Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Empty Chair and Savory Brown Butter Soda Bread

From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...We had an empty chair at our Thanksgiving table this year. Bad weather grounded the plane of a friend whose visit was much anticipated, and, I'm sure that disappointment is what caused me to slip into a reverie later in the evening. The trigger was that empty chair. I hadn't thought about it in decades, but for years my parents set an extra place at our Thanksgiving table. It was set it for Roger, a young soldier, who came into their lives just before Thanksgiving in 1944. A blizzard brought trains in the Chicago area to a halt and dashed Roger's plans to visit his parents before being shipped overseas. Roger had just turned 18 when my father, who adopted strays, found him in Union Station and brought him home to spend the holiday with us. We had a full house that year. Roger got the sofa and the other empty beds were taken by my grandmother and an old friend of my mother. Roger charmed my grandmother and that was not easy to do. As a matter of fact, my mother, who was not a believer, did a lot of praying when Maude came to visit. Maude, however, took Roger to her heart, and accepted as an article of faith, her responsibility to feed and entertain him. She even made her wartime version of soda bread for him. I'm told they genuinely enjoyed each others company. He spent the remainder of his leave with my family and then left for duty in the Mediterranean. He did not survive the Battle of Anzio. My parents were affected by his loss and for years thereafter they set a place for Roger at our Thanksgiving table. I had forgotten about that holiday all those years ago until the empty chair at my own table set memory in motion and reminded me, yet again, how blessed my life has been. As to the bread, I'd like to think my own need to feed and nurture comes from those early examples that were shown to me. This bread does not come from Maude but I know she would approve. I found the recipe in Bon Appetit magazine and it really is unusual. It's makes a savory oat bread that's flavored with rosemary and black pepper. When temperatures drop and snow begins to fall, I hope you'll keep this loaf in mind. It's a nice accompaniment to the hearty soups and stews of winter and if you serve it with lots of good butter while it is still warm, I think you'll be pleased. Here's how it is made.

Brown Butter Soda Bread...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite courtesy of Bon Appetit magazine

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
3-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper plus additional for topping
1-3/4 cups buttermilk
1 egg white, beaten


1) Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Stir butter in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until melted and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
2) Stir flour, oats, sugar, rosemary, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in large bowl to blend. Pour buttermilk and melted browned butter over flour mixture; stir with fork until flour mixture is moistened.
3) Turn dough out onto floured work surface. Knead gently until dough comes together, about 7 turns. Divide in half. Shape each half into ball; flatten each into 6-inch round. Place rounds on ungreased baking sheet, spacing 5 inches apart. Brush tops with beaten egg white. Sprinkle lightly with ground black pepper. Using small sharp knife, cut 1/2-inch-deep X in top of each dough round.
4) Bake breads until deep golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool breads on rack at least 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Yield: 2 loaves.

One Year Ago Today: Spaghetti al Limone

Two Years Ago Today: Pumpkin Pancakes with Orange-Caramel Syrup

Three Years Ago Today: Lamb Shanks with Black Cherry Wine Sauce


Pondside said...

Thank you for such a lovely post, Mary. What a gift your father gave to Roger - and to Maude and the rest of you. I think we have gone way over the edge in our fear of strangers - we see threat everywhere. I wonder how many people, today, would bring home a young man from the train station?
This bread would be soooo good with pea soup.

Coleens Recipes said...

What a heart warming story, thank you so much for sharing it with us.

Alicia Foodycat said...

What a beautiful story. How extraordinary that someone can pass through your life so briefly and yet have such an effect.

Cindy@NorthofWiarton said...

I always look forward to your memories Mary. Enjoy your day. It is raining on the Bruce Peninsula at the moment. Off to a Cookbook Swap today with a bunch of gals from the Recipe Exchange a great day of entertainment for a rainy day.

Lucia said...

What a lovely post. Thank you for sharing it. And I hope you have a food filled and happy Christmas season.

Sparkly Jules said...

Oh Mary, that one made me tear up. What a bittersweet memory. I'm going to make this bread, for Roger and those like him.

Happy Holiday season.


Banana Wonder said...

Ooooh love the sound of this! Got to make some for the holidays.

Unknown said...

What a sweet and touching story! Your father must be a very special man! This soda bread looks wonderful, I love the addition of fresh rosemary. It would go so well with soups and salads, yum!

A Paix√£o da Isa said...

tudo esta mt bom gostei de tudo bravo bjs

Ginny Hartzler said...

What a good story. I am so glad your empty chair was not for worse reasons, you scared me for a bit. I would for sure call this good hearty peasant food. I chanced to look up your spaghetti limone, which interests me now because I just made America's Test Kitchen version (I LOVE that show) Their recipe calls for boiling a couple tablespoons of heavy cream with some of the spaghetti water, then adding Parmesan and the spaghetti. It will be cool to compare yours and theirs.

Lora said...

What a beautiful story. I am with your parents. I always have "Thanksgiving orphans" around my table every year. The soda bread looks wonderful

angela@spinachtiger said...

That's a lovely story. It would be hard for me to have that empty chair looking at me, but I love the gesture.

Ellen Whyte said...

How nice! I bought a breadmaker years ago and I do enjoy making bread from scratch at home. It's far nicer than commercial stuff and with a machine to do the work, it's a piece of cake. As it were :-)


I love this story. And I see the same spirit of hospitality in you, Mary. I always enjoy the story and the people behind your recipes.


Buttercup said...

I am in tears at your story. Blessings on your father and family for taking Roger in. Wishes for a sweet, sweet week!

David said...

Mary, The bread sounds great and the story is indeed appropriate and meaningful, especially for the Christmas season! Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Pinky at Designs by Pinky said...

What a wonderful story. I, too am so blessed. XO, Pinky

Jeff @ Cheeseburger said...

Hi Mary. You're right, this bread will go with any soup or stew recipe which I imagine we will be having a lot of this winter.

Bites from life with the barking lot said...

I enjoy so many of your memories. It is easy to forget all we have to be grateful for. Thank you for the reminder.

Kathy said...

Such a lovely post, Mary!! I so enjoyed reading of Roger and Maude…and I love the brown butter soda bread! Sounds delicious!

France@beyondthepeel said...

Wow. That actually made me a little teary. That was unexpected. Thank you for sharing that beautiful story with us.

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