Parents can secure so little for their children, so little safety, even in the best circumstances. Great faith is required to give the child up, trusting God to honor the parents’ love for him by assuring that there will indeed be angels in the wilderness. ~ Marilynne Robinson
This has been one of those weeks. It seems that everywhere I turn I am reading about global warming that has passed the point of no return, or the dry scorched earth where crops should be growing. The seas are rising, and the planet is choking on plastic (sorry, that one’s a graphic photo). I pride myself on taking things in stride, but sometimes I feel things catching up with me.
Of course, this feeling that the whole weight of the world has washed over me always comes on those weeks when projects, laundry, and lack-of-sleep have also swamped into things. And possibly hormones too. So anyway, it has been a doozie. By Wednesday night, I needed something to bring me down from the ledge.
Taking my kids to the beach is a good way to relax, reconnect, clear my head. Making bread is another something that can help. There is a rhythm to it, like there is to so many of the best kitchen things. But there is also something deeper, something alive. Making bread feels ancient, and human, and almost even holy. Bread of life.
A couple months ago when my Aunt Linna sent me some books one of the treasures in the box was a 1979 edition of Beard on Bread. One of the pages in the book was inadvertently bookmarked with a yellowed newsprint article, clipped from I-don’t-know-what-paper (based on the article’s references, maybe one in Baltimore?) and titled “Bread Party is True Icebreaker.” The funniest part about the article is that the bread party in question was actually hosted by James Beard! Each guest brought a homemade loaf, and Beard is quoted as calling it “A wonderful do.”
Anyway, the bookmarked page was Pistachio Bread. And it has become a fast favorite around here. The dough is silky soft and a pleasure to work with, and the bread that it yields is a little sweet, a little fancy, a little … incredible. There, I said it.
Many of my taste testers (it has now gone to Kyle’s office, my brother’s house, and to our neighbors) have commented that it tastes “like a danish” – I think they are hitting on the richness from the milk and butter that go into the dough. The pistachios are perfectly green and delicious, and look so cheerful peeking out through the prettily browned slices in the crust. It’s a breakfast pastry disguised as bread, and really, if you are having “a moment” – this bread might be just the thing.
Or you could try the beach.
I have made this with whole grain flours, and it is fine. But this version, using all-purpose or bread flours exclusively, is really a treat. Beard wrote in his introduction to Beard on Bread, “One doubtful fashion in breadmaking today … is to incorporate [whole grain flours] all into every single loaf, without thought for texture, for crumb, or for all the other attributes by which a fine loaf is judged.” I still worry about sugar, and refined flours … they are one more thing to add to my week of worries. But I think Beard is probably right. We don’t need to cram whole grains into absolutely everything – we just need to remember that each food has its place.
So – how about we all slow down, and take a deep breath. We can celebrate with Jacob, who is in the thralls of deepest excitement and anticipation about Curiosity’s landing Sunday night. (And if the seas reach us sooner than we think, maybe we can find a new home on Mars?)
Anyway. Let’s pause, and enjoy the fine crumb, delicate against the crunch of pistachios mixed with just-barely-gritty sugar. It’s a fine combination.
I for one find it very comforting.
Adapted very slightly from Beard on Bread by James Beard (1979 edition)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup warm water (body temperature or a little higher)
1 cup milk (room temperature)
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup softened butter
1 teaspoon salt
3-4 cups all purpose or bread flour
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup shelled, salted pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten with a few drops of cream
Combine yeast, tablespoon of sugar, and warm water in the bowl of your stand mixer. Let yeast dissolve and foam. Add milk, softened butter, sugar, salt, and 1 cup of the flour, and mix with a wooden spoon. Continue to add flour 1 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition, until dough forms. The dough should still be slightly sticky when you stop adding flour.
Mix with the bread hook for 5-6 minutes, until dough is very smooth and elastic. It should be soft and almost satiny feeling. Take out of the bowl and knead for about thirty seconds – to make sure you have the right consistency, and because this is a wonderfully pleasant dough to knead.
Put it back in the mixing bowl and cover with towel or plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm and draft free place for 2 hours, or until about doubled in size. Once doubled, punch the dough down, turn out of bowl onto a floured cutting board, knead for a moment, and then let it rest for a few minutes. While it is resting, melt the 1/4 cup additional butter.
Roll the dough into a rectangle (-ish shape) with a long side about 18 inches and a short side about 12 inches. Brush with the melted butter, then spread evenly with the pistachios and sugar. Starting on the long edge, roll the dough “like a jelly roll” and press each seam as you go.
Join the ends of your roll together to make a circle. Pinch together (you can see my uneven pinches in one of the loafs above! Still tasted good though :) ) Place the ring onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Moving around the ring in 3/4 inch intervals, carefully slice about 2/3 of the way down through the roll at each interval (a very sharp knife helps a lot here).
Let the ring rise while you pre-heat the oven to 375 F. Brush the entire surface carefully with beaten egg and cream mixture. Bake for 30 minutes or so, until nicely browned on top.
This bread is best when you allow it to cool completely before serving.