Sunday, June 13, 2010

Circle of life

My mother was a talented, daring cook who explored the world with her cooking. Her gusto in the kitchen made food a central part of our family and my best memories of her center on sharing food. How we would sit together picking apart crabs brought home from China Town in NY, our shared excitement at visiting the Rockland Bakery late at night and getting fresh rolls right out of the oven, the time she fashioned her own bread to look like a pair of breasts, seeing her light up a baked alaska on New Year's Eve, and how she always treated me to lobster on my birthday! She said I was a child after her own culinary heart and that I would grow up to outshine her in the kitchen.

This week marks 20 years since my mother's life ended at age 44. When memories fade and people to tell me stories of her become scarce, food is there to remind me. Those of us left behind continue to feast just as she asked us to. We carrying on with our lives, passing a love of food on to our own children, instilling in them the importance of delighting in simple pleasures which make a meal a feast.
When my mother was 42, she threw my dad a huge 50th birthday party- a feast for 50 guests in our backyard with our best friends and family. Her pride and joy that night was the Italian Bread Wreath she skillfully baked. It was the first and last time she ever made it, so after 20 years it seems fitting I give it a try in her memory. This weekend I made two wreaths, one Saturday and one today. The Saturday wreath was excellent in all aspects except for appearance- a major detail... I deemed it unblogworthy, gave away half and ate a good portion of that loaf. This morning, my supply of all-purpose flour was greatly diminished and since there was no point in venturing out at 7:30 on a Sunday in Italy, I used what was left of the regular flour, plus some stone ground wheat flour and a bit of spelt flour. Rolling out the dough, with Roman strapped to my back, I made sure the strands were a full 32 inches long, which I realized is 3 inches longer than Roman himself. The second loaf, you see in the photo above, is something I'm quite proud of myself. Hopefully this will be in my repertoire now for many family feasts to come. Happy Feasting!

Italian Bread Wreath
In memory of Elizabeth Bradspies Gallant 1946-1990

1 package active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, softened
6 1/2 - 7 cups flour
3 eggs

Sprinkle yeast over warm water in large bowl of electric mixer. (You can also do this step by hand with a bowl and wooden spoon.) Add sugar and let stand about 5 minutes until yeast is soft. Add salt and butter. Stir until the salt dissolves. Add 3 1/2 cups of the flour. Mix to blend, then beat at medium speed until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Beat in two of the eggs. Gradually stir in about 2 1/2 more cups of flour to make a soft dough.

Turn dough out onto a board coated with some of the remaining 1/2 to 1 cups flour. Knead the dough until smooth and satiny and small bubbles form just under the surface (10 to 15 minutes) adding more flour to prevent dough from being sticky. turn dough into a greased bowl and cover. Let rise in warm place until almost doubled in bulk (1-1 1/2 hours)

Punch dough down and turn out onto lightly floured surface. Cover with inverted bowl and let rest for 10 minutes. Pinch off and reserve about 1 cup of the dough. Divide the remaining dough into two equal portions. Shape each into a strand about 32 inches long. Place strands side by side; twist loosely together, then form a 10 inch wreath on a large, greased baking sheet. Pinch ends together to seal.

Divide reserved dough into 10 equal pieces. Roll each under the palms into a strand about 10 inches long. Beat remaining egg with 2 teaspoons water to blend yolk and white; brush lightly over bread wreath. Shape each strand of dough into an S-shaped curve. Place curved strands over wreath at evenly spaced intervals. Brush decorations with a little more of the egg.

Let wreath rise until it looks puffy, 30 -45 minutes. Brush all over with remaining egg, using as much of it as possible. Preheat oven to 400. Bake 20 minutes then reduce heat to 325 and continue baking until wreath is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped (25-30 minutes)


  1. Neighbor, this is beautiful. Love. xx

  2. If you cut the design in the top of the bread with a knife, not very deep, then press it down just slightly, and wait to egg white the bread until it is about one-quarter cooked you will get perfect sculpted results. Your Mom's loaf is beautiful, and yours looks good too...but I bet Roman would think it is even cooler if you baked a frog, a turtle, or an alligator using the same technique. Amelia and I baked a rattlesnake bread roll once, and I have been thinking about other animals we can sculpt into bread ever since. It was a good lesson of stuff not to touch in the desert. - Tim


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