Cottage Loaves

July 7th, 2012

A few years ago, while I was researching the shape and size of mid-19th century bread loaves for a museum display, my grandmother sent me her own mother’s (my great-grandmother’s) bread pans.

Great-Grandmother's Bread Pans

They’re tin, and liable to rust if not dried properly after washing. Notice how they are formed from sheets of metal folded over a rectangle of thick wire — you can really see it at the corners where the wire is uncovered. If my great-grandmother got them new, they’re about 100 years old. But of course, she may have inherited them herself!

My Bread Pans

I prefer to bake in my own modern pans. They’re some sort of base metal covered in a smooth no-stick coating. Much easier to wash. And the museum professional in me feels better using “reproductions” and keeping the originals for display or study…

Comparing Bread Pans

Notice the difference in pan size though! My modern pan (on the right) isn’t small by today’s standards. They weren’t kidding about their bread back then.

Cottage Loaves Unbaked

Of course, you don’t need pans at all to bake a beautiful loaf. In the middle of the 19th century, when baking implements were still prohibitively expensive or simply unavailable, many housewives made “cottage loaves.”

“…Divide it [the twice-risen bread dough] into two portions, one larger than the other, and make each into a smooth ball without cracks, placing the smaller on top of the other, and pressing the forefinger into the centre on the top…”

The St. James’s Cookery Book, Louisa Rochfort, 1894

Baked Cottage Loaves

I made these loaves for Christmas brunch last year. I was staying at my mother’s house and didn’t have any bread pans…

Fresh from the Oven

July 2nd, 2012

I’ve been baking a lot of bread lately. I’m not sure why, but I’ve made a half dozen loaves in the past few weeks — more than I made in a year while living in New York. Of course it’s easier to bake when you have an immense kitchen and an oven that actually works…

Recent loaves have included pumpkin, plain white, and:

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Today’s creation was light whole wheat with cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg, raisin swirl.

Hungry? It’s easy to make at home. Just prepare any standard bread recipe and let it rise twice. When the time comes to make your loaves, pull the dough like a pizza to make a flat rectangle, about 15 by 12 inches. Spread a layer of brown sugar, cinnamon, and any other spices that strike your fancy over the dough. Follow with a layer of raisins (and nuts if you like). Add a few dabs of butter for extra richness. Then roll it up and nestle it into your greased loaf pan — I had to squish a little to make it fit. Let the loaves rise once more, and bake as usual.

Cupcake Marathon

May 6th, 2012

Don’t ask why — the reasons are long and complicated, involving at least four countries and more than one birthday — but this week I made 11 dozen cupcakes and one layer cake. Luckily, I happen to own a stainless steel mixing bowl that could eat Chicago.


First, I made four dozen vanilla cupcakes from my favorite “California Cake” recipe (circa 1865). Then came four dozen chocolate cupcakes, using a fantastic vegan recipe learnt from a fellow member of the Fourth Street Food Coop in NYC. That was followed by a dozen gluten-free chocolate lavender cupcakes from a mix. And last, but not least, two dozen carrot cupcakes and a two-layer carrot cake.

Birthday Cake

With the exception of the carrot cake and cupcakes, which require cream cheese icing as a matter of course, I topped the cupcakes with butter cream in various flavors:

  • Vanilla cakes with pink rosewater cinnamon butter cream
  • Vanilla cakes with milk chocolate butter cream
  • Chocolate cakes with purple vanilla butter cream dipped in shredded cocoanut
  • Chocolate cakes with coffee butter cream
  • Gluten-free chocolate lavender cakes with purple vanilla butter cream

Here’s the majority of my handiwork. A few cakes didn’t make it out of my kitchen…and it wasn’t long before a few more were swiped by passersby once I delivered them to the lodge. We hid the layer cake until it was time for the candles to be lit.


The cupcakes were a hit — and I even saw a few people eating them the next day for breakfast! The remains of the carrot layer cake are in our refrigerator, haunting us with every overwhelming mouthful.

Pumpkin Scones

November 28th, 2011

Remember that leftover pumpkin from my Thanksgiving pie? I mixed it into a batch of scones this morning.

Pumpkin Scones

Here they are, ready for the oven, brushed with milk and sprinkled with demerara sugar. I also threw in some golden raisins and traditional pumpkin pie spices. The scent wafting through my apartment as they baked was maddeningly delicious. With plenty of spice already in the scones, I’d probably serve these with a strong, straightforward tea — something smoky, perhaps Irish, with a drop of cream.

Real Pumpkin Pie

November 26th, 2011

There was a shortage of carving pumpkins this year, thanks to some inclement late summer weather. So for Hallowe’en this year I bought a pair of petite pie pumpkins to make Jack O’ Lanterns. Only I was too tired to carve them. They sat on my kitchen shelf for nearly a month before I decided to use them in a Thanksgiving pie.

This was the first time I’d ever used real pumpkins — not canned. According to the directions I found online, the first step was to cut the pumpkins open and scrape out the seeds and pulp.


I washed the seeds and put them aside to dry out and roast the next day.


Apparently it doesn’t really matter how you cook the remaining pumpkin flesh. Microwave, oven, or steamer. Steamer seemed the best choice in my tiny garret kitchen.


After about 20 minutes, the pumpkin was dark and soft and fragrant. As soon as the pieces were cool enough to hold, I scraped it off the skin.


It looked a little stringy at first, but after a good stir with the fork, voila!


I needed 2 cups of pumpkin (plus 1/2 cup brown sugar, 3 beaten eggs, 1/2 cup heavy cream, and spices to taste) for my pie filling. I had about 2 and a half cups in all, so I put the remainder away for later. I poured the mixture into my crust and . . .

Pumpkin Pie

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