June 16, 2012 § 21 Comments
While at my mom’s high school reunion last weekend, it was fascinating comparing my mom’s prep school years with my own high school experience. Some things were vastly different; I never had compulsory chapel and I never trudged across a quad (dubbed Siberia, though it’s flat so no one went across it uphill both ways!) in the snow at 20 below.
Another stark difference? The food, of course: judging by the recipes in The Northfield Cookbook, it appears the Northfield students ate well, enjoying such deliciousness as maple syrup fudge, fluffy Northfield rolls, and of course, one of my mom’s favorites, Bishop’s bread for breakfast.
I think my high school would be hard-pressed to even come up with enough recipes to fill a cookbook; about the only “dish” I can think of is French fries we drowned in Old Bay, which, while unbelievably satisfying, does not exactly require a written recipe.
But back to the Bishop’s bread!
From what I could find about the history of the school and its founder, I was unable to ascertain why it’s called Bishop’s bread when it is really more of a cake in my opinion, thanks to its very tender crumb. However, what is known is that it is quite an old recipe, as it was submitted to the cookbook by a member of the class of 1928, Helen Gould Benney.
In the recipe footer she declares that Bishop’s bread is so good, the seniors were willing to forgo the privilege of “sleeping over” (sleeping in) to get some. Judging by the smell alone while it is baking, I can see why generations of students dragged themselves out of bed for a slice!
The cake is rich with molasses-y depth from its main ingredient, dark brown sugar, which also colors it a magnificent tawny brown, and a hint of cinnamon accents the sweetness with a bit of warmth. While Bishop’s bread is a simple cake owing to its provenance in school dormitory kitchens, with its dusting of brown sugar crumb topping, I think it’s a cake suitable not just for breakfast but also for dessert, especially when served with fresh seasonal fruit.
Adapted from The Northfield Cookbook
Makes 16 slices
- Two and a half cups (320 grams) sifted all-purpose flour
- Two cups (400 grams) dark brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- One and a half teaspoons cinnamon, plus a bit extra for dusting over top
- 1/2 cup (90 grams) shortening
- One teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- One egg, beaten
- 3/4 cup (175 mL) buttermilk or clabbered milk (to make clabbered milk, pour a splash of white vinegar or lemon juice into a measuring cup, top it off with regular milk to the required volume) (or use regular milk, swapping out the 1/2 teaspoon baking soda above for an additional teaspoon of baking powder)
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 degrees Celsius). Grease a nine-inch-square cake pan and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, blend together the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and shortening with a pastry blender or fork; a few lumps here and there are fine. Reserve 3/4 of a cup of the brown sugar-flour-shortening mixture, preferably without any lumps, for topping the cake later.
3. Add the baking powder, baking soda if needed (if using buttermilk or clabbered milk, you do need it), beaten egg, and buttermilk/clabbered milk (or milk) and beat until the batter is smooth. Pour batter into the greased pan and sprinkle the top with the reserved brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon topping. Sprinkle a bit of extra cinnamon over top too.
4. Bake the case for thirty-five minutes or until a tester comes out clean; do not overbake. Enjoy right away, warm, or later at room temperature. Serve with fresh fruit or whipped cream or custard, if you like.
Note: you can also add in chopped nuts or raisins, but my mom doesn’t recall that ever happening when she was at Northfield.
Gould Benney, Helen. “Bishop’s Bread.” The Northfield Cookbook. Northfield, Massachusetts: The Northfield School Alumnae Association, 1957 (32).