While I am comfortable trying out most recipes in the kitchen, I do have one phobia: baking bread. I have had too many bad experiences with leaden dough to venture to make my own bread. I feel like I don’t have the right hands. But it’s a skill I vow to keep working on. This recipe, for a very simple coconut milk-based bread, is a good place to start. You don’t need to have any fancy machinery or worry about the freshness of your yeast, and you’re likely to have the ingredients in your pantry. It’s also one of the food items my husband feels most nostalgic about from his childhood in Trinidad. Ahmoo, his sister’s mother-in-law and a legendary cook, would make this often, with coconut milk she had grated herself from fresh coconuts, and the results would be ethereal. The name “bake” is quite flexible—in fact, many of the versions people eat in Trinidad and the rest of the Caribbean involve fried dough, rather than baking it, which can be confusing to the unaccustomed. The result is a focaccia or ciabatta- like bread is used for sandwiches—often with buljol (saltfish) or smoked herring. Here’s my recipe for buljol.
And for a lively tale of bake and more on another Caribbean island, St. Vincent, read Francis Lam’s article in Afar‘s May 2013 issue. The Trinidadian couple he mentions (thankfully anonymously) is my husband and yours truly!
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Coconut Bake (adapted from Candi Cooks)
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
4 Tbsp margarine (butter may be substituted but would not be authentic)
¾ cup coconut milk
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Sift together dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl.
3. Work in margarine with your fingertips until crumbly.
4. Add coconut milk, first stirring with a spoon and then your hands to form dough into a smooth ball. Depending on your kitchen’s humidity, you may need more coconut milk or more flour; add a tiny bit at a time. Allow dough to rest for 30 minutes, covered with a damp cloth.
5. After dough has rested, roll out onto a floured surface to a 1 inch thick circle. Transfer onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes, until golden.
6. Bake be eaten on its own, or split horizontally to make sandwiches with buljol (see link above), smoked herring, or for more familiar flavors, avocado, tomato and onion, ham or eggs.