Scottish baps.

flag-mini-Scotland If you need an excuse to eat bacon and eggs, the Scottish bap is it.
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This simple (very few ingredients) and easy (uncomplicated, even novice bread makers can make these) soft yeast-raised "morning roll" with the floury top was practically born to be lightly toasted, buttered, and filled with crispy bacon and a nice runny-yolked fried egg. Oh, be still my heart!
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Your heart just might stand still forever if you make a regular event of breaking your fast on cholesteriffic bacon-and-egg filled Scottish baps (also known as "Scots" baps). But while you are feasting, you probably won't care, nor should you. This is treat and I'm sure you've earned it.
Scots baps 4
After all, there's nothing wrong with taking the time to enjoy really good hearty foods every so often. You can't spend every second worrying that your favorite culinary pleasures might send you to an early grave, can you? Live in the toasty, buttery moment! Carpe breakfast sandwich!
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It was nigh on impossible learning the origins of the fun and unusual word "bap" and only slightly less challenging finding some history on baps themselves. Some sources hold that baps are well-established in the Scottish culinary repertoire. They are traditionally unsweetened in Scotland (the better for bacon and eggs, my dear ...) while the Irish version, by some accounts, is sweeter and studded with currants. Naturally further research yielded all kinds of regional variations, so I disclaim all inaccuracies herewith. And be careful how you bandy the word about over there"bap" is, according to the Irish slang site, a crude term for breasts. If you go asking that nice tea shop girl for a couple of her best baps ... well, you've been warned.
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Isn't yeast-raised bread sort of amazing? I mean, take the basic combination of flour, yeast, water/milk, salt and sometimes sugar or honey, play with the quantities and preparation methods, and the result can taste so different with each recipe. One combination might yield high honey-kissed loaves perfect for sandwiches or toast, another makes crusty hole-riddled batons ideal for sopping up sauces and olive oil dressings. This recipe rewards you with not only soft flat(ish) baps, but also their stouter be-dimpled cousins called “Kentish huffkins." (There's another fun word for you!)
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According to my favorite Ultimate Bread book, the recipe for baps and huffkins is the sameit’s only the shape that varies: baps are oblong while huffkins are round and have an irresistible dimple in the middle. I divided the dough in half and made them both at the same time.
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However, in snooping around the webs I see many huffkin recipes (and some baps recipes as well) include a quantity of butter or lard that the Artisan Breads recipe didn't call for. Darnit, are my baps and huffkins inauthentic?
Kentish huffkins
Adding to this muddle, some recipes also call for poking a dimple into the middle of each bap, which my research suggests is unique to huffkins (posing uncooked, with dimples, above). So, dimple or no dimple?
Scots baps Kentish huffkins
I made my huffkins with and my baps without. (That's a traditional dusting of flour on those baps, by the way, to keep them from developing a crust while they cook.) After baking, we sliced the soft, undimpled baps, toasted them very lightly, buttered them generously, and filled them with fried bacon and eggs. One source describes such rolls as an "envelope for filling," and a tastier envelope there never was.
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Somehow, this simple roll combined with crispy bacon and fried egg is just ... simply ... delicious! There's absolutely nothing fancy going on here, and the result is supremely tasty and satisfying. There's no arguing that really great breadhowever basiccan make everything (even just butter) taste better.
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Baps could stand up to a variety of cheeses, sandwich meats, grilled chicken, tomatoes, pickles, sliced apples, mustards, smoked salmon, cream cheeseanything. Going sweet? Try them with butter and jam, peanut butter and honey, fruit butterswhatever the occasion calls for. And for the ultimate sandwich, a warmed bap with a few squares of quality dark chocolate tucked inside would, I have no doubt, rival any French baguette performing the same duty.
Kentish huffkins 2
I know for an indisputable fact I could exist on warm homemade bread with lashings* of butter accompanied by cups of rich hot chocolate or (decaffeinated) mochas for the rest of my days on this earth, however few that might end up being on such a diet. Bread really is the stuff (oops! staff) of life.

Now I wonder if you could put
Scotch eggs on a Scots bap?

*That's the Brit term for "lots and lots."

Scottish Baps

Ultimate Bread by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno

3/4 cup lukewarm milk
3/4 cup lukewarm water
2 tsp. dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
3-3/4 cups bread flour
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. milk, to glaze

Combine milk and water together (ideally in a glass measuring cup). Pour 1/2 cup of the mixture into a small bowl, sprinkle yeast and sugar into it, and let stand for 5 minutes, then stir to dissolve. Stir in 1/2 cup of the remaining milk/water mixture (there should be 1/2 cup of the mixture left).

Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the dissolved yeast. Mix the flour into the dissolved yeast mixture, then stir in the reserved milk/water mix, as needed, to form a sticky dough.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.

Put the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, turn once to coat all sides of the dough with oil, and cover with a dish towel. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Punch down, then let rest for 10 minutes.

Divide the dough into eight equal pieces. Shape each piece of dough into a flat oval, about 1/2 inch thick. Place on a floured baking sheet (a small fine sieve with flour in it makes dusting the baking sheet easy). With the remaining 1 tbsp. milk, brush each bap with milk and sift a heavy dusting of flour over each.

Let the baps rise again, uncovered, until doubled in size
30-45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400º Fahrenheit. Bake baps for 15-20 minutes, until risen and golden. Remove to a wire rack, cover with a dish towel and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Enjoy!

As always, feel free to leave a comment.


Irish Brown Soda Bread.

Rye bread will do you good,
Barley bread will do you no harm,
Wheaten bread will sweeten your blood,
Oaten bread will strengthen your arm.

flag-mini-Ireland The festive indulgences -- and, one hopes, the ensuing hangovers -- of St. Patrick’s Day are long past as we approach April Fool’s Day. We like to celebrate the day of Ireland’s patron saint at home, away from noisy revelers drunk on too many green beers. Here at O’Smithigans, we enjoyed a simple meal of lamb stew, champ (potatoes mashed with cream, butter, green onions) and scrumptious homemade brown soda bread accompanied by bottles of Guinness and Smithwick’s while celtic tunes jigged their way out of the iHome. Oh, and Irish Coffee Meringues for dessert. Slainte!
Irish Coffee Meringue
Coffee flavored meringues with Irish whiskey-spiked whipped cream. (hiccup)

I used to bring Irish soda bread, Kerry Gold butter, and strawberry jam to work on St. Patrick’s day, in a vain effort to elevate the day above whatever green frosted cupcakes and cookies had also been brought in. My co-workers could not be enlightened and clearly preferred the green stuff. That’s about when I started wondering what St. Patrick’s day is really about. Why it never occurred to me that it’s a religious holiday (a saint’s day!) is possibly because in this country it seems to be largely about the color green: green food, beer, clothing, face paint, rivers, shamrocks and leprechauns.
Brown bread 1
St. Patrick was an actual guy, born around 387 in Roman Britain -- by some accounts present day Scotland, by others present-day Wales. At 16 he was captured by the Irish and sold into slavery. During his 6-year captivity, while he herded sheep for a Druid, he learned the local Celtic language, essentially converted himself to Christianity, escaped back to his homeland, and returned to Ireland as a bishop who was eventually sainted for Christianizing multitudes of pagan Irishfolk.
Brown bread 2
Paddy is credited with using the three leaves of a shamrock to demonstrate the Holy Trinity (that's the father, son, holy spirit for you heathens who escaped St. Patrick's campaign), and the snakes he banished from Ireland are likely a metaphor for the pagan religions he “drove out” as Christianity took root. Although, according to Franklin Habit, a popular knitter and blogger from Chicago, St. P was actually purging novelty yarns from the Emerald Isle.
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Christian country though it might be, Ireland is not immune to excessive drink and merrymaking on St. Patrick’s Day, and it sounds like they tried -- and ultimately failed -- to close pubs on March 17. Now they’ve turned the day into an Irish cultural festival in an effort to “bring the piety and the fun together,” so you can have your Jamieson’s and drink it too! The Irish Americans I’ve informally polled over the years celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a family dinner, often the traditionally American meal of corned beef and cabbage.
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St. Patrick’s Day shouldn’t pass without a few hearty slices of brown bread. We occasionally buy McNamees wheaten bread from the Celtic Knot Pub in Evanston. The loaves are tasty, but wee small and quite pricey. I have experimented with several recipes, trying to replicate the McNamees experience, and landed on a "Brown Soda Bread" recipe I’ve had since May 1996, from the special Romance of Ireland issue of Bon Appetit magazine. So that’s 15 years I’ve had the perfect brown bread recipe in my possession and never realized it!
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It’s a quick bread with no fancy ingredients, and cooks up in 40 minutes flat. If you can stand to wait an extra 15 minutes for it to cool, you will be rewarded with a nutty, delicious bread that is not too dense or heavy. It's scrumptious with butter, or mustard, ham and cheese. No more McNamees for us, sorry Celtic Knot. But we’ll still dine there on Tuesday nights to catch your rousing live Celtic Music Seisiuns.
Brown bread 6My holy trinity ... brown bread, butter, and hot tea.

Bon Appetit doesn’t have this particular brown bread recipe online, so here is my adaptation of it. I reduced slightly the amount of whole wheat flour and increased the white flour because I dislike how wheat flour weighs things down. Although the bran and wheat germ say "toasted" I didn't actually toast either -- just scooped them directly out of their bags and jars. And do use real buttermilk -- 1 quart (the smallest I can find at local groceries) is enough for two loaves.

Brown Soda Bread
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 1996

Yield: 1 loaf

2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3 Tablespoons toasted wheat bran
3 Tablespoons toasted wheat germ
2 Tablespoons old-fashioned oats
2 Tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons (1/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 cups (about) buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter 9x5x3-inch loaf pan. Combine first 8 ingredients in large bowl; mix well. Add butter; rub in with fingertips or pastry blender until mixture resembles fine meal. Stir in enough buttermilk to form a soft sticky dough. Transfer dough to prepared loaf pan. Bake until bread is deep golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Turn bread out onto rack. Turn right side up and cool on rack.

Once cooled, it slices easily and freezes well.

Enjoy! And as always, feel free to leave a comment.


Spiced French Coffee Bread.

Coffee bread butteredLast weekend’s weather was miserably perfect (cold, rainy, snowy, gloomy) for bread baking. And with a French theme going -- we watched “Amelie” while dining on rustic Tomato Tart (this time with cheddar cheese instead of creme fraiche) -- I pulled Spiced French Coffee Bread from my favorite Old World Breads cookbook.
Coffee bread ingredients
“This comes from Southern France, specifically the Armagnac District,” quoth Old World Breads. Hmmmm ... Armagnac? as in the brandy? Well, yes, there IS brandy in this bread. “Many of the region’s breads are flavored with it,” continueth the book. At which point I pondered the merits of moving to Armagnac. (‘alo, beautiful!) The amount of brandy is small--just a tablespoon poured over the raisins, and the whole lot is thrown into the dough after 15 minutes. I warmed the brandy/raisin mixture for about 15 seconds in the microwave, to fully soften the raisins.
Coffee bread wet doughUnlike “coffee cake” which is meant to be enjoyed with a cup of hot coffee or tea, coffee bread actually has strong coffee in it -- decaf, of course. (I’m sure the French would scoff heartily at this.) Also grated lemon rind, the brandy-soaked raisins, and pinches of cinnamon, allspice, ground cloves. The recipe calls for a half cup of chopped nuts, which I contemplated adding. But nuts in bread is a tricky thing -- not everyone’s cuppa. So, no nuts.Coffee bread unrisenThis bread is, in some ways, similar to the scrumptious (if I say so myself) Yorkshire Breakfast Bread I baked a while back. The difference is the coffee, which adds lovely color and subtle depth of flavor. Even with spices, lemon, coffee, raisins and brandy, the flavor is not overly strong or perfumey--the ingredients blend together quietly, although toasting (and smothering in butter) raises the volume deliciously.
Coffee bread punchedOld World Breads does a great job explaining the basics of breadmaking, although my other favorite bread book -- Bread by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno -- does it just as well and with pretty photos. If you haven’t tried making bread, both of these books can walk you through it comfortably.
Coffee bread in ovenThere is nothing like the fragrance of baking bread wafting through your home ... except maybe tucking into a warm slice of that freshly baked bread (don't forget that butter).
Coffee bread bakedTo keep your heavenly loaves from drying out, cool thoroughly, slice, wrap well (I use ziplock freezer bags), and freeze. Then thaw or toast on demand, which I guarantee will be often. Bon apetit!
As always, please feel free to leave a comment.

Yorkshire Breakfast Bread.

Bread is like dresses, hats and shoes—in other words, essential!
~~Emily Post

As soon as September--the unofficial end of summer (one of the wretchedly hottest on record)--arrives, my thoughts turn to food, and baking, and specifically bread baking. It doesn’t need to be freezing winter for me to want to knead a bowl full of dough into some golden loaves. Just a few days with lows in the 60s (Mother Nature has obliged us generously so far this month) whets my appetite for slabs of warm homemade bread with butter.

Yorkshire bread 1
A New York Times recipe for Brown Bread with Buckwheat and Seaweed almost inspired me to try something different, but after some thought even my adventurous palate couldn't get excited about seaweed slivers in bread. So I flipped through my collection of bread recipes until I rediscovered Old World Breads by Charel Steele, a well-used-and-loved gift from my parents twenty years ago. This book has numerous recipes for basic breads with white, wheat, graham, rye and oat flours, among others, as well as appealing flavored breads with names like Frisian Ginger Bread, Spiced French Coffee Bread, Dutch Cinnamon Swirl, Apple Streusel, Golden Carrot, Rum Honey, Cheese Rye, Dill ... yes, I will be baking these breads in the near future! I suppose it would be wise to step up my workout routine to quell the inevitable waistline expansion that will follow such increased bread consumption.

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My eye caught the description for Yorkshire Breakfast Bread: “ ... a rich breakfast bread, delicious with butter, marmalade, and some good English tea.” I happened to have just enough currants, golden raisins, and exactly three egg yolks (leftover from the egg whites I used for S’mores Cupcakes frosting), lots of marmalade, and plenty of English tea! I only had to dash out for a lemon and orange and I was ready go. (For the record, I always have plenty of flour on hand and a jar of yeast in the fridge.)

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Making bread can be intimidating, and I suppose a bit mysterious in the beginning, but really anyone can learn the mechanics of it: just follow your recipe, then use a little elbow grease to knead the dough, plop it into pans, let it rise, bake, slice, slather with butter, eat. Repeat last three steps as necessary.

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With time and practice it becomes a little more soulful. You begin to understand the chemistry of yeast, sugar and warm milk, know when the yeast/flour mixture is the right consistency for turning onto a counter for kneading, and develop patience for the sometimes monotonous (but really quite sensual) business of pushing and folding the dough over and over and over and over itself to make a smooth, elastic ball that is ready to rise. The sensual aspects of bread are many -- the feel of the dough in your hands as you prime it for rising, the earthy yeasty smell of it before it's cooked, the creamy-smooth surface of the loaves before they go into the oven, and best of all the fragrance that fills your kitchen while they bake. The very idea that you've created one of humankind's staple foods is also truly gratifying.

Yorkshire bread 6The dough rose so nicely, I almost didn't want to punch it flat again. But punching it down is the funnest part!

I recklessly used dry yeast that, according to the stamp on the jar, was well past its expiration date. But a sprinkling of sugar activated the yeast and the dough obligingly rose up high! No matter how many times I make bread, it's still a satisfying victory when the yeast does its job.

Yorkshire bread 5Such pretty, puffy dough! Okay, enough gawking--time to go into those pans for one more rising, then into the oven.

As these lovely loaves baked, the delicious, appetizing, enticing, mouthwatering,
heavenly fragrance of lemon and orange filled the house, just like Christmas.

Yorkshire bread 7I would have given myself a blue ribbon for these beauties.

Gorgeous! If I humbly (and proudly) say so myself. This dough behaved well from start to finish--the loaves rose perfectly in the bowl and pans, and then just a bit more in the oven. They sounded suitably hollow when knocked, a sure sign they are done. Oh yes, time to cool and slice. And

Yorkshire bread at last
And Yorkshire Breakfast Bread is, as promised in the book, delicious toasted with butter, marmalade and tea. And I'm certain would go quite well with a typical Yorkshire breakfast.

If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.
~~Robert Browning

This stuff is heavenly, indeed.