This is a very difficult post to write, but I hope it will be cathartic in some way. My father passed away very recently after a long struggle with prostate cancer, and it’s hard to even find the words to describe how it feels. There’s a huge, empty space in my life where he used to be, and nothing can change that.
However, I have been finding comfort in baking, and there is one recipe I have always wanted to try, but I never have until now. My father was an interesting man, and he spent about seven years of his life living in the Cascade mountains, cooking all his food in an oven he made out of a barrel. Most of his diet consisted of large sacks of rice, oats and beans he and his friends would lug up the mountain, but now and then he would grind his own whole wheat flour, and make this sweet bread as a treat.
All that being said… in all the times he described to us in vivid detail his exquisite baking process, he never ended up making the bread for us. We believed his stories, but it was still fun to tease him about it, and attempt to convince him to make it.
A couple of months before he died, I sent him an email requesting the recipe for the bread, as I wanted to make it in his honor. He sent me back the following message:
Freshly ground whole wheat flour. Yeast, salt, honey to taste, milk, eggs, oil, butter, water. The top had honey smeared on top with a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Once in a while I would throw in some soft wheat (pastry flower).
You have to remember this is bread for a guy who eats beans every night and oats in the morning, and not much else.
Always remember, hunger is the best condiment!
As you can see, there’s not much to work with here, without an oven temperature, baking time, or quantity of any ingredients, but I was determined to make it happen.
I believe in the end, it did turn out well, with a dense, close texture similar to cornbread, and an excellent flavor. Toasted with butter, it was the perfect blend of nutty whole wheat and the hint of sweetness from the honey. When I first tasted it, I experienced an overwhelming surge of nostalgia. One of my favorite things about food is how it can connect us all in ways we never imagined. I love the idea that I can taste the same flavors my dad and his friends tasted all those years ago, and it keeps his memory alive for me.
For those of you who made it this far, thanks for reading this little story. I hope you give it a try yourself. Here’s the recipe as I have imagined it.
1 C Milk
1 package dry active yeast
1/4 C Honey (To taste, if you want more savory do less, and vice versa)
1/4 C Oil (I used olive oil, but any kind would probably do)
1 egg (optional)
3-3.5 C whole wheat flour (Could add in part all purpose flour, but I didn’t and it turned out well)
1 1/2 tsp salt
water to adjust consistency of dough if necessary (mine was too dry, depends on the flour)
Honey and Sesame Seeds to top
First scald the milk by heating it just to bubbling, then cool it down to lukewarm, and dissolve the yeast in it. Then add in the honey and oil to that mixture, as well as the egg. Mix well, then add flour until it starts to come into a cohesive dough. At that point, set aside for about half an hour to rest. Knead for 6-8 minutes, until it’s smooth and glutinous, cover and let it rise for 1-2 hours, depending on the temperature. Then punch down, shape into your final loaf pan, and let it rise another 1-2 hours.
Note – while rising it’s best to have a little oil involved, I just poured a dab in the bowl and flipped the dough over once to coat. On the second rise I brushed the top lightly with olive oil and covered loosely with plastic wrap.
Brush slightly warm honey and sesame seeds on the top of the risen dough before putting in the oven, bake uncovered for 20 minutes, then tent with aluminum foil and bake another 20 minutes at 350 F.