26 September, 2010

Vintage Sunday: A Baking Contest & Antique Recipes

The Emily Dickinson House
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Emily Dickinson Museum's baking contest. in which participants were challenged to recreate their choice of four baked goods Ms. Dickinson is known to have prepared, using the recipes (if any) she was known to have used.

There were fourteen entrants in all (not bad for the first contest of its kind by a relatively small local museum.)  Three of the entries - including mine - were for "Rye and Indian Bread," a bread once common in New England which was made from rye flour and corn meal (aka Indian meal.) 

Ms. Dickinson won a Second Place prize for her Rye & Indian Bread at the Amherst Cattle Show in 1856.  Unfortunately. the actual recipe she used has not survived.  We were instructed to research antique recipes and come up with one that would be as authentic as possible.

As it turned out, each of us entereing the competition took a completely different approach to the problem and all of the results, while bearing little resemblance to each other, were reasonable and authentic solutions.  Each of the breads are shown below along with tasting notes.  Sorry for the dubious picture quality, but I was only able to take photos of the wrapped breads before the judging.

First Place went to a yeast-raised loaf which used a combination of cornmeal, rye flour, and whole-wheat flour (to incorporate enough gluten to allow for rising.)  The bread was dense and somewhat moist, with a pronounced rye flavor and a very tender crust.  The density of the bread made it very filling.

Second Place was claimed by a steamed bread very much akin to Boston Brown Bread.  Having been steamed in a pudding mold, it was cylindrical in shape.  The baker cut it into wedges for serving, but it really should have been served sliced into generous round slices.

Very moist and dense in texture, this bread was rich with the flavor of molasses.  Typical of steamed breads and puddings, it was very heavy and filling.  It would have been the perfect accompaniment for delicious homemade baked beans.  Unfortunately, it was an unseasonably hot day in Amherst - 90-plus F - and that dramatically reduced my enjoyment of this one.

Third Place, and therefore The Loser, was taken by my own interpretation, a pan-baked quickbread which relied on acidic ingredients (buttermilk and molasses) along with baking powder and baking soda to provide leavening power.  Not as heavy as the previous two entries, it was also not nearly as moist, coming out quite reminiscent of a modern cornbread (though with an interesting rye flavor tinged with molassesy sweetness.)

After the judging was over and the winners announced, the portions of the bread which hadn't been eaten by the judges were offered to attendees at the museum for general nomming.   The first and third place breads vanished the quickest (reflecting, as I noted earlier, the heat and oppressiveness of the day.)

Unfortunately, I wasn't given the opportunity to get a copy of the recipes my rivals used, but I can provide you with my own recipe if you'd like to try baking a batch of Rye & Indian Bread for yourself.

Third Place Rye & Indian Bread
9 servings

1 cup yellow corn meal
1 cup rye flour
¼ cup brown sugar (NOT packed)
½ teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup molasses

Preheat oven to 425 F and grease an 8 x 8 x 2 baking dish.

In a large bowl, combine corn meal, rye flour, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir well with a whisk until all the dry ingredients are uniformly blended.

In a small bowl, beat buttermilk, egg, oil, and molasses with a fork until thoroughly mixed. Pour liquid mixture all at once into dry ingredients and stir in just until the batter is thoroughly moistened.

Turn the batter out into the prepared baking dish and bake at 425 F for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.


Alan said...

Congratulations, Dave. 3rd place isn't bad in a contest like that. Had it all been accompanied by a plate of baked beans, well who knows how the outcome might have changed. Thanks for posting the recipe.

Anonymous said...

I think I'd want to make a pudding with boiled milk & cornmeal and rye, and then pour it into cupcake tins and bake… Not sure how that would turn out

Anonymous said...

"If so, take three cupfuls of Indian meal, two cupfuls of rye flour, one cupful of molasses, one teaspoonful of soda, one of salt, one egg, although I do not consider that essential, and one quart of milk. Steam it three hours and bake it slowly one hour. There is another Indian cake: One cupful of Indian meal (yellow), one cupful of flour, one egg, two cupfuls of milk, one half a teaspoonful of soda in milk, and one tablespoonful of sugar, and a little salt." Good Houskeeping 1888