Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mother Of Invention

I love the phrase “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.” Today, I’d like to share that title: “Tammy and Necessity are the Mothers of Invention.” Doesn’t quite have the same pithy ring, but let’s go with it.

It’s Day One of the Tuesdays with Dorie project, and the assignment was to bake two “white loaves” from the Baking With Julia cookbook. Since I have made this recipe several times before, today I was ready to mix it up a bit.  I knew one loaf would be a raisin-cinnamon swirl version. This was my shameless bribe, which was offered in exchange for the enduring love and respect of my children. (They are suckers for all things carb -- particularly if there is a little extra sugar involved.)  

For the second loaf, I wanted something new. I just finished Molly Wizenberg's wonderful book “A Homemade Life” this weekend, so her father’s stewed prunes recipe must have been kicking around in the back of my head. As I scanned the shelves in search of the perfect “swoosh," a jar of prune butter caught my eye. Lightbulb! Purim is coming up soon, and that to me says “hamentashen.” Why not make hamentashen bread? (If you're not familiar with it, here’s some background on the history of the holiday and the three-cornered hamentashen cookie.)

My favorite filling for hamentashen has always been prune, and I’d purchased the jar of prune butter months ago thinking this delightful cookie deserved to make an appearance more than once a year. But school and parenting schedules being what they are, and blog deadlines being what they are, the cookie has morphed into a bread.

It’s a good thing I opened the jar to inspect the primary ingredient though. Having neglected to “refrigerate after opening” the prunes several months ago, I found that there was a thick fuzzy layer of mold rimming the inside of the jar. This is the point where Tammy takes over from Necessity as the Mother of Invention. Did I NEED to add a new element to this already quite acceptable white loaf? Did I NEED to go to the grocery store in the middle of a baking project? Not really, but the idea of hamentashen bread had captured my imagination and I wasn’t going to let a little hairy fungus stop me. So during the first rise, I made a quick trip to Stop and Shop. As long as I was there, I also picked up an orange to brighten up the deep-winter flavor of the prunes.

And it was worth the trip, even after the inevitable embarrassing run-in with a friend, during which I realized that my hair, still unwashed, was sporting last night’s scrunchie. I also had forgotten to put on makeup, and I was coated head-to-toe in flour. 

The dough waits not for beauty. I quickly packed up my groceries and ran home to finish up the loaves.

In the first loaf, I added butter, a cinnamon-sugar mixture, ground walnuts and few raisins:

For the second, I added a little ground almond and orange zest to the prune butter:

The light from the kitchen window was adding some drama to the baking process, so I snapped a few pictures along the way:

Butter, cinnamon, sugar, walnuts and raisins in the first loaf
A healthy slather of prune filling for the second loaf
Here's what I've learned:

First, the breads will take more time to cook than the original recipe (maybe 45-55 minutes instead of 35-45). Second, don't overdo it on the filling, or you'll end up with some overflow, like I did:

Third, Molly Wizenberg and her dad were right: prunes rock. They added a babka-esque quality to the otherwise fairly savory bread. The difference was that the bread wasn't cloyingly sweet and heavy like traditional babka. I also enjoyed the fact that my "swirl" looked more like a question mark than a spiral. It seemed as if the bread itself was asking "what am I, breakfast or dessert?" My vote is for both. 

For the basic recipe for White Loaves, buy the Baking with Julia book or visit the Tuesdays with Dorie project.

PS: The cinammon swirl loaf, as expected, was also a big hit with the family. Next time I'll add a thicker layer of everything, though, since the swirl itself looked a little weak:


  1. You were so much braver than I was! I stuck with the original recipe since this was my first go-round with yeast bread (for some reason I've decided that pizza dough doesn't count) and I was horribly afraid of it. But I love your variations. And your info on Hamantash. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I totally relate to your fears. After many previous failures and a long hiatus, I finally faced my own demons a couple of months ago, and the white loaves were the first I tried. Once I got a taste of success, I couldn't stop! I've been on a bread-baking binge since December. It's quite addictive! And I owe it all to Dorie, Julia and Mr. Kominiak.

  3. The loaves look great. That photo of the oozing made my mouth water!

  4. The prune loaf looks fabulous! I'll have to give that a try.

  5. I've not tried Babka bread, it sounds quite tasty! Great photos and commentary.

  6. Love the idea of prune filling. Prunes are definitely over-looked in the cooking/baking world. One of my favorite "unusual" uses for them is in mushroom soup.
    Your grocery store trip story is totally relatable :-)

    1. do you have a recipe for the soup? sounds really interesting.

  7. Love the question mark! Your bread looks fabulous!

  8. I was hungry before reading this and now I'm craving a sample of both of those delicious-sounding and looking breads! So sorry they're probably already finished and that I live too far to stop by for whatever tasty treat you're baking today. Loved your commentary on your trip to the store and the great pictures. My kids love prunes- now I need to take it a step further by attempting to replicate your bread (including the thick ooze that looks yummy!). Thanks for sharing your experiment!

  9. Your post made me hungry for babka! I try not to make it very often (it's so heavy), but I do love it. I love the prune idea - prunes really are under-appreciated. And great story about running into your friend at the grocery store, too funny.


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