“Will the Real Kelley Bread Please Rise?”

Kelley Bread

A loaf of Kelley Bread in this family is gold. The original recipe rests with Ellen Marie Bates Kelley (“Nana”), married to the Hon. Augustine B. “Gus” Kelley, congressman from Pennsylvania. They settled in Bethesda, Maryland, and together they had nine children and 66 grandchildren. I am married to one of their grandsons, Bill. Early in our marriage I learned about Kelley bread.

Not every Kelley descendent makes the bread. But those who do are lauded for their efforts. The recipe varies and so does its name. The whole wheat bread is known as Kelley Bread, Nana’s Bread, Whole Wheat Bread, St. Vincent’s Bread, Mother’s Bread, or Ella’s Bread. Several of the recipes use bacon grease for the shortening element. The phrase, “Will the real Kelley bread please rise” is taken from the chapter on Kelley Bread in the Kelley Cookbook. Even the Kelleys can’t agree on the exact formula, but they all agree this bread is an essential ingredient of being part of the ever-expanding Kelley Family.

The Kelley Bread Workshop

One of the cousins, Danny Kelley — that’s Aunt Terry and Uncle Regis’ boy — claims that he has the original recipe. In fact, Nana typed it for him. He even notes that the “1” on her typewriter was broken so she had to use the letter “I” instead.

He’s been using Nana’s recipe for the basis of his own version of Kelley Bread. His goal is to make it healthier and has substituted canola oil for the bacon grease. He said they used bacon grease back then “because they had it.” Some Kelley’s will debate that the bacon grease gives it flavor and is what gives it authenticity. I say, no matter the recipe, the bread is gold.

Danny (or Dan) held a bread-baking workshop in his home last Saturday for those of us who wanted to know how to bake bread.

Dan’s Students

Sridevi, Dan and Luciana enjoy some coffee and Kelley Bread before we start the lesson.

Luciana came because she wanted to see how bread is made. From Brazil, Luciana loves to cook and loves to try food from different regions of the world. She says the more you travel the more open you become to different flavors. She and her husband have a four-year-old son and they enjoy food together. Luciana is a certified Professional Food Manager and has a bachelor’s degree in marketing, but she is looking to re-invent herself as a real estate broker.

She talked about Brazilian coffee and the “cheese buns” she makes. I want to taste those!

Sridevi is Luciana’s friend who is studying to become a dentist. She came because she is also interested in bread baking. She is an accomplished cook of her native Indian cuisine. She described the elaborate meals and told me about the banana cake she made for her brother’s birthday which they were celebrating that day. I want the recipe for that cake!

Me. I want to learn how to make Kelley bread. After all, I am a Kelley now. But I admit I am also intimidated by yeast.

Dan generously dedicated his Saturday morning to teaching us how to make bread. Before you actually bake bread it is worth a tutorial from Dan. Here are some general notes and suggestions about bread baking that will help you with any recipe you attempt.

Lesson One: Yeast

He strongly advises not to buy the packets of yeast from the grocery store. They are massed produced and he wonders how tightly controlled the expiration dates could really be. He suspects that is why when you use this packet yeast you have to leave the dough in a warm place to rise.

“The best bread is when you can leave the dough to rise in the refrigerator for 24 hours,” he says. “You’re taking your chances with those packets you buy in the grocery store.”

He recommends “saf-instant” brand yeast from Breadtopia.com. He calls it “high octane yeast.” It’s as fresh as fresh can be. He said if the yeast is good you don’t have to leave the bread in a warm place to rise. (He proved this.)

One yeast packet = one rounded teaspoon of saf-instant yeast.

Most Important Step: The Starter

The yeast is temperamental though. He mixes the yeast with lukewarm water in a big pan (to activate the yeast), stirs in sugar until dissolved then waits 10 minutes. Then he adds only a portion of the flour (4 cups or so), the oil, and water, covers it with a cloth, and lets it sit for one-half hour.

He calls this the “starter.” If this successfully rises in one-half hour, he can continue with the rest of the ingredients. If not, you haven’t wasted a ton of ingredients. “You just throw it away and start again,” he says cavalierly.

Dan said, “The starter will double in size, look like thick porridge, and have bubbles. That is how you know your starter has worked. Then and only then can you add the salt because the salt will kill yeast.” (Sridevi shook her head in agreement at this statement). Remember, the dough must be “started” in order to add the salt.

Put some flour on the counter, take the dough, add about 1-1/2 cups of flour and salt and “knead it down.” Put it back in the big mixing pan and spray it with a mister of water (his special touch to keep the bread from drying out or something like that). “Put a cloth on it, park it and let it rise two to three hours or as long as it takes the dough to get to the top of the pot. The more it rises on its own, the better it will be. The kneading and the rising have to do with the gluten factor of which he can describe in scientific detail if you ask him.

Kelley Bread on the rise.

After that, he kneads it down again, sections it off into loaf pans and lets it rise again. He advises not rushing this process, let it rise really big (about four to five hours). “The first time I made bread, I wasn’t patient and didn’t have a good result,” he says.

Before baking, brush the bread with an egg wash for a nice shine.

Not an Exact Science…Oh Really?

Dan is an expert at baking bread. No fancy bread machines, no colorful implements —  just a man, a white kitchen, his pans, and his hands. He doesn’t follow a recipe. He asked us, “Do you want to put some honey in this? If so, how much?” Dark brown sugar maybe? He continued with no measuring cups or spoons looking to us to give him our preferences. “More salt?”

We were awed by Dan’s confidence, but disturbed. Luciana and I thought baking was more of an exact science, unlike cooking where you can improvise and adjust. He disputed that; however, we felt that we need a recipe to follow and could in no way go home and replicate what he was showing us. He suggested going back to Nana’s recipe on his typewritten copy.

The Result

Some say Kelley bread is best enjoyed toasted. We all enjoyed our breakfast of coffee, Kelley bread (some already baked for us!), butter and jam before we got started on the lesson. Luciana and Sridevi ate theirs toasted. I ate it not toasted – soft in the middle with a crunchy crust. It makes great grilled cheese too. At home, when we are lucky enough to come by a loaf, we put cream cheese and a slice of salami on a piece of the toast.

Dan says that Nana made it to soak up all the soup she made to fill the stomachs of nine hungry kids.

Closing Remarks

I’m going to bake Kelley Bread. I can do it because Dan took us beyond the recipe with tips that wouldn’t be written in any recipe. He also showed us how which burns the lesson in my brain. I will try until I get it right so I no longer have to be dependent on my sister-in-law, Monica, or Cousin Dan for Kelley Bread. I’m now a big fan of Breadtopia.com. I feel that with the Internet, Dan, and the Kelley Cookbook, I can do this.

I also made two new friends, Luciana and Sridevi. Yes, we chatted a lot and Dan had to almost put us in detention for talking too much in class; however, he was a tolerant and spirited teacher and sent us all home with a freshly-baked loaf of Kelley Bread. He also supplied us with the requisite teasing and comic relief which left us all laughing.

Better yet, Dan said when we make the bread he will either come by and supervise or be ready for phone calls.

Thanks, Dan. You showed true Kelley Hospitality! (It’s genetic!)

Kelley Bread — Nana’s Recipe

(With this recipe in mind, remember Dan’s approach — alter as you wish and refer to his notes above.)

  • 6 cups lukewarm water
  • 2 packs of dry yeast (Dan recommends the saf-instant yeast. 1 packet of yeast = one rounded teaspoon of saf-instant yeast)
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1-1/2 Tablespoons salt
  • 1/2 cup soft Crisco or soft bacon grease
  • 1-1/2 whole wheat flour
  • 13 cups white flour

*Editor’s note: Monica Kelley Dean (my sister-in-law) jabs her bread with a fork like her dad did. I distinctly remember fork marks in her loaves. I vow to uphold the tradition of the fork jab as was directed in my father-in-law’s (Richard B. Kelley) recipe.

What Kitchen Implement Can’t You Live Without?

Me First

My sister always said, “Never take off your wedding ring, except to make meatloaf.”

I say, “Never take off your wedding ring even when you make meat loaf.”

My favorite kitchen implement is a pair of matching hands. Maybe they technically don’t count, but they have served me well all these years in all my kitchens.

Yes, these are my hands, mixing ground beef to make my Bleu Burgers (recipe later).

You’re Next

We all have one (or two) things – pan, knives, lemon reamer, martini shaker – whatever – that we could not imagine our kitchen being without. I want to know what yours is. Be one of the first three people to respond and you will receive something from me from Williams-Sonoma – my all-time, favorite place in the world to get all-things kitchen. You will also get the latest issue of Kelley Hospitality Magazine.

Respond in the comment section so you share your answer with all of us. Tell us what and why. Then e-mail me your address and I will send you the prizes. E-mail me at bagkelley@gmail.com.

I look forward to your answers.

Babs’ Bleu Burgers

My favorite combination of beef and cheese. You can substitute mozzarella, feta or Boursin, but then they wouldn’t be Babs’ Bleu Burgers now would they?

  • 2 pounds ground beef (I use lean)
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/2 pound crumbled bleu cheese

Using your hands, mix all ingredients except for the cheese and shape into four patties. They will be thick.

Using your hands, make a little indentation in the center of each patty and fill with cheese. Cover the hole with meat.

Grill, broil, or cook in a pan to your liking. Serve in buns.

Using your hands, pick up and eat.

Hint: Try Maytag Dairy Farm Blue Cheese! I buy it fresh from their farm in Iowa.

Birocco’s Bagna Càuda

Photo © Cass Birocco

The title of this blog is Italian for Birocco’s Bugna Càuda — a tasty wintertime Italian “fondue.” Gather round the table to dip and you have a party.

First, A Story

I met Cassandra Birocco on the nap-time rug in kindergarten in Clarion, Pennsylvania. We went to the “Training School” – a program of Clarion State College where student teachers got their classroom experience. Translation: we were guinea pigs.

I knew something was awry on the first day of school when I brought my brand-new, rolled-up-in-plastic, 3 feet x 5 feet, lavender, furry rug for nap time and handed it to Miss Boyle. She tried to fit it in my assigned 12-inch x 12-inch x 12-inch cubby. She looked at me and said, “It won’t fit.” I meekly suggested that if we took it out of the plastic and folded it, that it would fit. It hadn’t dawned on her. Thus began my career in advising people how to do things.

Cass and I became fast friends. I remember that her mom would send the best treat to school for her birthday – little chocolate cakes baked in cake cones, frosted with chocolate frosting with three brown M&M’s on top. We moved on to first grade together to another school – Immaculate Conception Catholic Grade School – where I enjoyed those birthday cakes for years to come.

Cass was the third child and only girl to Joe and Evelyn Birocco and, rightly so, she was doted on and loved. She was cute with dimples, wore stylish clothes and had long hair that was styled into one long, awesome braid down her back accented with a bow at the end. The Birocco’s lived on Main Street in a big old house and going to her house was a treat in itself. Cass had her own room with her own bathroom and it was decorated like nothing I had ever seen before. She also played a baby grand piano starting at age five. I begged her to play each time I visited. I sat on the bench, sang, and turned her pages.

Better yet, her house was right next to Immaculate Conception Grade School where we spent the next eight years together. This meant I could go to her house nearly every day after school. Cass was (and is) artistic, creative, musical, and introspective. Back then, they called it shy. I, on the other hand, was outgoing, chatty and loved a good prank. We made a good pair. Going to her house was a great escape from my house where I was the middle child of five who sometimes got lost in the chaos of a big family. Here, Cass was the princess and I her adoring subject.

Welcome to the Birocco’s

I vividly remember the summer day when Cass’s mom made lunch for us and served it to us on a card table for two on the lawn with a white linen tablecloth and napkins. Never had I enjoyed a ham on white and a glass of milk so much!

A typical day after school at her house was to first work on our homework. I helped her with sentence diagrams and she helped me with my art projects or any project that required artistic skills. I was inept and she was happy to practically do them for me. Cass never met an art project she didn’t like.

School days together.

By 5:30 p.m. her dad would come home and settle in the living room to watch NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley Report with a libation of some sort. Her mom and their neighbor, Olga, and sometimes her grandmother, would gather in the kitchen with a cocktail and some munchies and chat about everything (especially if Evelyn had gone to the beauty parlor that day). An early hospitality lesson: Joe in the living room, the hens in the kitchen, the little chicks with big ears (Cass and I), munching along with our glasses of milk sitting with the ladies.

One Special Italian Treat

If I was lucky I would be at their house when they had an Italian dish called Bagna Càuda. The dish was reserved for special occasions but sometimes I would have the leftovers with Cass. Or, if it was Autumn Leaf Festival time, a fall week-long event in Clarion, they would make it. We would eat the warm oil dip when we returned frozen-to-the bone from riding the carnival rides all day on Dollar Day. This dish was foreign to me, but oh so good. Cass poured us tall glasses of ice-cold milk and taught me how to dip the veggies in hot oil. To this day, I have only ever eaten this dish at the Birocco’s. It is embedded in my memory of Birocco hospitality.

Bagna Càuda Lives On

Cass and I lost touch. We went our separate ways sometime in high school when our family moved away. It was this blog that really brought us back together. Cass is a photographer and one of her specialties is food photography. Again, a perfect match — she the creative one and me the word girl. She has graciously provided photos for this blog whenever I ask. (Check out her stunning presentation of key limes.) We e-mail back and forth about the old days and about Bagna Càuda. We agreed that this dish has to appear on this blog. So, without further adieu, in Cass’s words, I give you Bagna Càuda.

One final note. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Birocco and Cass. Your warm welcome, your kindness, and your hospitality are embedded in my soul. Mangia!

Memories of Bagna Càuda

By Cass Birocco

I was curious what Wikipedia had to say about Bagna Càuda. Here is what I found:

Bagna Càuda, (from the Piedmontese “hot dip”) alternatively written bagna caôda or bagnacauda, etymologically related to Italian root bagn-, meaning “wet.”

Bagna Càuda is a warm dip typical of Piedmont, Italy, but with numerous local variations. The dish, which is served and consumed in a manner similar to fondue, is made with garlic, anchovies, olive oil, butter, and in some parts of the region, cream. In the past walnut or hazelnut oil would have been used. Sometimes, truffles are used in versions around Alba.

The dish is eaten by dipping raw, boiled or roasted vegetables, especially cardoon, carrot, peppers, fennel, celery, cauliflower, artichokes, and onions. It is traditionally eaten during the autumn and winter months and must be served hot, as the name suggests. It was served in a large pan for communal sharing.

Our Tradition

The Birocco family is from the Piedmont region of Italy. Everyone would come to our house for this Christmas Eve traditional dish. We’d push all the chairs out of the way and stand around the dining table to dip our favorite veggies — cauliflower, cabbage, peppers, celery, green tomatoes — into the hot savory pool. Instead of using a plate, we would hold our catch of oil and veggie over a piece of warm Italian bread to absorb the hot oil. Then we take a bite of the veggie, followed by a bite of the bread, and then rinse it all down with a nice Chianti.

That first bite would always burn the roof of my mouth and serve as a reminder of the season. Ahhhhhhh……MANGIA! Let’s do it again!

Cass (front row, left), celebrates her uncle’s 80th birthday. Back row (center) is her nephew Josh and his wife, Tracy, and their two daughters, Sophia (6) and Luciana (1). Josh (her brother Eric’s son) is a look-a-like of Cass’s father, Joe (in my opinion).

I still make Bagna Càuda. Most people have never eaten it and it is a real treat.

I have an old family recipe that I think rivals anything I have read about, but it’s secret. You’ll just have to come by and try it.


Editor’s Note: Since I posted this several people have asked me for a recipe. Yes, it is unusual for me not to publish a recipe with the blog. However, Cass said it, “Family secret.” However, I found two recipes from sources I trust, Epicurious and the Food Network’s Michael Chiarello. So, march on soldiers and try Bagna Càuda this weekend for a mid-winter treat. I’m going to and see if I can recreate some Birocco memories.

Roscón de Reyes — Celebrating in Spain

Today in Spain they celebrate the eve of the Epiphany. People take to the streets for the parade to welcome the three kings who ride on camels (real!) through the city’s doors. It is party time! The Epiphany is when the three wise men, Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltasar, visit the newborn babe, Jesus, in the stable in Bethlehem.

Cristina Peña Sainz de Aja from Pamplona sends us greetings from Spain with a photo of the customary Roscón de Reyes (roll of kings). She says, “Today, everyone has one of these cakes filled with cream —  and inside there is a little gift.”

On the eve of the Ephiphany the children leave food and drink to welcome the “Magic Kings” who enter through the window (camels parked outside of course). The children must clean their shoes so the kings can leave them gifts. This is much like the Feast of St. Nicholas on December 6 when our son leaves his shoes by his bed to find candy in them when he wakes up. Or like the custom of leaving stockings hung by the chimney for Santa to arrive on Christmas Eve. It is great to share in their celebration through this virtual world.

Read more about Pamplona, Spain, their cusine, and Cristina, guest blogger for Kelley Hospitality.

Thank you Cristina for sharing your celebration with us. Happy Christmas to you and your family!

Letting Go

I know a boy who still wants it to be Christmas. Today’s after-school snack is hot chocolate with gingerbread men marshmallows, mini marshmallows, and tiny chocolate chips in a Christmas mug — remnants of the holidays.

“All good things must come to an end…”

[The quotation is excerpted from Thorton Wilder’s thoughts on the matter. The rest of it is too pessimistic for this blog, thus, the edited version.]

“All that glitters is not gold.”

The popular form of this expression is a corruption of a line in William Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice, which employs a 17th-century synonym for “glitters.” Shakespeare uses “glisters.” But the expression has evolved into “All that glitters is not gold” and we all know what it means.

All that glisters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold:
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.
Had you been as wise as bold,
Young in limbs, in judgement old
Your answer had not been inscroll’d
Fare you well, your suit is cold.

Can you guess where I’m headed here? My cake…my absolutely beautiful cake pictured above. I found a recipe for Praline Cake and thought it would make a special Christmas Eve dessert. I assembled the ingredients which included sour cream and butter — all the makings of a rich, moist cake. I made my own sugared pecans, created the garnish with fresh rosemary sprigs and cranberries, and served it for dessert.

I can’t give you the recipe, but I can share the photo. Why? This dessert was as dry as the Mojave Desert! That happens to all of us. Did it ruin the dinner? The night? Nah…hospitality reigned.

But you have to admit, it sure was a pretty cake.

Click here for the sweet pecans recipe.

Click here to learn how to make the rosemary/cranberry garnish.