Thursday, April 21, 2011

Memories, Traditions, Nostalgia

Lately I've become enamored of the Cake Duchess , and not just because she has some yummilicious sweets - she also married an Italian, has Italian in laws, is Italian, and loves to cook Italian.  And I love all things Italian (Perhaps I lived in Italy in a past life).  Montepulciano is on my bucket list, as well as Florence and Venice.  Rome, I could care less about.  One of her last posts spoke about how she and her mother in law love to bake.  She also mentioned they were going to make Easter Bread.  That triggered memories for me.

My mother's side of the family is Estonian.  If you don't know where Estonia is, you are most likely in a majority, since it's been taken over numerous times by numerous countries (including Denmark, Sweden and twice by Russia) yet they still maintain their fierce sense of independence and language.   I've never been there, but I would like to see Tallinn the capital city, that's where my grandmother was born.  My nana (as I called her) was a beautiful woman - even in her 80s she barely had a wrinkle on her face.  When she was younger, she was gorgeous with a head of auburn hair.  My grandfather was blonde and blue eyed.  I never met him - he died when my mom was in college.  Here is a passport photo of them - pretty cool!
(*note* "Lapsed" is Estonian for "Children" - it's pronounced "lap-sehd")  My nana was 23 when she came here, my grandfather was 37.  They came over on the RMS "Homeric" which sailed out of Southhampton, England, and landed in NYC.  If you want to know what you got as a meal - here you go:

And here is a picture of the happy couple taken in Estonia.
What this is all leading to is my nana's "mamu saia" (mahmoo SIGH yah) (Estonian for "raisin loaf").  This was the only bread she had in her house.  We ate it for breakfast, lunch, dinner...sometimes it had raisins, sometimes it didn't.  I remember she kept it wrapped in a piece of foil, and would slice off whatever she needed - whether it was toast at breakfast, a big slab with butter and cinnamon sugar to take to the beach,  or a piece to eat with some stew at dinner.  I loved that bread, and  I always associate it with my nana.  At Christmas it would be shaped in a wreath and sprinkled with sugar and ground almonds; at Easter it would get the same transformation - sometimes even some hard boiled eggs would decorate the top.

When I take a bite of that bread,  I'm 4 years old again sitting at Nana's kitchen table eating mamu saia while Nana and my mom chatter in Estonian.  Do you have any food that triggers memories for you?

I want to share the recipe with you.  It's not difficult to make, especially with the rapid rise yeast.  The proportions on the flour are not EXACT - however, you can't really muck it up :)  The main thing to remember with bread NOT make the water too warm, or the bread won't rise.  Err on the side of tepid really.  70 degrees is not that warm.

So here you go - make some for Easter!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, and I hope it will start bringing YOU some happy memories as well.  Printable recipe is HERE

Nana's Mamu Saia (Estonian raisin bread)

Scald: 1 1/2 cups of milk.  Let it COOL down (This is one part where you can mess it up.  If the milk is too hot when you add it to the yeast, the yeast will NOT rise.)
Add: 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. cardamom seed crushed, 1 pkg of yeast you dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water (again, this should be lukewarm, not anywhere near the temperature of say...water you wash your hands or dishes with)
Add:  Enough flour to make a pancake-like batter. (about 2 cups) Cover the bowl and let rise in a warm place until bubbles form, about an hour.

Cream butter (about 3/4 cup) to which the grated rind of 1 lemon has been added.  Beat in 1 egg and about 6 tbs. of sugar.

Your yeast batter should now look like this:
bubbles! yeast is working! :)

Kneading dough
Stir the yeast batter down, add the butter/egg mixture, then sufficient flour to make a pliable dough.  For me it was about 3 cups.  Don't worry if the dough sticks to your hands - just flour them, or add flour by the handful to the dough until the dough no longer sticks to your hands.  Now knead it!  You can't over knead the bread - get out your aggressions, slam it on the table - BAM!!!! that's for whoever left all those dirty dishes in the sink - BAM!!!! that's for the jerk that cut me off on I-95 - fold the dough, punch it down, and the more you do it, the more you will notice it getting not so sticky, and smooth and elastic.

At this point, you could knead in some raisins if you want.  1/2 - 3/4 of a cup, depending on how much you love raisins.  My son Ben, stated he didn't "like" raisins, so I omitted them.  I made 1 HUGE loaf, but you could make two normal size loaves.  I divided the dough into 3 pieces, rolled them out, and braided them.

I then shaped it into a large loaf, covered it once more with a dish towel, and let it rise again for about half an hour.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
After rising with egg wash
Once it rises (almost doubles size) brush the loaf with the yolk of an egg, and then (if you want) sprinkle some ground almonds and turbinado sugar on top - or just plain granulated sugar.  Now put that bad boy in the oven, and immediately turn the heat down to 350 degrees.  Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the bread is browned, and sounds a bit hollow when tapped.  It should look something like this:

You can remove to a rack to cool, or dig in and slather a piece with some butter and enjoy!  This bread keeps quite well simply wrapped in a piece of aluminum foil.

*Note on Cardamom*
If you want the most aromatic flavor, please buy the pods and grind the seeds yourself.  If you don't have a mortar and pestle, you can do this easily with the back of a soup spoon on a piece of waxed paper.  The scent and flavor it gives to the bread is so much better than the stuff that's already ground.  It's a little pricey, but if you like to cook Scandinavian or Indian food, you'll use it up.  Here's what the seed pods look like :

1 comment:

  1. look yummy! I'm gonna make my first loaf of bread soon I think. I think i'm going to make one of the breads from the oatmeal cookbook you gave me. =]