Posts Tagged ‘recipes’

When icy drafts seep through the old windows in our apartment I start thinking about slow cooking. Any dish that requires me to have the oven on for most of the day is a bonus at this time of year, and it also fills the place with tempting aromas. Happily, we have lots of country ham left over from our Yankee Southern Christmas so I thought I would try combining it with it’s classic partner, beans. As mentioned previously, my Mom is from New England, so of course the first thing that popped into my head was Boston Baked Beans.

If you’ve only had “baked beans” from a can, you don’t know what you’re missing. The real thing is totally different, richly infused with the flavor of pork and the earthy tang of Blackstrap molasses. Being a history nerd, I have a facsimile of the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer which was published in 1896. I figured that would be the best place to go for an authentic recipe. Her recipe uses salt pork but my left over country ham makes a good substitute.

In the process of making this dish I learned a lot about molasses and food science. For a deep complex flavor that is not too sweet, be sure to use real Blackstrap molasses in your Boston Baked Beans. When sugar cane juice is boiled to extract sugar crystals, molasses is left behind. There are three grades of molasses, first molasses, also known as mild or Barbados is produced by the first boil; dark or second molasses comes after the second boil, and finally, Blackstrap molasses from the third boil. Each boiling session creates a more complex and less sweet product. Blackstrap molasses also has the advantage of being very high in some important nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron. It is often sold as a health supplement, so if you can’t find it in your grocery store, try a health food store.

You’ll notice in the recipe that you cook the beans on the stovetop first, and then put them in the oven for a long slow bake. Here’s where I got a lesson in food science from the great Harold McGee. In his book On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, he explains that beans like an alkaline environment for cooking. Once they are exposed to an acid they will not become any more tender, no matter how long they are cooked. Our ancestors may not have had chemistry degrees, but they figured out that if you add molasses to the beans before you put them in the oven, you can leave them there for six hours and they don’t turn to mush. That’s because molasses is an acid and so it helps the beans keep their shape and texture, but they must be fully cooked first.

The origin of Boston Baked Beans is somewhat cloudy. We know that Native Americans in the area cooked beans with maple syrup and bear fat, so it isn’t too much of a stretch to see how that might become molasses and pork fat. This dish was also perfect for the Puritan household where no cooking (or even lighting of the fire) was allowed on Sundays. So Goodwife Smythe would bury the bean pot in the coals of the fire on Saturday night and by the next day the beans were done and could be eaten without breaking any religious tenets. Serve with hearty brown bread for a flavorful, yet healthy antidote to the excesses of the holiday season.

Boston Baked Beans
Adapted from Fannie Merritt Farmer

The traditional bean pot has a lid and its body bulges out slightly in the middle. I used an oven-safe soup tureen. If you don’t have something like that, use a casserole dish and cover it with aluminum foil for most of the baking.

Makes about 4 cups of beans

1/2 pound of dried navy beans (about 2 cups)
1/4 pound of salt pork or country ham
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons molasses
4 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar (I like to use Turbinado or Demerara)

Soak the dried beans in water to cover for 4 hours or overnight, then drain and rinse.

Put the beans in a medium saucepan and add enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Slowly heat the water until the beans come to a bare simmer with just a couple of bubbles breaking the surface. If you boil them too hard, their skins will split. Simmer the beans half covered until they are tender, about 30-45 minutes. It is important not to overcook them, so check for doneness every 15 minutes beginning at the 30 minute mark.

Preheat oven to 250F.

When the beans are cooked drain them. Cut a thin slice from the salt pork or ham and put it in the bottom of your bean pot. Pour the drained beans in and then bury the remaining salt pork or ham in the beans with just the rind of the salt pork or fat side of the ham showing.

Mix the salt, molasses and brown sugar with one cup of boiling water and stir until dissolved. Pour this mixture over the beans. If needed add more boiling water to just cover the beans.

Put the lid on the bean pot or cover your casserole with aluminum foil and bake it in the oven for 6-8 hours, uncovering for the last hour to allow the pork to brown. Check the beans occasionally and add water if needed. When done there will be a little liquid left to form a tasty sauce, but most of it will boil away.

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The other day I was in my local grocery store, reading labels like the food geek I am, when I wandered past the apple sauce shelf. I was shocked to discover that most of the jars contained not only apples, water, and some ascorbic acid (to keep the sauce from turning brown), but they also had High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) in them. Each brand seemed to have one version that was unsweetened, usually labeled “natural” or “original.” But if you wanted chunky apple sauce or apple sauce with cinnamon, then you had no choice but to also accept HFCS. There were a couple of organic brands which did not have ascorbic acid in them (maybe organic lemon juice is expensive?). They also had sweetened and non-sweetened versions but used sugar instead of HFCS. Does anyone make organic HFCS? There’s an ironic food product for you.

Why would anyone put sweetener in apple sauce? I mean sure, if you’re using older apples that have been in storage all winter then they might need a bit of a boost, but come on, apples are one of the sweetest foods in existence. Heck, a lot of “hippy” products are sweetened with apple juice instead of sugar. Oh, and even worse, the small 4 ounce cups of apple sauce meant to go in kids’ lunch boxes were all sweetened. I’m sure someone makes a “natural” lunch box apple sauce, but my store didn’t have any that day.

When I got home from the grocery store, I was standing in the kitchen shaking my head over America’s apparent addiction to sugar, when I saw a bowl of apples on the counter. About half an hour later, I filled most of a quart-sized jar with homemade pink apple sauce spiced with star anise, cardamom, and cloves, no sweeteners here thanks. I used 6 apples and I wound up with about 3 cups of sauce. Apple sauce is one of the easiest things to make yourself and it’s fun to experiment with wild spice combinations, I think next time I’ll try some fresh ginger.

Normally, I’m not a big kitchen gadget lover. I live in a small New York City apartment and gadgets must earn the right to live in my kitchen by proving they are truly useful at multiple tasks. One of the few gadgets granted this honor is my food mill. In summer I use it for making jams and jellies, it helps a lot in making really smooth cold soups like vichyssoise, and it’s really good for making apple sauce. If you have a food mill there is no need to core and/or peel your apples, just chop them into eight pieces each and that’s it. Once the apple sauce is cooked, you let it cool and then run it through the food mill which purees the cooked apples and removes the skin, seeds and spices. Leaving the skin on the apples makes the sauce turn pink, which I think is particularly attractive. I also think the skin and seeds impart more flavor to the final sauce.

Apple sauce is a great staple to have around the house. I love stirring it into oatmeal in the morning, it’s a great side dish with pork, and you can use it for a quick dessert like apple sauce cake.

Homemade Apple Sauce

Makes about 3 cups

6-8 apples, any variety you like
2 star anise pods
2 cardamom pods
4 whole cloves

Cut your apples into 8 pieces each and put them in a sauce pan with just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan which will keep them from sticking. If you do not have a food mill peel and core your apples before putting them in the pan.

Add the spices. Cover and cook over low heat for about 15-20 minutes or until the apples are very soft. Take the pot off the heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Pour the cooked apples into the food mill. Discard any water than strains through the food mill, then puree your sauce. If you don’t have a food mill, remove the spices from the cooled apples and mash them with a potato masher. If the sauce is too watery, pour it through a fine mesh strainer. Store, covered, in the refrigerator.


Use more than one apple variety for more complexity and depth of flavor.

Try any spice combinations that sound interesting to you. Here are some suggestions: cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, fresh ginger, cloves, star anise, and cardamom. Whole spices are always better if you have them; for nutmeg, grate it into the pot.

If your apples are old, you might add a tablespoon or 2 of sugar. Old apples also benefit from 2 tablespoons of butter for extra smoothness. Stir the butter into the finished sauce while it is still warm.

For an adult apple sauce, use brandy or Calvados (French apple brandy) instead of water.

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“Is Slow Food Really Slow?” is a series here on Comestibles in which we explore the hypothesis that some of the processes many modern home cooks have declared too time consuming are a lot easier than the admen would have us believe.

Everybody panic! It’s the great pumpkin shortage of 2009! I, for one, am deeply suspicious that Nestlé/Libby is making it all up to increase sales. I can report that my local grocery stores have plenty of canned pumpkin on the shelves as I write (the Sunday before Thanksgiving) and my mother, who is providing pie — which is of course the best in the universe — for our gathering, has not called to tell me that she will have to make apple instead this year. We had terrible rain during the growing season here in the northeast, and yet, yesterday at the Farmers’ Market, they had lovely pie pumpkins for sale at $1/pound. How are pumpkin supplies in your area?

If you can’t find pumpkin canned or fresh, I would recommend substituting sweet potato or butternut squash, I’ve heard that it’s difficult to tell the difference once the sugar, spices, eggs and cream are added.

When a friend of mine recently gave me a sugar pumpkin from her garden, I got excited because I’ve been wanting to try making pie from fresh pumpkin for years and the best type to use is the sugar pumpkin (sometimes called pie pumpkin). If you try this at home, don’t use a Halloween Jack ‘O Lantern type pumpkin. They are not sweet enough and they’re also quite a bit more fibrous.

I think we can safely say that it will take longer to make a pumpkin pie this way since opening a can only takes about 30 seconds and roasting a pumpkin takes about an hour and a half. However, as with home baked bread, the active time required is a lot shorter than you might think: about 23 minutes. I timed it thus (I have colored the active parts green, for the rest you can be out of the kitchen):

Chop in half and clean out the pumpkin: 15 min.
Bake pumpkin: 90 min.
Cool pumpkin: 15 min.
Scoop flesh out of pumpkin: 5 min.
Puree pumpkin flesh in food processor: 3 min.

So we’ve established that while yes, technically it is slower than opening a can, it’s not as horribly time consuming as you might think. But does the pie taste better? I did not go so far as to make two pies side by side for comparison (I’ll have enough weight to lose after the holidays as it is, okay?), but going on the memory of the many pies I have eaten which were made with canned pumpkin, I can say that I really didn’t detect any particular difference in flavor. It was delicious! However, I found it very satisfying to make a pie the way my great-grandmother would have, and I didn’t have to add another can to the recycling bin.

One thing I did notice is that after roasting, when I pureed the pumpkin it was a very bright orange, not that dull brownish color you find in canned pumpkin. I’m no nutritionist, but I’m guessing there was a lot more beta carotene and other “good for you” compounds in the fresh pumpkin.

So get thee to a Farmers’ Market and buy some sugar pumpkins. The one I used made the perfect amount of puree for pie (you need about 2 cups of puree for a 9 inch pie). I didn’t measure it but it looked to be about an average size based on what I’ve seen for sale. Ask your farmer, I’m sure she can tell you which size to get. Or better yet, buy two and make pumpkin muffins, or pumpkin bread with the extra. The puree also freezes very well, so don’t worry if you have too much.

Fresh Pumpkin Puree

Makes about 2 cups of pumpkin puree

1 medium sized sugar pumpkin (also called a pie pumpkin)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise and remove the stem. Scoop out the “guts,” saving the seeds if you wish for roasting later. Place the pumpkin halves on a lightly oiled baking sheet, cut side up, and bake until the pumpkin begins to collapse in on itself and the flesh is tender (about 90 minutes).

Allow the pumpkin to stand until it is cool enough to handle easily (about 15 minutes). Then scoop the flesh out of the skin and puree in a food processor until smooth. If your puree seems a little watery (mine wasn’t at all, but pumpkins can vary), line a strainer with cheese cloth and set it over a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it to drain overnight in the fridge. The final puree will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 days and freezes very well.

If you need a pie recipe, try this one from Simply Recipes, it turned out very well and I especially liked the addition of cardamom to the spice mixture.

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Photo by Flickr user midiman

Ah yes, the traditional Thanksgiving menu; let’s assemble the parade of protein and starch shall we? Turkey (of course!) with some kind of stuffing usually involving bread; mashed potatoes, or a creamy, cheesy, potato gratin; sweet potatoes, (no, they are not yams!) with or without marshmallows, as you like; maybe some preparation of turnips or squash; cranberry sauce, wobbly or not; and some luscious pumpkin pie. See what I mean? Not too much in the way of green vegetables.

To prevent holiday scurvy in our house we try to provide at least one green vegetable every year. One big hit from the past, which I may make again this year, is a Warm Salad of Autumn Greens with Plum Vinaigrette from Fine Cooking Issue Number 29, November 1998 (yes, I am a long time subscriber). It combines slightly wilted spinach, swiss chard (or kale) and frisée (or escarole) with toasted hazelnuts and a dressing made from plum preserves and Champagne vinegar. Besides being good for you (your digestion will thank you in the morning), the greens and the fruity, sharp vinaigrette make a nice palate cleanser between helpings of those heavier dishes. Hey look, here’s the recipe on the Fine Cooking website.

Another wonderful green option is brussels sprouts. I know some people claim not to like them, but try out the recipe below and see if they still protest. I was recently shopping at my local farmers’ market with a friend and saw sprouts still on the stalk, looking like some kind of weird modern art. In the finest market tradition, my friend rattled off this ridiculously simple recipe which I tried that very night. My husband, who is agnostic, but wary, when it comes to brussels sprouts, loved them; I swear we ate a pound between us.

Their little tiny leaves get a bit charred and crunchy, giving them some sweetness which balances perfectly with the balsamic vinegar. Trust me, those sprout haters will be asking for this recipe as you send them out into the night full of protein, starch, and a few green veggies.

Brussels Sprouts for People Who Think They Don’t Like Them

If you can’t find brussels sprouts still on the stalk, look for firm, dark green ones with no yellow leaves.

Serves 4

1 pound brussels sprouts
olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven 350 F.

Pour a liberal amount of olive oil into a large sheet pan or baking dish. Slice your sprouts in half and put them cut face down in one layer in the pan. Moisten the tops of the sprouts with a little more oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for about 45 minutes or until they’re starting to turn a little black (really!). Put them in a serving dish and toss with some good balsamic vinegar.

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I was going to title this article “Friday Night Cleaning Out the Fridge Dinner.” But somehow the image of cleaning out the fridge leads to unfortunate thoughts of fruits and vegetables past their time and even mold. Not very appetizing really. So I started thinking like a restaurateur or a marketer. Friday Night Pre-Market Dinner sounds a lot more appealing; almost like a special prix fixe dinner menu.

We’re lucky to live near a very robust, weekly farmers’ market that includes milk, meat, eggs, vegetables, fish, and even mushrooms. We try very hard to buy most of our food there every week, only supplementing with staples like flour, olive oil, and chocolate from the supermarket. In winter of course this becomes more difficult, but you’d be surprised the things you can do with turnips and rutabagas (that’s swedes to those reading from across the pond).

Since the market is on Saturday, in our house it makes sense to use things up by Friday, making room for all the new things we are invariably tempted by at the market. This week, I had the following ingredients to work with on Friday evening: some slightly sad sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, and a lovely bunch of rainbow chard that looked as crisp and fresh as the day we bought it. I feel this is one of the advantages of buying local food. It’s a lot fresher when you buy it and it lasts a lot longer.

I tossed the potatoes (both kinds) in olive oil and some herbs de provence and put them in the oven to roast. These are my go to herbs when I’m in a hurry, or not sure what to use. They go with everything!

Somehow, in my mind, chard is associated with raisins, so I put some in a small dish and poured sherry over them, leaving them to soak. I had some lovely farro in the pantry from Cayuga Pure Organics, so I put that on to simmer in a pot with some homemade chicken stock I grabbed out of the freezer. Speaking of the freezer, did you know that it is the best place to store your pine nuts? They keep for a long time and don’t go rancid. I pulled them out as well and toasted a nice big handful in a dry skillet.

While the farro bubbled away, I cut the big stems and veins out of the chard and tore the leaves into bite sized pieces. Once the veggies were basically roasted and the farro was almost cooked (about 30 to 40 minutes) I threw the chard in with the farro which still had a tiny bit of liquid left and stirred it about until the greens were nicely wilted. Along the way I also drained and tossed in the sherry soaked raisins. Overall, I think it was quite successful, the chewy farro made a nice hearty base for the dish and each bite was full of little surprises, especially those sherry-soaked raisins.

What are your favorite “pre-market” recipes?

Roasted Autumn Vegetables with Farro and Rainbow Chard

Serves 2

1½ tablespoon of golden raisins
dry sherry
2 potatoes
2 sweet potatoes
olive oil
1 tablespoon herbs de provence
1 cup farro
1½ cups homemade chicken stock or low sodium canned stock
freshly ground black pepper
1½ tablespoons pine nuts

Put the golden raisins in a small dish and cover with sherry.

Peel and cube both kinds of potatoes. Put them in a baking dish and toss with olive oil and the herbs de provence, then sprinkle liberally with salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast the vegetables in a 350F oven for 30-40 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, bring the chicken stock to a boil in a saucepan and add the farro. Simmer partially covered until almost done (about 30 minutes).

While the farro is cooking, toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet until fragrant and slightly brown. Pay careful attention as they can burn very easily.

If necessary, cut the big stems and veins out of your chard and tear it into bite sized pieces. Once the farro is done, drain the golden raisins and add them to the pot. Next, add the chard and stir until wilted (about 5-7 minutes). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, make a bed of the farro, chard and raisins on the plate, put the roasted veggies on top and sprinkle with toasted pine nuts. A drizzle of olive oil completes the look.

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Soft boiled eggs are oddly comforting and yet luxurious at the same time. Maybe it’s because I’ve most often encountered them while staying in a cozy bed and breakfast somewhere in Europe, run by a kind grandmotherly type. Who can resist the lady in the frilly apron asking, “would you like more toast dear?”

Recently I ran across this wonderful collection of genuine traditional Irish recipes (no green food coloring here!) which of course included soft boiled eggs. It got me thinking that I should try making this time honored breakfast at home.

How could I have waited so long? This is one of the easiest breakfasts I’ve ever made. No messy pans to clean up, and it takes a total of about 5 minutes! Better yet, the fact that the egg is still in it’s shell when served forces you to eat slowly, giving your stomach a chance to tell your brain that it is full. Surprisingly, one egg and one slice of buttered toast is very satisfying and sticks with me right through to lunch at the cost of only about 198 calories.

I know many people worry about the risk on contracting Salmonella from raw or undercooked (i.e. soft boiled) eggs. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 1 in every 10,000 eggs may be contaminated with Salmonella and that 1 in every 50 “average consumers” could be exposed to a contaminated egg each year.

I think the best way to combat this is by not being an “average consumer.” Before factory farming, Salmonella was not a wide spread problem in this country. If you buy your eggs from farmers who raise their chickens the way your great-grandmother did, you will significantly lower your risk of being exposed to Salmonella.

I buy eggs from Tello’s Green Farm stand at at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket in Brooklyn. Not only are these chickens organic, they have no cages whatsoever, roaming around the Tello’s 5 acres in Red Hook, NY scratching for grubs and taking baths in the dust, just as my great-grandmother’s chickens did (yes, my great-grandmother, really did raise chickens). Not only do I feel more comfortable soft boiling these eggs, they also taste fantastic, with bright orange yolks indicating their freshness.

There is one other danger associated with soft boiled eggs. If you’re not careful you might become an inveterate egg cup collector. For more information see the Ultimate Egg Cup Resources Guide

A Soft Boiled Egg with Toast “Soldiers”

1 large egg at room temperature
1 slice of bread
soft butter

Fill a small sauce pan half full of water and bring it to a gentle boil. Use a spoon to lower your egg carefully into the water so it doesn’t hit the bottom and crack. Boil your egg for 4 to 6 minutes depending on your taste. At 4 minutes the whites are opaque but still soft and the yolk is very runny whereas at 6 minutes the whites are all solid and the yolk is a bit runny.

Put your bread on to toast now so it will be done at about the same time as your egg. When your bread is toasted slather it nicely with butter and cut it into long narrow strips that you can dunk into the top of your soft boiled egg. These are your “soldiers.”

When the egg is finished use a spoon to remove it from the pot and gently dunk it in some cold water (or run it under the tap) to stop the cooking. Transfer it to an egg cup and serve with salt. If you don’t have an egg cup, espresso cups do quite nicely (see photo above).

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For almost a hundred years admen (and yes, they have mostly been men) have been telling us, “cooking is hard; let’s go shopping.” In particular, they want us to shop for processed foods like cake mix and canned chicken stock. But is it really that hard to make these, and other things at home, the way our great-grandmothers did? I intend to find out.

Today begins a new occasional series here on Comestibles called, “Is Slow Food Really Slow?” in which I examine the hypothesis that some of the processes many modern home cooks have declared too time consuming, like baking a cake from scratch or making chicken stock at home, are a lot easier than the admen would have us believe. We’ll begin with the staff of life: bread.

If you can answer your email, write the latest report required by your boss, and talk on the phone with a client, all while tweeting with your best friend about where to meet after work, then you can bake bread at home. Your great-grandmother knew that it was all about multi-tasking and she didn’t even have the Internet.

The amount of active time in the kitchen needed to bake bread, without using any fancy equipment, is about thirty minutes. Yes, you read that right, thirty minutes. I timed it myself, just the other day. It’s all the waiting time in between that scares everyone (the total time is about four hours), but this is where you pull out your mad multi-tasking skills.

The process of baking bread can be divided into seven distinct segments, but you only have to be in the kitchen for three of them. This leaves you with several periods during which you can do other things. You can even leave the house if you’re careful about it. Here is how the time breaks out (I have colored the active parts green, for the rest, you can be out of the kitchen):

Measure and mix the ingredients: 10 minutes
Short rest: 10 minutes
Knead: 10 minutes
First Rise: 90 minutes
Punch down and shape: 10 minutes
Second Rise: 45 minutes
Bake: 45-50 minutes

There is really only one danger faced by the multi-taking baker: over-proofing your dough. If you choose to leave the house during that 90 minute first rise, be sure to return on time. If you allow your dough to rise too long, the yeast can become exhausted and the strands of gluten can break. This will result in door stops instead of loaves.

Also, if an unforeseen disaster strikes, forcing you to abandon your bread making, you can shove the dough in the fridge to slow it down and pick up later where you left off. Once you’ve baked bread at home a few times, the fear will leave you and you’ll realize that it is not nearly as persnickety as we have been led to believe.

Home Baked Bread

Adapted from Marion Cunningham

Makes two 8½ x 4½ x 2½-inch loaves

If you haven’t done this before, here’s a nice video demonstration of how to knead bread.

1 package active dry yeast (or 2¼ teaspoons)
2½ cups warm water
2½ teaspoons salt
5½ to 6 cups all-purpose flour

Stir the yeast into the warm water in a large bowl and let stand for a minute. Add the salt and 4½ cups of the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined. Add a little more flour if needed for the dough to come together into a mass that can be kneaded. Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured work surface, knead it for 1 minute and then let it rest for 10 minutes.

After resting, knead the dough for about 10 minutes sprinkling flour on it, and the work surface to prevent it from being too sticky. Stop kneading when the consistency of the dough changes and and it becomes smooth and elastic. Grease a large bowl with butter, put the dough in it, turning it to coat it slightly with the butter, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until double in size (about 90 minutes).

You’ll know the dough has finished rising when you poke it with your finger and it holds the depression and doesn’t bounce back. At this point, punch down the dough and divide it in half. Shape the pieces into loaves by stretching gently down and around the sides and forming a seam at the bottom. Place each loaf, seam side down, in a greased loaf pan. Cover the pans with a dishtowel and put them in a warm place to rise again, until the dough is double in bulk (about 45 minutes). Bake the loaves in a 350F oven for 45-50 minutes, or until the crust is well browned. Remove from the loaf pans and turn out on racks to cool.

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