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Just finished News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her parents were killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of a old west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many.

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Breads, on November 18th, 2011.

golden_bishops_bread_slices

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time already know about my Christmas favorite, Bishop’s Bread. It’s something I make every single year – because I don’t like fruitcake. You have to understand – I cannot stand those pieces of candied fruit things. This, however, is made with maraschino cherries, chocolate chips and walnuts. Okay? NOT fruitcake!

So why did I make something different than the old standby, you ask? Well, because I was reading the King Arthur Flour blog, called Baking Banter. And they did a write-up about a Golden Fruitcake they developed – about how and why they made theirs the way they did – and with a different batter to hold it together. That was what got my attention – the batter. Last year when I made my Bishop’s Bread, I thought the cake part was just too dry. I’ve noted that a couple of times over the years, but never really knew what to do about it, so I did nothing.

But  reading their blog got me to thinking and I decided I had to try it. Theirs has you soak the fruits in brandy (raisins, cranberries, dried apricots and oh-yuk – candied red cherries – all things I never put in MY bishop’s bread). It has 5 eggs in the batter. And corn syrup. Some Fiori de Sicilia (a flavoring available from King Arthur’s that I’ve had in my refrigerator for about 5 years – it’s a citrusy vanilla, sort of). And it has milk in the batter too.

With all that in my head, I just switched out their batter, and used their proportions of fruit/nuts (about 7 cups for a regular 2-loaf recipe). I also added in some dried cranberries (but decided after the fact that I didn’t like that addition at all). I did soak the maraschino cherries in brandy (and the recipe has you add whatever leftover brandy there is into the batter), but I discovered with my first batch that when my fruit mixture didn’t absorb any of the brandy, of course, the batter was too wet. The better part of the first batch went into the trash.

thermapenbatter_cherries_collageBefore I made my second test batch I did two things: (1) I reduced the amount of brandy altogether – since it was just for flavoring anyway – I didn’t need that much; and (2) I researched the web to find out the internal temperature of fruitcake – when it’s finished. Since I’ve now invested in one of those fancy-dancy instant-read  Thermapen thermometers (above), I’ve been using it for several things. And it was just the best tool for this. The answer to my online query was 200°. Even with fruit in it – you want the internal temp of fruitcake to be 200°. Knowing that, I found that in my particular bread pans, it took 96 minutes to reach that temp. Their recipe suggested 50-80 minutes baking time. At 300° it took mine a whole lot longer, obviously. Why? Don’t know, but it did and does. In the second batch I used Convection Bake and it took less time, but it browned the bread way too much, so half way through I reverted it to regular Bake and it seemed to be fine although I did have to remove it sooner. I won’t use that method again, though.

The bread has a more tender crumb – I like that part of it. You’ll notice that in the picture at top the bread crumbled a bit. I cut slices before the bread had cooled enough and the edges were still almost crispy. Once I’d wrapped it up and let it sit overnight it sliced just fine. So, I think I’ll be making this version from now on. My friend Cherrie came over the other day and we baked and baked – we made a double batch of this Golden Bishop’s Bread, and we made two batches of our other important Christmas favorite, the Chocolate Almond Saltine Toffee (cookies). We’ll get together one more time in early December to make some of our other favorites – and Cherrie has a new recipe to try too.

What I liked about this version: the brandy flavor, plus the Flora di Sicilia flavor too (but if you don’t have that, no worries, just use vanilla), the tender crumb. Even the freshly grated nutmeg gives a very subtle under-note to the bread. Altogether good stuff!

What I didn’t like: well, it does take a long time to bake, but I think my old version took 90 minutes, so what’s 6 minutes?

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Golden Bishop’s Bread

Recipe By: Adapted significantly from King Arthur Flour, 2011
Serving Size: 36
NOTES: You can use your own combination of fruit and nuts – like pecans or macadamia nuts. Use carob chips if you want. If you’re not a fan of maraschino cherries, use dried cherries (soak them in the brandy). Add dates, crystallized ginger, white chocolate chips or dried apricots if you like it. For the 2-bread-pan recipe, use about 7 or so cups of these add-ins – that’s the proportion. Make it whatever way YOU like. You can also adjust the proportion of these add-ins: like more chocolate? Less nuts? Make it your own.

FRUIT and NUTS:
2 1/2 cups chocolate chips
2 1/2 cups maraschino cherries — halved, drained
2 1/2 cups walnuts — chopped
CAKE BATTER:
1 cup unsalted butter — softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia — optional (or substitute vanilla)
4 large eggs
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons brandy
1 cup milk

1. Preheat oven to 300°. Butter two bread pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
2. In a medium-sized bowl add the drained maraschino cherries, chocolate chips and walnuts.
3. In a large bowl cream together the unsalted butter, sugar, corn syrup, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and flavoring. Mix at medium to high speed until the mixture is light and cream colored.
4. Measure out the flour in a separate bowl. Scoop about 1/2 cup of the flour into the bowl containing the fruit and mix gently but thoroughly.
5. With the mixer on low speed alternately add the remaining flour and milk. At the last slowly add in the brandy. Using a spoon (not the mixer) add in the fruit and nuts, and mix gently but thoroughly. Try not to mash any of the maraschino cherries as that will turn the batter a pinkish color.
6. Pour the batter into the two bread pans, and gently level the batter.
7. Bake for about 80-95 minutes (depending on your oven) until the top is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean (it may pick up some chocolate – it’s the batter you want to be cooked through). Alternatively, use an instant-read thermometer and bake the cake until it reaches 200°, testing every 5 minutes starting at 80 minutes.
8. Remove bread and allow to sit on a rack for 30 minutes. Gently slide a thin spatula along all 4 sides of each loaf and gently turn the pan over into your wide spread hand. Jiggle slightly to remove the bread and very gently set on the rack and let it cool completely, about 2 hours. Wrap in plastic wrap, then in heavy-duty foil. Will keep a few days at room temp, or ideally, freeze loaves until you need them. You can also seal them well and store in refrigerator for up to a month. If you want to keep these extra moist, brush the loaves with additional brandy once a week until you’ve finished eating them.
Per Serving: 302 Calories; 16g Fat (44.9% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 38mg Cholesterol; 111mg Sodium.

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  1. Linda Murray

    said on September 2nd, 2015:

    I too love Bishop Bread without the citrus in it. My recipe is a litte different than yours so I thought I would share it. Doesnt have any alcohol in it but very good none the less. Give it a try and you will be hooked, guaranteed.

    Bishop Bread (fruitcake)
    1 2/3 c chocolate chips
    2 c chopped walnuts
    1 1/3 c chopped dates (1-8oz box)
    1 c raisins
    ½ c green maraschino cherries (drained and halved)
    ½ c red maraschino cherries (drained and halved)
    1 t baking soda
    3 eggs
    1 t salt
    ¾ c sugar
    ½ c water( you can cherry juice to make up the ½ c water)
    1 ¾ c flour
    * optional 1 T rum
    Mix all dry ingredients together. Mix all fruit together well. Combine two bowls and toss. Pour into angel food pan or two loaf pans that have been sprayed with pam not buttered. DO NOT use Bundt pan. Bake at 300 degrees for 1 ½ hrs. Should be soft when comes out. Let sit for a bit before releasing it. Cuts best when cooled. Store in tin for several weeks.

    Did you see my “regular” Bishop’s Bread recipe here on my blog?
    http://tastingspoons.com/archives/215
    It’s got the walnuts and chocolate chips. I don’t much like dates, so I deleted that from the get-go back in the 60’s when I acquired the recipe. I’ve never used raisins – I prefer the chips/walnuts/cherries version. Thanks for commenting . . . carolyn t

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