I stood on a stool at the kitchen counter inside her English Tudor style home in Brentwood, California. She looked like Catherine Deneuve – ultra feminine, with a translucent English complexion, vivid blue eyes, with a petite and perfect figure. She had an incredibly graceful way about her, and she smelled delicious – during the day the soft scent of rose water would flow around her, and at night, the fresh fragrance of cucumber from the Casswell Massey cream that she used to cleanse her face would quietly waft through her serene home as we fell off to sleep.
Her name is Bronya and she was my mother’s closest friend when I was a young girl. She was a writer and a photographer with an ethereal quality about her. Her home felt solid to me, unlike mine, which seemed to change to a new location much too often. The art, décor and feel of her home were pretty and luxurious. The linens on the beds were white, crisp and beautiful – the bath towels, soft and fluffy. Bronya took me in during a time when my mother was going through a divorce and a health crisis, giving me a loving, magical and safe retreat when life felt a little frightening and insecure.
Peering carefully, so not to get hit by a splattering of high-spirited hot syrupy liquid, I watched as Bronya made a vat of orange marmalade from special Seville oranges that were shipped to her from Spain. The bubbling-hot jam was carefully ladled into beautiful little French jars that were then placed aside to cool and set. Later, she placed labels on the jars that had an ink sketch of her house on them. The illustration was a rendering of Bronya’s house drawn by her architect husband. In between making jams and traditional English trifles, Bronya’s youngest daughter and I spent our summer days taking art classes, riding our horses in Mandeville Canyon, and laying on the library floor spinning the Godspell vinyl on a record player over and over, singing along as we read the words off of the album cover.
My first trip to England was with Bronya and her family. We flew first class on a 747 to Toronto for a few days and then to London. We lived in Bronya’s charming mews house in a cobblestone paved alleyway.
We rode horses in Hyde Park – I was a solid rider by this time as I had been riding almost daily in the States for years, however, the equestrian arts in London, and as I found out later, anywhere in England, was a much dressier affair than my jeans, tee-shirts and riding boots which is what I wore in the dusty back hills of Los Angeles and Malibu. In England I was outfitted with proper English riding attire including jodhpurs, jacket and a hardhat.
I discovered that while the language they spoke was English, I often had a tough time understanding what people were saying to me because their accents were varied and often thick as the luscious Devonshire clotted cream spooned atop scones with jam at teatime. I found the grass pastures in the English countryside were cushy beds of verdant and damp loveliness where I could lay myself down under a tree for hours reading a book or have a picnic with Bronya and her sister’s family. I was also initiated into culture where shopping for groceries required one to drop by a variety of shops, unlike the supermarket experience in the United States.
Visiting the neighborhood butchers, cheese mongers, bakeries, and general stores, where we would buy our provisions was an intimate process. There was friendly banter and conversations with the purveyors over countertops and cash registers, as well as with neighbors and other shop “regulars”.
During this time in England and later in Switzerland and France, I was introduced to a very different style of bakery where the loaves of bread were stacked out in the open and had a rougher texture than the soft bread wrapped in branded plastic bags in the grocery stores back home. Lucky for us, there are wonderful European style bakeries all across the states now, but I still enjoy the process of making my own bread and letting the dough ferment for hours so the more complex flavors have time to develop.
Here is the recipe for a lovely, crusty loaf of cinnamon bread with just a hint of sweetness that comes from honey and raisins. Now, if I only had a jar of that marmalade…
|European Cinnamon, Honey & Raisin Bread|
- 2¾ cups bread flour
- ¼ cup whole wheat flour
- 1½ cups warm water
- 2 tablespoons honey, plus ¼ cup for the filling
- 1 teaspoon yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup raisins
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- Mix 2 tablespoons of honey in the warm water until the honey is dissolved.
- In a large bowl combine flours, yeast and salt.
- Add the honey-water to the flour mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon until blended, the dough will be shaggy and sticky.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, foil or a lid.
- Let the dough sit for at least 15 hours and up 24 hours, at a warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. About half way through that time, give the bowl a wrap on a countertop to deflate it a bit and then fold the dough over onto itself just once and cover it and let it continue to rise.
- Once the dough has risen and is covered with bubbles, using your fingers, loosen the dough from the bowl and fold it over on to itself again a few times and then let it rest for 10-15 minutes.
- Soak the raisins in enough cold water to cover them and set side.
- On a well-floured surface, roll the dough into a 6 x 14 rectangle.
- Warm the1/4 honey in a small pan or in the microwave for 5 or 10 seconds.
- Spread the honey on the dough using a brush or back of a spoon.
- Sprinkle the cinnamon and chopped nuts over the honey.
- Drain the water from the raisins and dry with some paper towels.
- Scatter the raisins evenly over the dough.
- Beginning on one of the short ends of the rectangle, roll the dough up, pinching the seam to hold it together (don’t pinch the ends of the roll).
- Heavily coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size.
- Thirty minutes before the dough is ready, heat oven to 500 degrees.
- Put a heavy 6 to 8 quart covered pot in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from oven. Gently slide your hand under the dough and place it seam side down into pot being very careful not to burn yourself on the sides of the pan as you do this (you may want to do this with oven mitts on).
- Cover with the lid place in oven, reduce heat to 450 degrees and bake 30 minutes (don’t be tempted to open the lid and peek at this point!).
- After 30 minutes, remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is lightly browned.
- Cool on a rack.