If loving their loaves is wrong, this group doesn’t want to be right.
It’s just before noon on a Tuesday afternoon and adult program coordinator Donna Valle is rushing about the community room inside Hampton Bays Public Library. She’s dragging chairs out from their respective places, laying a red table cloth across a long table, and then topping it off with red plates and carefully folded napkins, all in preparation for the loaf of bread she baked for the library’s Read It and Eat It Cook Book Club.
“This is not the kind of place where you just show up and eat—you have to work,” said Valle, who serves as the leader of the bi-monthly club, which was exploring baked breads under its assigned Valentine’s Day-inspired theme, “Love Your Loaves.” Valle added, “We all like to read cook books.”
The work involved behind the finished product is serious, indeed. The club’s members, who are all foodies, not only in theory but in practice, are assigned a theme, and from there, they spend time perusing recipes in cookbooks that will fit with the assignment. Then they start cooking, or in this case, baking. The reading is easy; it’s the preparation that can be hard. Sometimes, it’s all about trial and error, she noted.
“That’s another thing: we tweak recipes,” Valle said. “We may not make it exactly like the recipe.”
In keeping with February’s theme—showing bread some love—Valle was more than prepared for the moment of truth: dishing about her Banana Chocolate Chip Bread with Streusel topping and then taking the feedback like a trouper.
Under the scrutinizing eyes of her fellow bakers, she admits in her explanation that she was not aware chocolate chips should be coated in flour before being folded into the bread dough, to prevent the solid and heavy pieces from sinking through the dough into the bottom of the bread pan.
“So, I learned a new trick in this, besides learning how to make Streusel topping,” she said.
“There you go,” encourages Nancy Cariello, a fellow club member and head of the library’s circulation.
The conversation deepens with Cariello’s description of her Whole Grain Honey Maple loaf, a yeast-based bread with complicated and time-consuming directions that require preparing the dough, then allowing it to rise before placing it into the oven.
“This is from an old, old cook book, it’s like an encyclopedia. It tells you how to dress a deer. It’s amazing,” she said, explaining that she usually makes about three loaves because of the amount of time it takes to prepare. “You don’t want to make just one loaf, because it’s a lot of work.”
In baking, the smallest amount of butter, and the varying taste and texture of regular milk and buttermilk, especially if one makes their own by combining milk and vinegar, makes a difference. As does whether bakers use milk for a glossy finish, and, of course, the kind of flour—bleached or non-bleached.
“For me, it’s always whichever has less chemicals,” said Ellen Greaves, who made a loaf of Sourdough bread and brought a starter bowl with her to demonstrate how the dough ferments.
Ingredients, measurements, and any adjustments are carefully noted.
In her locker, Cariello keeps a copy of The Joy of Cooking that contains volumes of notes.
“I have all my little notes that are 40 years old, like ‘cross out sugar’ because I never use sugar,” she said, noting that her adjustments are often tweaked if she finds a better way of cooking something. “It’s so cool to see that and go back and see how I did it.”
“I always do that,” Valle said, adding, “Cook 10 minutes less, cook 10 minutes more; raise oven, lower oven, add a little more.”
Sharing the intricacies of cooking—how if one ingredient or measurement is changed, the whole recipe can be thrown off, if not ruined—is pretty much what the Read It and Eat It Cook Book Club is all about. The number of participants can run anywhere from six to 10 people depending on the time of the year the meeting is held, according to Valle.
Valle assigns a theme and then coordinates with members so there isn’t any duplication and also to ensure the recipes will work well with each other, seeing that there is some tasting involved.
In December, the group met under the theme, “Christmas Around the World,” with different members preparing Italian Stromboli, Austrian Linzer tarts, Brandy Alexander Pie, which has roots in the British Isles, and a Caribbean Black Cake, which is a variation of a British fruit cake.
“I would say ‘Love Your Loaves’ was successful, as was our ‘Christmas Around the World’—that was so much fun,” Valle said. “So, the next time we meet, it will be two months from now; Tuesday, April 10. The theme is ‘Anything Eggs.’ We can do quiches. We can do deviled eggs. We can do anything with eggs; omelettes, right? Frittatas.”
Until that question is answered, the Read It and Eat It Cook Book Club members will continue to love their loaves.
For more information about the club, visit www.hamptonbayslibrary.org.