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Book Club Meeting: “The Master Craftsman” by Kelli Stuart

Vintage Fabergu00e9 egg illustration by The British Library is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

Our Social Writes Book Club selection for October 2022 was made by Pemmie. “The Master Craftsman” by Kelli Stuart is a beautifully written historical fiction novel highlighting Peter Karl Fabergé and his jewellery firm House of Fabergé, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Commissioned by the Imperial family, Karl supervised the many designers and craftsmen, including two women as they created the over fifty elegant jeweled Easter eggs from 1885 to 1917. The first egg of 1885 delivered to the Russian Tsar Alexander III was given to his wife Maria Feodorovna as an annual gift and continued later by Tsar Nicholas II.

Stuart injects an intriguing current day treasure hunt for a missing coveted egg that reconnects a daughter and her mother with her estranged father, who orchestrates the hunt from his deathbed. A last attempt to connect with his daughter during the limited time he has left. Unexpected twists and turns concludes with the true treasure of all in hand.

Pemmie will host this meeting for our group, and while the plan will be hers, I shared that Russian black bread and chai appeared in the book more than a couple of times. I’m always seeking for food notes in our books in order to introduce myself and group to the flavors and traditions within the stories we read. A small attempt to erect a little life from the pages.

I found a recipe (in the link below) and told Pemmie I would give this bread a test bake, a little excited to see how it turns out. I’m a baker, but bread is not one of the techniques I’ve frequented. Fortunately this was basically a low maintenance version where the stand mixer did all of the kneading. (A bread machine would have simplified the process even further. ) I did not divert from the recipe, but I have noted a couple of tips from my experience.

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/7034/russian-black-bread/?utm_source=pinterest.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=social-share-recipe&utm_content=20220916&utm_term=7034

The hardest part of the process was finding the flours and caraway seeds. My pantry is filled with more things than the average person might have, but these ingredients were not among my inventory. I really didn’t want a five pound bag of bread flour either. After stopping into three or four different grocers, I found a one pound sack of both the bread and rye flours and a reasonable priced jar of caraway seeds. I tried to borrow some dark Karo syrup from a neighbor (needing only 2 tablespoons), but they didn’t have any. Karo syrup is one of those ingredients like molasses that ends up being used once and then the bottle sits in the pantry for years. (Much like this bottle of caraway seeds will also.)

The recipe was extremely simple, adding all ingredients except for the softened butter to the mixing bowl and using the dough hook, kneading for 10 minutes. Then the softened butter is added for another 5 minute kneading (again with the dough hook). The recipe didn’t warn what to expect of the finished dough, but I will say that it’s very sticky. It also didn’t rise as much as I thought it would.

BAKING TIP: Sometimes you learn a tip from a baker and if you don’t bake frequently, it’s easily forgotten when you decide to take a stab at baking again. This is a tip I remembered. When removing the paper from your softened stick of butter, fold the sheet (butter side) together and store in a zip bag in your refrigerator. When a recipe calls for greasing a bowl or pan, take out the buttered sheet at the beginning of the baking process – the butter softens quickly. Use the remaining butter from the sheet to grease your bowl or pan and while not wasting the small amount that remained on the paper.

The softened butter wrapper’s remaining butter used to grease the bowl and loaf pans.

TIP: I didn’t get a double rise out of my dough. It was more like a single rather than double rise of the original dough. I even let it sit in a warm oven for another 30 minutes (the recipe started with 1 hour so my total was 1 1/2 hours) and then when I prepared to cut the dough into two, placing half in each loaf pan, I had to use more than a sprinkling of bread flour to handle it. Make sure your hands are dusted as well as the surface. The dough is sticky. The second proofing didn’t look like it had much of a rise, so again I left the loaf pans in a warm oven (170 degrees F) for another 20 minutes to get the slight rise in the picture above. It filled the loaf pan more than rose.

While I was concerned that the bread would be a flop, it turned out beautifully. I should have used the bread splitter tool that I bought a year ago (that I forgot I had). The split would have formed at the top rather than the side, but it still turned out great.

After allowing it to cool for about 10 minutes, I used a serrated bread knife to slice a piece and was thrilled to see the airy soft texture and knew it was well baked. (Hopeful Paul Hollywood would agree- but not necessarily give me a handshake! Lol)

A warm steamy cup of chai latte’ (my favorite by the way) was all I needed to complete the black bread and chai experience. The black bread has a bitter slightly sweet note that comes from the combination of the small amounts of brown sugar, corn syrup, unsweetened cocoa powder and apple cider vinegar. The carraway, fennel seeds and rye flour add the savory note reminiscent of rye bread. Interesting ingredients and flavor.

One of my taste testers drizzled it with honey. The blogger said it was good with cheese, but didn’t state what kind of cheese. For now I’ve carefully wrapped up the second bread and placed it in the freezer until our meeting in early October. We will rewarm it on the day of the meeting and let everyone choose their own way to savor it.

While chai tea would be a good choice, I also found this chai cocktail made with chai and Russia’s beloved volka. The addition of Kahlua (a coffee flavored liqueur) creates a cocktail take on the dirty chai, where coffee is added to the tea with milk. My book club gals love a fun cocktail.

Use the leftover concentrate, by warming a half cup of concentrate and separately a half cup of milk – then foam the milk with a frother and top the concentrate in a mug for a chai tea latte. It’s the perfect fall morning drink with a big spicy morning inside hug. It’s my favorite!

In lieu of the chai syrup recipe in the link, I used the chai tea concentrate sold by most grocers in a quart carton by Oregon Chai , but there are other versions by Tazo and a small bottle that works perfectly sold at Trader Joe’s that works just fine and does the same job. If you don’t have a bottle of Kahlua – liquor stores like Total Wine, sell smaller bottles that will provide the amount you need and not leave you with a bottle that will sit around for years to come unused.

Cocktail recipe in the link below.

https://www.halfbakedharvest.com/vanilla-chai-tea-white-russian/

The rest of Pemmie’s plan will be a surprise, even to me, which adds an excitement and energy to the day filled with good conversation, laughter, food and spirits!

Pemmie’s table setting, not just because it is Fall, but because Russia is one of the biggest producers of sun flowers!

Bird’s Milk Cake (Ptichye Moloko)

https://momsdish.com/recipe/210/birds-milk-cake

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