Has your soul been feeling jangly lately? I know mine has. Maybe it’s the weather, probably it’s the politics, maybe it’s the time of man, but whatever the reason, my heart and soul have been anxious. So this morning I reached for one of my favorite cookbooks, “The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking,” by Brother Rick Curry, and then reached in the cupboard for flour, for yeast and poppyseeds, and began baking. The result was this golden brown poppyseed braid. I feel better already!
What are the secrets of Jesuit bread making? As I understand it, the secrets don’t lie in the recipes themselves, but are in the heart of the baker. I have learned the following. First, slow down. Second, pay attention. Third, be methodical. Devote yourself to the bread making. Brother Curry also recommends being neat and orderly as you bake. So I swept the floor, scoured the sink, and cleared the counter before beginning. The outside orderliness has a way of entering your inside self.
So here is the recipe, and I have tried to give pointers along the way, so you, too, can have a golden brown poppyseed braid, with each slice shaped like an angelic cloud.
Poppy Seed Braid Loaf
1 packet yeast
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups unbleached flour
also, cornmeal, milk, poppyseeds
Combine the yeast and warm water in a large bowl. Add the sugar and stir. Set aside for about five minutes, or until the yeast foams up.
Stir in the egg, oil and salt. Add the flour and beat with a spoon, until the dough is a shaggy mass. Sprinkle with a bit of flour and knead until smooth (about five minutes). If the dough is sticky, add two tablespoons more flour. If it seems dryish and firm, add two tablespoons more oil. Take out the dough, clean the bowl, and pour a couple tablespoons oil into it. Place dough into the bowl, and turn it to coat with oil. Cover with a plastic bag, and let the dough rise until double for about one hour.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and sprinkle with cornmeal. Deflate the dough, and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 3 parts. Roll each piece into a rope, about 15″ long. Braid the ropes together, handling the dough gently. Lift the braided loaf onto the prepared baking sheet. Cover and let rise for another 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. When the dough has doubled in size (about 30 minutes), brush it with milk or cream, and sprinkle with poppy seeds. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden. Allow to cool before slicing.
The yeast may take from 5 to 30 minutes to bubble up.
The dough after kneading, and after rising.
Above, dividing the risen dough, rolling into 15″ ropes, braiding, placing on prepared baking sheet, allowing a second rise, and ready for preheated oven.
Baking notes: The most difficult part of this for a beginner is after the three cups of flour has been added. Is the dough too dry or too sticky? This variability can happen because of the flour you use, the size of the egg, and the exactness with which you measured the oil and water. Usually, three cups of flour is just right, though, so try that. You can use sesame seeds instead of poppyseeds, or not use any at all.
We are in the heart of a tumultuous spring, with days of rain, gusts of wind, birds flying everywhere singing and nesting, storms, thunder, and a general sense of nature’s urgency. I never think of spring as sweet and gentle–it’s entrance into the year can be quite violent. But wonderful. Peace to you. Fran