Gaga’s Cheese Bread

November 18, 2010

Cheese bread, with and without raisins

Mr. MarthaAndMe’s grandmother was known to her great grandchildren as Gaga. Gaga was a character. Mr. MarthaAndMe has nice memories of her, but even when he was a kid, she was a lovable kook. Her name was Matilda, or Tillie for short, but when she died, her birth certificate and marriage license had a completely different name (Melinda, I think). Gaga was a bit of an anxious gal and relied on Valium to get her through. Once we arranged to visit her and showed up and she stumbled out of bed, hair sticking out, having forgotten we were coming. She had taken a Valium and had a little nap. You never knew what to expect from Gaga. She told stories of relatives in the “home land” (no one is sure what country) who were royalty and how her family gave it all up. She was born dead and miraculously came back to life. And her husband was a no good you know what.

She lived in a tiny mother-in-law apartment behind her daughter, with a tiny kitchen, living room, and bedroom. Gaga did not have many material possessions, but those she did have had meaning, or were at least iconic. She had a big picture frame on the wall where she stuck in photos. At Christmas, she had a wreath made of hard candy that had scissors hanging from it so you could snip a piece off. She had a stuffed Alf (I don’t know why). She had an ashtray that was a weird guy in a monocle with his mouth open. She had a beautiful drop front desk/secretary that now sits in our living room (and, strangely, is an exact duplicate to one my parents have). I love that desk, but associate it with the photo of her mother in a casket that she kept inside it (apparently people used to take treasured photos of corpses “laid out”). And then there was her tiny, stained, Formica kitchen table. Whenever we visited her, she would get us into the kitchen at that table and make tea (with an old, used teabag) and water heated in a saucepan and scoop sugar out of a bin. And she would always have a batch of cheese bread for us.

No one knows where the recipe came from, but she had been making it as long as anyone can remember. I have a photocopy of the recipe card in her handwriting with its vague directions (and to add to the kookiness, it’s called “cheese rolls” although she always made it as bread). It seemed that whenever she made it, she altered it, so it was never quite the same.

The cheese bread has two variations. First is an actual cheese bread, made with golden raisins and farmer’s cheese. I think she always used some cheddar too, although the recipe does not suggest that. Then there is the poppy seed version, which has no cheese at all. Once she made me a batch of cheese bread with no raisins because she remembered I didn’t like them. Often her batches had burned edges or black bottoms, which we cut off when we got it home. Even so, it was always delicious.

Gaga has been gone for quite a few years, but I still remember her fondly. And I make her bread a few times a year and think about her when I make it. Somehow, like hers, each batch seems to have its own personality, but that quirkiness just reminds me of her.

Gaga’s Cheese Bread

6 cups flour (I use 2 cups whole wheat and 4 regular)

3 tbsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 lb butter (2 sticks)

3 eggs

1 cup sour cream

1 packet yeast

1/2 cup warm water

Mix the dry ingredients, then mix in the butter, eggs and sour cream. I usually end up using my hands to combine this. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let it sit for 5 minutes, then mix that into the bread.

Now you need to decide what kind of bread you want to make.

For cheese bread:

Add in 1 lb of farmer’s cheese (you can substitute cheddar for half of it) and 2 egg yolks, and a cup of golden raisins.

For poppy seed bread:

Mix in one can of poppy seed filling.

Form into a long loaf on a greased baking sheet and allow to rise one hour. Bake at 350 for 30 to 40 minutes.

The bread is a very moist and slightly sweet bread. It’s great with dinner, but it also yummy toasted for breakfast. The poppy seed version is sweeter. Sometimes I divide the recipe in half and do half cheese and half poppy seed.

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Meet Manfred

September 16, 2010

I’d like to introduce you to a member of our family, Manfred. Manfred is a special starter I bought in Savannah at the Savannah Candy Kitchen (you must go there at least to see the pralines). It’s made by Miss Edie’s (check out the site to order the starter and also for recipes). It’s not a sourdough starter exactly – more of a sweet sourdough starter, which is why I like it so much. It’s not super sour at all. I picked some up when we were staying on Hilton Head several years ago and started using it after the trip. Dude Martha was little at the time, and fascinated with the fact that it was alive and I had to feed it. So of course, he gave it a name. Manfred. I don’t know why.

Manfred stayed with us for a year or two but at some point I lost track of the feeding and baking cycle (which can be exhausting since you’ve got to feed it every 3-5 days and at least dump some out at that point- or bake with it to avoid Manfred guilt) and Manfred died. Sniff. A friend went to Savannah this summer and I sent her a long email with all of my recommendations (where to eat and shop – the most important factors in any trip). I mentioned the candy kitchen and Manfred. To thank me for helping her, she brought back a jar of Manfred for me. Thanks Jay!

So Manfred lives again. And this time, I’m going to stay on top of it, or at least find out if I can freeze him. Dude Martha helped me make our first batch of Manfred. I first used Miss Edie’s white bread recipe from the site (go to the recipe section to see all of them), but subbed out some wheat flour. The bread was good. It is slightly sweet (kind of like challah is sweet, but it is a much heavier bread than challah). If you let it sit a bit after baking, it slices nicely (if you’re impatient it shreds all over).

Manfred was delicious as always, although he never seems to rise as high as Miss Edie says and always takes longer to bake for me.  One of my favorite things to do with Manfred is make hot pretzels. I use a recipe I have for pretzels and sub in Manfred for the water and yeast. They turn out very nicely.

I also tried Manfred waffles, using Miss Edie’s recipe. They were great. The

oat bread

recipe on her site says they make 12, but I ended up with about 6 big round Belgian waffles. I like that recipe because it uses wheat flour instead of white.

And I made Miss Edie’s whole wheat and oat bread using Manfred. This bread was fantastic, but time consuming. You have to mix the starter with some flour and water and let it sit overnight (beware: fruit flies LOVE this stuff), then make a sponge, let it rise, add flour and let it rise, then make loaves and let it rise before finally baking it.

In the past, I made Miss Edie’s recipe for cinnamon buns with Manfred and that was good too, so I’ll probably give it a try again soon. I want to try out the other recipes on her site and experiment with some of my own. Manfred is fun, but I’m already starting to feel pressured. He needs to be fed soon. It’s like Little Shop of Horrors in my fridge. Fortunately, Dude Martha is old enough to do the feeding if I remind him, so that helps. But I still can’t bring myself to dump some out when we feed (as you can see from the large amounts of baked goods I’ve already made!).

And on top of this, I’ve got a package of Alaska sourdough starter I bought on this summer’s vacation. I can’t handle two starters at the same time, so that one will have to wait in the cupboard until I’m ready to bring it to life. I wonder what would happen if I combined them?

Do you have starter that you use?

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Bread with Garlic and Cheese

December 16, 2008

In December Living, page 208, the “What’s for Dinner” section this month is far too complicated. Cioppino? Really? For a busy weeknight in December? Not on your life. It’s just not happening. With all the expenses December brings, I cannot bring myself to buy mussels and clams for a weeknight meal. And I do not have time to try something totally out of my league like this.

Hearty and yummy

Hearty and yummy

I was, however, enticed by the bread accompanying it – Baguette with Parmesan and Roasted Garlic. Martha says to roast some garlic, then spread it on the bread and top with some shaved Parmesan. Oh, yummy! We did sprinkle a little olive oil on the bread as well. This was easy and tasty. To roast the garlic, I just dumped some olive oil over the garlic head, put it in a small glass pan and covered with foil then cooked the heck out of it.  It tastes fab, but be prepared to have garlic breath for the rest of the night.

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