The smoke of a thousand distant fires greets us at Kilimanjaro Airport. A tangled sleep punctuated by weird animal calls in the night is broken by the scampering of monkeys on the roof above our heads. The families gather for breakfast: eggs done several ways, bacon, cereal, fresh fruit, coffee. Any fears my kids had about Tanzanian food are instantly calmed by the post-colonial menu. And by the toast – made from white bread that is tall and mushroomed on the top.
It was the bread that surprised me most. In the tent camps, which were many kilometers from the well-stocked kitchens at Gibbs Farm and Mount Meru Game Lodge, a handful of cooks working over charcoal and acacia wood fires prepared meals for some 30 people. Their oven? A big metal box that they put on the fire and over which they scattered hot coals; it was like a Dutch oven on steroids. That simple oven provided perfectly bake loaves of Tanzanian white bread every day.
My wife the Salad Queen is quick to point out that we don’t eat much white bread at Chez Bullhog. So why a recipe like this?
This bread is the beginning of what I see as a journey into the larger bread world. Every baker should start here: foster a dough that is simple and forgiving, bake it into bread that’s a glory of panned beauty, and revel at the yeasty smiles around the table. It’s great with a turkey sandwich, or as an accompaniment to soup, or as toast with eggs and bacon. It also gives back: in the push against your hands as you knead the dough, and in the amazing bloom you get from the loaf when put fully ripe into a steamed oven.
But, more to the point, it’s versatile, as the Tanzanians proved to me by baking it and putting it on the table at their safari camps. And if your Dutch oven is up to it, well, give it a try!
So here you are. My take on an easy and forgiving bread, done two ways. Please note the additional yeast needed for a quick recipe.
Tanzanian Safari Bread
Makes 2 loaves, 28 ounces each
32 ounces King Arthur’s, Pendleton Mills or Stone Buhr bread flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
3 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoons yeast (more for quick method)
1/3 cup evaporated milk (I use 2%)
1 ½ Tablespoons honey
2¼ cups water at 80º
2 pyrex loaf pans, 1 ½ quart size
1 Tablespoon butter for coating loaf pans
An 8” cast iron skillet
Warm water for coating the loaves and producing steam
Quick Method: Start to finish about 5 hours when risen at 80º. Requires 1 additional teaspoon of yeast in the dough.
This yields a yeasty bread with a slightly gummy crumb, a medium crust and a high-rising bloom so long as the oven is provided with a cast-iron pan for steam creation in the first minutes of baking.
Make the dough: Dry mix the bread flour, whole wheat flour, salt and 2 ½ teaspoons of yeast in a large bread bowl. Add the evaporated milk. Mix the honey with the warm water and add all at once. Mix with the handle of a wooden spoon and, when incorporated, knead for a minute with your hands.
Let rise until doubled: Turn the dough ball onto a lightly floured counter, let rest for 10 minutes under the inverted mixing bowl, and then knead for at least 5 minutes until soft and pliable. The dough will push back when the gluten has developed. Clean out the mixing bowl; put the dough into it, cover with a piece of plastic wrap or damp cloth and let sit in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk for 2 hours. (Warm means 75 to 80 degrees, which can be an unheated oven with the light on or a warming cupboard, if available. At room temperature, this doubling might take 3 hours.)
Punch down and rest: Deflate the dough by putting your fist down into the middle of it. Turn the edges in toward the middle, invert the dough and let it rise again for about an hour. After second rise skip to shaping as below.
Slow method: This bread is made the afternoon of the day before, punched down and shaped late in the evening to be ready for baking in the morning. Likely the one used by our Tanzanian bakers in the field, it yields a loaf with a drier composition and a less-gummy crumb, but only a medium bloom when baked. Otherwise, this is an excellent white bread that will stay fresh longer than the quick method.
Make the dough and let rise: Form the dough as above, without any extra yeast. Knead and put into a large bowl, cover and let rise in a very cool place for 6-8 hours. Ideal temperature is 45 to 50 degrees.
Shape and let rise: In both methods, treat the dough the same way, but expect more flabbiness in the slowly risen dough.
Cut the dough into two equal pieces of about 28 ounces. Butter the bottom and sides of two glass bread pans. Knead each piece of dough lightly to exude the air without entirely flattening the dough, turn the edges in and turn the rounded side up, creating a cigar shape. Tuck the tails under and place the dough skin-side up in the bread forms.
Let the quick bread rise for about 45 minutes at room temperature, and the long-rise dough overnight in a 50º environment, covered with a cloth.
Baking the bread: Adjust the top oven rack to be slightly lower than the center of your oven. Put a small cast iron frying pan on the floor or lower shelf of your oven and preheat the oven to 425º for 30 minutes.
When the bulge on the resting loaves is 1” higher than the sides of your bread forms, brush the tops of the loaves with water.
Put the two loaves into the oven, pour 4 ounces of hot water carefully into the cast iron frying pan to effect a burst of steam, and quickly close the oven door.
Lower heat to 400º and bake for 20 minutes.
Turn the loaves, lower the heat to 350º, and bake for a further 25 or 30 minutes, at which time the crust will be dark brown and the bottoms as seen through the glass pans will be golden brown.
Remove from pans and cool on racks for 45 minutes before chowing down. Serve with slathers of European butter, if available.
Variations: Leaving out the evaporated milk, adding 3 Tablespoons of butter, and/or using all-purpose flour for half the bread flour will yield different results. Try some of these changes and see what happens!
Final Note: I did produce a pretty fair loaf of this in my Dutch oven yesterday, baking it on a thin layer of coals and piling about 10 coals onto the top. Fact is, it rose so well that the top of the oven pushed open, so I had to finish it inside.
Meanwhile, I thank those Tanzanian cooks for showing me a way to take my baking skills along on our next camping trip. Flame on!