For Your Love and Digestion

My bread baking group (formerly HBinFive) is starting a monthly theme-based challenge, now that we have completed Healthy Breads in Five Minutes a Day. Our theme for November is "historical".

Taking advantage of living in a very historic city, I decided to focus on colonial Philadelphia. My decision was made easily having the City Tavern Cookbook in my collection.

While I have dined at the City Tavern several times years ago, including for our own rehearsal dinner the night before our wedding, I have never made anything from the cookbook. This book and its bread recipes have surprised me in several good ways.

For those of you not familiar with the City Tavern, it was one of the finest restaurants in the New World. "Opened in 1773 by fifty-three prominent Philadelphia businessmen and investors, including several signers of the Declaration of Independence, City Tavern was the setting for suppers 'as elegant as was ever laid on a table,' according to John Adams."

Philadelphia being one of the largest ports at the time was importing spices, citrus fruits, chocolate, madeira, even bananas.

All of these exotics were used along side foods native to the region, such as seafood, turkey, cranberries, squash, corn and pumpkins.

By the early 1800's the tavern had fallen out of favor with the elite and burned in 1834, no longer as respected an establishment. In 1854 it was demolished.

In 1948 when Independence National Park was created, City Tavern was noted as one of the historical sites. It took 25 years to faithfully recreate it. It reopened in 1976, and in 1994 the Tavern was taken over by Walter Staib, the author of this cookbook.

If you lived in colonial Philadelphia, your rosemary bread would have been in a big loaf, not shaped like a baguette. I took a little creative license, as I tell you in the recipe, out of trepidation of baking a 3-pound loaf of bread. These are (or were prior to dinner) two 1 1/2 pound loaves.

I know these loaves probably look like ordinary baguettes. Tasty ones, I hope, flavored with rosemary. Trust me, though, this bread tastes more like focaccia, and it may be one of the best breads I have ever eaten.

The bread recipes are updated (thank goodness) for the 21st century home cook! While they seem surprisingly to be just like what we eat today, careful examination reveals differences, particularly in richness, sweetness and flavoring.

This rosemary bread, for example, calls for 1/4 cup of vegetable oil. Had this been a focaccia recipe, calling for olive oil, I would have thought nothing of it. Instead it is 3 pounds of dough called for shaping jelly roll style into a 12 inch long loaf.

Rosemary Bread
adapted from City Tavern Cookbook

Rosemary was most likely brought to the New World by the French, who prized it for its therapeutic value--it was believed to relieve digestive ills--as well as for its symbolism--it was often used to represent a declaration of love. Rosemary bushes also were used in hedges to ward off garden pests.

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cups warm water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon salt
5 cups bread flour

1. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Let stand about 10 minutes, until foamy.
2. Stir in the oil, rosemary, and salt. Mix in the bread flour, 1 cup at a time, to make a soft dough (I was able to mix in 4 1/2 cups in the bowl).
3. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic and adding only enough flour to prevent sticking.
4. Transfer the dough to a large greased bowl and turn dough to coat all surfaces.
5. Cover with a slightly damp towel. Let rise in a warm place, free from drafts for 2 hours, or until doubled in size (the recipe calls for a 45 minutes to 1 hour rising time. This was not long enough for my dough despite having a warm kitchen).
6. Punch down the dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface.
7. Knead for 3 more minutes, until smooth, then cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
8. Lightly oil a 15 x 10 x 1 inch baking sheet or baguette pan.
9. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
10. Divide dough in half. Shape each piece into a 12 inch long loaf by folding the top and bottom halves to the center, pinching closed, and folding top over to the bottom and pinching seam closed and roll the seam to smooth it out. Taper the ends. Place on baking sheet.
11. Cover and let rise for 45 minute to 1 hour, until almost doubled in size.
12. Sprinkle the loaves with flour and make 3 diagonal slashes evenly across loaves.
13. Fill a baking tray with 1 cup of water below rack where bread will bake to give a crisp crust.
14. Bake loaves for 45 minutes, until golden and bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
15. Remove from baking sheet and cool on wire rack for 1 hour before serving.
Note: The recipe called to bake this bread as one 12 inch loaf--considered a small loaf for the time, and an adaption for this cookbook. I was hesitant to bake 3 pounds of dough as one loaf, fearing it wouldn't bake through, not to mention how we would use a loaf of that size. However, if you wish, roll up your dough jelly roll style, pinching seam closed and tapering the ends and bake it on the prepared baking sheet. The instructions also indicated to bake this loaf for 20 to 25 minutes. My 2 smaller loaves needed 45 minutes. Slashing the loaves and creating a steamier baking environment was my choice given a more baguette-like shape.