1 cup bran
1/4 cup baking cocoa
1 tablespoon dried onions
2 teaspoons crushed caraway seeds
1 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch (cornflour)
1/2 cup cold water
Mix lukewarm water, sugar and molasses. Add dry yeast. When yeast mixture is foamy, add coffee, 2 cups rye flour, 1 cup white flour, bran, cocoa, dried onions, caraway seeds, fennel seeds, vinegar, vegetable oil and salt. Stir vigorously, about 200 strokes.
Gradually stir in 1 cup rye flour and 2 cups white flour until a kneadable dough develops.
Knead, adding white flour until dough is smooth but still slightly sticky. Place in an oiled bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. Punch down and divide dough in half.
Shape each half into a round, tucking seams underneath. Grease 2 (9-inch) cake pans or pie tins. Place each round in a pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled. Bake at 350°F for 40–45 minutes.
To glaze tops, mix cornstarch (cornflour) and cold water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture boils, thickens and clarifies. As soon as bread is baked, brush mixture over tops of loaves and return to the oven for 2–3 minutes. Makes 2 round loaves.
How it played out
I made these loaves pretty much as written, although I did find a bit of detail lacking in some of the instructions. Nothing major, but here’s what I did.
First off, I prefer to weigh flour, rather than scoop it up by a spoon or a cup. Scooping usually results in a measurement that is too tightly packed, making for a dough that will be too dry.
For your reference, a cup of rye flour usually weighs 105 grams or 3 1/2 ounces, while a cup of white bread flour usually weighs 120–125 grams or 4 ounces. I buy yeast in a canister (that I store in the fridge or freezer), so used 4 teaspoons to equal two packets. Also, I didn’t bother to crush the caraway and fennel seeds. I often add them to bread dough and have never needed to crush them.
I kneaded the dough for about 10 minutes and added only 1/4 cup of extra white flour to get a manageable (not too sticky) dough. I could have added a bit more flour, but I don’t mind working with a slightly sticky dough.
I bake a lot of bread, and think it would be helpful if the instructions included advice on how long to leave bread to rise. The first rise can take anywhere from 1 1/2–2 1/2 hours (sometimes more if your house is cold). The second rise goes a little faster. For those who are new to baking, this page has some written and visual advice on how to tell if your dough is ready to punch down and shape for the second rise, or ready to bake.
The second rise was free-form. These loaves weren’t huge and I thought they would be overwhelmed in 9-inch pans. Just before baking, I did two slashes across each loaf. This encourages a final burst of rise in the oven (resulting in oven spring when the slashes open up widely).
One last comment, I find that most breads benefit from a good blast of heat at the beginning of the baking. So I cranked the oven up to 425°F (220°C) for the first 10 minutes of baking, and then lowered the temperature to the 350°F (180°C) specified in the recipe.
We thoroughly enjoyed these loaves and their wonderful mix of flavours. They were a great texture, kept well, and were delicious fresh and later toasted.
But the very best thing about this book was that page 32 actually had a recipe. 🙂 If I’d had to go on to page 132, I’d have had to find a source of ground moose in order to make the recipe. Ah, Alaska!
We had an amazing time in Alaska. A very special moment was meeting Mary Shields, the first woman to complete the gruelling Iditarod dog sled race.