Aunt Daisy’s Favourite Cookery Book might appear fairly unpromising at first – a narrow, yellowing fliptop book with no pictures apart from the occasional persuasively worded ad. But it’s an absolute diamond, a paragon of everything you’d hope a cookbook from 1956 to be. Zillions of recipes, roughly 140 of which are for jam, and several of which come with the word “Mock” before or “(Good)” afterwards. It’s funny, there’s this idealisation of your grandma’s era as being so natural and the way to be, but in this book there’s plenty of urging you to set things in gelatine and to add synthetic flavourings to your food. There’s one chapter on vegetables, half of which is devoted to salads made of egg, cheese and potato, while baking and puddings are luxuriated in across several lengthy chapters. It’s fun.
It’s hard to tell if the hilarity is intentional or just of the time. I suspect the latter. It’s partly because of Aunt Daisy’s blunt delivery (“bake in the usual way”) partly because of the things we don’t tend to eat these days – salads set in gelatine, boiled offal as recuperation food for the unfortunate convalescent, and partly her delicious titles – “Matrimony Jam” made of marrow and gooseberries, pudding “(from a man)” and “Lady Windemere Salad”.
My dad’s mother Zelda died in 2002 and I ended up with her Aunt Daisy cookbook in the above photo, as well as a notebook of handwritten recipes and clippings. As far as I know she wasn’t much of a cook (I remember Dad looking doubtfully through the notebook saying “well she never made that“) and to be honest the only food-related memories I have from staying with her are 2-minute noodles and marmite on toasted North’s wheatmeal bread – one of the most hole-prone and flavourless slices around, although I always thought of her when I saw it and was sad when they gussied up their branding recently. Mini kit-kats, and orange juice mixed with lemonade was a very special treat. I really did love 2-minute noodles and Marmite on toast, so these are good memories, by the way.
The fact that she may not have used this Aunt Daisy book doesn’t bother me, the fact that I actually have it is enough. And I’d like to think that since she held onto it at all, for all those years, it must have had some value to her. Over Christmas Mum had the book beautifully rebound for me by this woman in Waiuku and in its new, hardcover, less fragile incarnation I’ve been moved to not just read through it in wonder, but actually cook something from it for the first time in ages.
As soon as I discovered the following recipe I knew that it and I were meant to be in each other’s lives. Because it’s a recipe for bread with condensed milk in it, and that kind of idea and the concept that I could bake it is what gets me out of bed in the morning. It distills into a paragraph everything that was good about the time it was written. I’d been thinking about that soft, sweet bakery bread recently thanks to this conversation, and I wondered if this ingredient would kinda replicate that – it didn’t – but it was still wildly good stuff. And easy as to make – stir, rise, stir-knead-rise, shape, rise, bake. Apart from the kneading – because of the hefty amount of dough the mixture will seem all shaggy and reluctant at first, but it does eventually come together.
White Bread (or “condensed milk bread” as I’ve been referring to it as)
Adapted from Aunt Daisy’s Favourite Cookery Book, 1956 edition
- 4 dessertspoons sweetened condensed milk
- 2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
- 1 sachet dried yeast
- 7 cups high grade/bread flour
Mix together the condensed milk, water and yeast till a little frothy, then stir in 1 cup of the flour and leave, covered, for 15 minutes till somewhat puffy and bubbly.
Stir in the remaining 6 cups flour and a generous amount of salt – Aunt Daisy reckons a dessertspoon – and knead till springy and supple.
Cover and leave to rise for 3/4 of an hour.
At this point, Aunt Daisy says to roll it out to around an inch thick, quarter it squares, then shape and place two pieces each into two loaf tins. I found this slightly confusing, but figured she knew what she was doing, so rolled each piece up and tucked them in pairs into two loaf tins.
Set your oven to 220 C/440 F and leave the loaves for about 15 minutes to become puffy and further risen. I brushed them with melted butter at this point. Bake at this temperature for around 8 minutes and then lower it to 180 to bake them for 45 minutes.
You end up with two brown, somewhat gloriously buttock-like swelling loaves of soft white bread, which are – for all that there are those saucy dessertspoons of sticky-sweet condensed milk – barely sugary. In fact this recipe is pretty austere, with no quantities of milk, no butter, no oil, none of the usual things I’m used to massaging into dough. It has a tense, tight texture which makes it perfect for slicing into adorably small sandwiches and toasts up beautifully, with the slight, fluttery caramel taste of the condensed milk just making itself known. I actually reckon you could comfortably double or even triple the amount of condensed milk in this – but for now I’m extremely happy with these loaves as they are.
I love making bread so much. I realise it comes across as a total mission and it kinda is, but if you’ve never made bread before and you’re curious as to what the fuss is about then this isn’t a bad place to start. I took some slices to work today for lunch, toasted them and spread em with butter and Marmite – still one of my favourite things to eat.
Question + Preamble: Tim and I are stepping up the pace on the glacial path to our trip overseas in March/April and have booked a few important things…we still have a ton more things to book but we wanted some advice: who here has travelled overseas and bought vinyl? What’s the best way to pack it so that you don’t get to your local airport, pick up your bags and discover that your precious records have been smashed into jigsaw puzzle pieces stored in an attractive sleeve?
Title via: The extremely excellent Idina Menzel and her song Rise Up, she’s never actually recorded it but for a while it was an integral part of her live shows and eventually came to have the title it does. Dedicated to her sister, for a few years there was one version which she updated around 2008 to include a punchy chorus. Of course I recommend you listen to both the emotion-soaked original, and the slicker, but still beautiful recent rewrite.
Tim and I went to see the play Diamond Dogs at Bats tonight – apart from the fact that we totally recommend it because it’s fantastic, it also does a decent job of getting Bowie in your head. While I’m not sure it’s really his finest moment, Modern Love is easily one of our favourite Bowie songs and the recurrent nature of its chorus allows it to all the more easily be stuck in your mind.
By the Throat from the (late) Eyedea and Abilities. Amazingly good.
Next time: Possibly Brian O’Brian’s Bran Biscuits, from the same book, if I’m up for it…I have so many things to blog about, just no time to do it in so it depends what I feel like on the day I guess.