Delicious Quick Bread Caribbean Coconut Bake

The smell of fresh bread baking is one which has charmed me as far back as I can remember. I am always awed by the way a few ingredients like flour, shortening, yeast or baking powder and salt can be kneaded and can be baked into bread. For thousands of years in so many cultures, bread has been a staple and versatile food. The early Egyptians were probably the first to make bread many millennia ago and since then, so many cultures have followed suite. Breads come in so many shapes, forms and are made by numerous methods. They are cooked in ovens and tandoors, over fire, fried in oil or even steamed. There is so much variety in bread making in cultures the world over.

When flour is mixed with water and left to ferment in warm place for a few days, it begins to turn into a sour yeasty mixture as airborne yeasts begin a natural fermentation process. This becomes the perfect base or starter for sourdough bread; which is a crusty bread with a soft chewy interior and a slightly sour or fermented flavor. Yeast breads are wonderful, but they require a lengthy prep time to achieve the final product.

I like the option of making quick breads as they use baking powder as a raising agent and come together in a briefer time frame. They do not require the lengthy 2 raising periods before baking. In this category are sweet breads such as banana bread and zucchini bread, scones and biscuits. Roti and naan are also quick breads as they can be mixed and cooked after a relatively short resting period of 30 minutes or less.

In the Caribbean, bakes are a familiar and hearty fried bread. In Guyana, I grew up having bakes with salt fish or fried fish quite often. My mother Jenifer is a fantastic bake maker, and I have been using her recipe for years. It is a bit confusing at first to understand that unlike the name depicts, these little breads are not oven baked, but rather fried on the stovetop in hot oil. Fried bakes puff up in the oil and brown beautifully as they cook. A warm bake is a typical Caribbean comfort food.

Fried bakes

Sometime ago I had coconut bakes for the first time at the home of a Trinidadian friend here in Haïti. I was rather surprised that this bread was called a bake as it bore no resemblance to the fried bakes I make frequently. Instead, I discovered that coconut bake was an oven baked bread. It was served with salt fish just like the Guyanese style fried bakes. I was instantly hooked !! It was tender, soft and absolutely delicious. Who knew a bake could actually be baked!!

Since then, I have come up with my recipe for coconut bake. It takes about 90 minutes from start to finish to make this bread. As it uses no yeast, it falls into the category of quick breads. A warm bake is a thing of beauty. The texture is much like a yeast bread and the crust is crisp. Coconut Bake is delicious with salt fish and eggs. They are also very good with jams or jelly, cheese or just simply buttered. This recipe makes 2 small round loaves or 1 large round. I prefer making 2 as I can freeze one for use at another time.

Coconut Bake with salted cod fish buljol and boiled eggs.

The coconut milk is a wonderful binder, and adds a special lusciousness. I always add a bit of the grated coconut fiber into the bread mix, as I enjoy the texture. You can opt not to and it is just as delicious.

Coconut Bake

Makes 2 8-10″ round loaves.

Ingredients

4 cups all purpose flour

3 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

2 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp margarine

2 tbsp shortening like crisco

A bit of fresh grated nutmeg

1 1/2 cups coconut milk

Additional flour for working the dough

Additional margarine for brushing onto bread while baking

Method

In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour and baking powder.

Add salt and sugar and combine with freshly grated nutmeg.

Add the margarine and shortening to the flour mixture. Mix together by rubbing in the fats to the flour until they resemble fine crumbs.

Add coconut milk. If you are making your own coconut milk like I do, add about 3 tablespoons of the coconut fibers as well. If you are using canned coconut milk, you will not be able to add the fibers. Do not use desiccated coconut.

Combine all of the ingredients together. If the dough is very soft, just add a bit more flour and need together to work the dough. Knead for until your dough comes together. As this is not a yeast dough, you do not need to work though dough intensively. It should come together and be slightly elastic and shiny.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and leave for 30 minutes in a warm place. It will rise slightly. Remember this resting period is for a quick bread and for a slight rise. It is not necessary to leave to rise for a lengthy period.

Separate dough into 2 portions. Flour a work surface and form into 2 disks about 1” thick and approximately 10″ in width.

Score the dough In fourths by lightly making a cross. Make 2 other cuts dividing each quarter into eight’s. With a fork, prick the surface liberally.

Repeat the same process with the 2nd loaf. Place both loaves on a silpat at or parchment paper on a large baking sheet.

Heat oven to 375 degrees and bake for about 35 minutes or until golden brown. Once breads are slightly browned, rub margarine or butter on the surface to add a sheen and brown for an additional 5 minutes. Coconut bakes do not usually turn a deep golden brown, so do not over bake trying to attain a dark color. The underside will be lightly golden as well when done.

Remove and serve warm. The coconut bake can be sliced and toasted. Enjoy with practically anything.

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