Bread of life
DINING & ENTERTAINMENT GUIDE - JULY 2005
Bread of life
Different islands, different tastes
Making bread is simple, right? After all, the basic inputs are flour, sugar, shortening or butter, a pinch of salt, yeast and some water. So it may seem a bit surprising that there are so many kinds of everyday bread baked in the islands of The Bahamas: all different, all great tasting.
On second thought: it's not so surprising. Some bakers include baking powder, others don't. Some use whole eggs, others use only the whites and still others, none. Some specify dry milk, others evaporated and still others fresh. Some use shortening, others must have butter and still others insist on margarine.
Many differences in taste and texture relate to the kind of flour used. Most recipes call for all-purpose flour (which is a blend of hard and soft wheat flours) while others call for "bread" flour, (made exclusively from hard wheats). Most call for "covering" the bread for the first or second rise, but some don't. The variations are endless.
The fact is that there are scores of ways to combine the basic ingredients and to vary the kneading, rising, and oven temperature to make an almost infinite number of distinctive breads.
Here is a great tasting bread as baked by Pat Newbold of Spanish Wells, a fishing village in Eleuthera. It?s a recipe for six loaves and the recipe doesn't work well if you try to cut the ingredients to make fewer than that.
5 lbs flour (all purpose or whole wheat)
13/4-2 cups sugar
1 serving spoon lard or butter
2-3 packs yeast
1 tin evaporated milk
4-1/2 cups warm water
Mix yeast in warm water until dissolved. Combine rest of ingredients.
Add yeast water (small amounts at a time) until thoroughly mixed (otherwise you'll be in deep yogurt, according to instructions).
Knead 10-15 mins (or until arms drop off).
Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk.
Form loaves in 6 pans. Cover and let rise again. Bake at 375 degrees F until done, (25-30 mins).
To indicate the difference in method, not to mention ingredients, here's the recipe for an equally delicious bread made in Bimini. This version, by Mrs Wellington Bain, is found in the Bahamian Cook Book (1974).
(five or six small loaves)
3 cups warm water
1 oz yeast
1 cup beaten eggs
1/2 cup shortening
1-1/8 cup sugar
2 oz dry milk
13 cups bread flour
Dissolve yeast in warm water.
Add eggs; stir and mix.
Stir in shortening, milk, sugar, salt and enough flour to form a paste.
On a floured board, knead dough until all moisture has gone out of it.
Return to bowl and cover. Let rise until double in size, about 30 mins.
Remove from bowl and knead again. Roll into 14-oz lengths of dough and place in small oiled loaf pans.
Cover and let rise at room temperature until double in size. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 35-40 mins or until golden brown. Remove from pans immediately and let cool.
From ancient Egypt
Leavened bread (made with yeast) is thought to have been invented by the ancient Egyptians, although it did not become common in Europe until the Middle Ages. According to one authority, a good bread must have "a crisp crust, an attractive golden colour, and a soft crumb." A great many Bahamian breads would meet those criteria, even though they may have much different tastes.
Each Bahamian island has a somewhat different history and each evolved its own techniques of food preparation. You'll find crawfish and conch (pronounced konk) everywhere but conch salad might taste a little different in Mayaguana than it does on Walker's Cay, the most northerly island.
Walker's Cay had for many years a worker-exchange programme with Ireland and you can still find corned beef and cabbage on menus there.
Similarly, Andros, the biggest island in The Bahamas, is famous for land crab dishes. Exuma is noted for its onions, Eleuthera for its pineapples, Grand Bahama for its papayas, limes and avocados and Inagua for its sea salt.
Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos, meanwhile, is said to be the birthplace of the Goombay Smash. As with bakers and bread, every bartender has his own twist on this drink, which features white rum, coconut rum, sometimes a splash of Galliano and pineapple juice.
Everyday bread is one thing but Bahamian cooks also like to add special ingredients like local bananas, and coconut meat. Here, for example, is a delicious coconut bread baked by Karen Johnson at the Fernandez Bay Village resort on Cat Island.
3 cups flour
1 cup buttermilk
2 tbsp margarine
3 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup grated coconut
2 tsp yeast
Dash of nutmeg.
Mix all ingredients together to make dough.
Let rise in a covered bowl, place in a loaf pan and let rise a second time.
Cook at 350?F for 45 mins.
Cool and serve.
Abaco is also known for its many fine breads, which are baked and served at restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores there. You'll find specialities like sourdough, banana, and date-nut among many others. Here's a recipe from the Pieces of Eight cookbook, from Treasure Cay, Abaco.
Island banana bread
1-1/4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup butter
3 ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs, well beaten
3/4 cup pecans
Work first four ingredients together by hand until crumbly. Add remaining ingredients and do not over mix.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes in greased 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
In the old days, bread, johnny cake, banana bread, bread pudding and sweet potato bread, among other delicacies, were baked in outdoor rock ovens. Baking pans were pushed in and pulled out of the ovens with a long-handled wooden spatula.
Almost all working families ate johnny cake, derived from "journey cake," or bread you could wrap up in a cloth and take to work or on a trip. Johnny cake is different from bread in that no yeast is used and most recipes call for a little baking powder. It has a texture more like a muffin and was once considered to be "poor man's bread." Today, it's found in fashionable restaurants everywhere in The Bahamas. Here's a recipe, compliments of Cafe Johnny Canoe, a popular Bahamian-American restaurant in the Nassau Beach Hotel on Cable Beach.
3 cups flour
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1-1/2 cups milk
1/2 tsp salt
Beat all ingredients together in a large bowl. Pour into a baker's pan and cook in a 350 degree F oven until done, about 45 min.
Slice in wedges and serve with butter.
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