I recently read two books by Ruth Reichl, a NY native and food writer. The first, Tender at the Bone, is a memoir of her “life at the table”, and chronicles her major food memories, from her mother’s telling nickname “The Queen of Mold”, to her lonely years at boarding school in Canada eating smoked meat, to her involvement in a community restaurant in Berkeley during the 70s. In the sequel, For You Mom, Finally, Reichl comes to terms with her manic-depressive mother’s lonely life. It’s a very quick read and offers some interesting insight into the changing role of women – i.e. how many women of her mother’s generation were forced to be housewives though they wanted desperately to have careers and were quite miserable at home.
Tender at the Bone offers many recipes, one of which caught my eye. Reichl’s college roommate had roots in Guyana and was of French and Indian blood (although at one point she suffers an ethnicity identity crisis and completely changes her lifestyle) and this is her mother’s recipe for coconut bread. I had never baked bread from scratch before – at least not the kind that has to sit and rise and sit and rise some more. It was… interesting. Quite labor intensive (though some of that was the whole fresh coconut business) and time consuming, but kind of cool to see the dough rise and “punch it down”. I’m not sure I’d rush to make it again – it’s good, but not great. As I type, I’m eating a rather large slice slathered liberally with Nutella. The nuttiness of the Nutella brings out the flavor of the coconut and it’s really good! But let’s face it – you could slather this laptop liberally with Nutella and it would taste good.
1 cup warm water
1/2 cup sugar
2 packages active dry yeast
4 cups white flour
1/2 pound butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 medium sized coconut
The first order of business was opening the coconut. Not an easy task. How do monkeys and castaways do it??? I at least had a little help from a hammer, a nail, and this site. It was tedious and hard, but I cracked it open. I swear that extracting the meat (is that what you call it?) was harder than opening the coconut. It took forever and I nearly lost a few fingertips in the process. If I do ever make this bread again, you can bet your sweet bippy I’ll be purchasing coconut at the store. But once that was done, I was able to actually start making the bread.
First, put the water in large bowl; add sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the yeast, stir, and let sit for a few minutes until it foams. Then add 1 1/2 cups of the flour and mix until smooth.
Blend or food process the coconut until grated finely. In another bowl, cream the butter, eggs, salt, and vanilla until very well mixed, then add the coconut.
Add the mixture to the flour mixture and mix until it forms a smooth dough, then begin adding the remaining flour a little at a time. Once mixed, turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead until it forms a smooth ball (about 10 minutes).
Put the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled. I think this took about 30 minutes – and was kind of cool to see!
The directions said to “punch it down”, which I thought was strange wording – until I actually did it. Once the dough rises it’s very light, fluffy, and airy, and you need to manipulate it back into a manageable shape. Shape it into a freeform loaf, set on an ungreased baking sheet, cover lightly with a kitchen towel, and let sit for 1/2 hour.
Bake 50-60 minutes at 350.
This recipe made a lot of bread! I sliced the loaf and filled two gallon sized plastic bags, and intended to give one to Jackie and Chris… until the cat knocked the bag off the counter and puncture the bag thousands of times with his vicious little teeth. Totally weird because he never cares about or eats human food – is the coconut a distant relation of catnip?
I’m glad I made the bread because it was a new baking experience for me. If you’re considering making it, my big caveat is time – from start to finish this took me over 4 hours. There were certainly plenty of times I was doing dishes or checking email, but it did consume a large part of my day. I think I’d only make it again if someone requested it or if I hosted some kind of Caribbean brunch party. I’m definitely planning to try other recipes from Reichl’s book – maybe the Pork Tomatillo Stew will be next…. mmmmm.
Have a great weekend!