It is snowing out, but despite the stone floor and walls of the kitchen, the room is warm from the fire crackling in the hearth and the new glass panes in the window, that have become more and more popular in the past decades. She gently but thoroughly works the dough with her small, red hands and then sets it under a cloth to rise. She watches the snowflakes fall, listens to the silence and puts the bread into the oven. While it bakes she breathes in the warm, sweet scent and starts to prepare a new loaf. As she kneeds the dough she thinks of her homeland, Normandy, of the brioche her mother used to prepare on special occasions. Her bread is similar and the locals seem to like it. More and more people in Bath have started coming into the bakery to ask for the sweet bread she makes. She smiles to herself when remembering how they call her in this country. Her name is Solange but they prefer to call her Sally and when they ask for her bread they refer to it as Sally Lunn's.
This bread, reminiscent of brioche, was seemingly made by a French Huguenot immigrant in the second half of the 17th Century in Bath. It quickly became fashionable in the aristocratic circles, eaten to accompany both sweet and savory foods.
Another story attributes the name to the mispronunciation of the French words "soleil et lune", to describe the golden and white interior and exterior of the loaf.
Whatever the origin, this sweet bread is still popular today, although it is not always served the traditional way, cutting it horizontally to spread it with clotted cream or butter and then slice it into vertical portions.
I had never had it before but was flipping through one of my cookbooks for a recipe similar to a brioche. The preparation seemed simple enough to someone like me who is still a little frightened at the prospect of making bread, and I had everything I needed to bake it...uh...expect the right pan to bake it in. I only noticed that minor detail halfway through. It should be baked in a Turk's head mold or a tube mold, so I had to invent something quickly and came up with the contraption you see in the photo: a circular cake dish with two cocottes stacked on top of each other in the center. It turned out a little darker than intended and the circle wasn't perfectly centered, but it tasted exactly as I imagined it would and accompanied breakfast, lunch and dinner at our house for a few days.
I thought it would be a perfect recipe to share for these holidays, a little extra something like I promised in my last post to add to your traditional Christmas feast, something that will taste great with your turkey, ham or goose but that will also feed a hungry household on a holiday morning (it serves 24!).
3 cups flour
1 pack active dry yeast
1 cup milk
3 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt
Mix 1 1/2 cups of flour with the dry yeast and set aside. Heat up the milk in a sauce pan with the butter, sugar and milk. When it gets warm, just before the butter melts, add it into the flour mixture. Next, sdd in the eggs and beat at medium-low speed for 30 seconds with an electric beater and then on high for 3 minutes.
Stir in enough of the remaining flour to obtain a stiff batter. Cover with a cloth, store in a warm place and let rise until double (approximately 1 hour). Stir down the batter, spoon it into a well-greased Turk's head mold or tube mold and then cover again and let rise for about 45 minutes (until it almost doubls in size again). Preheat oven to 375° F (190°C) and bake for about 40 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when tapping on it.