Airy Light Casserole Bread (Oklahoma, 1970s)

Airy Light Casserole Bread is a simple yeast bread that resembles focaccia, but with much less work.  The recipe comes to me by way of Adventures in Food, a community cookbook compiled by my parents’ Oklahoma congregation in the late 1970s.  I’ve never been particularly good with yeast breads, but was intrigued by the unusual ingredient list.  I fully expected to fail the way I’ve failed with yeast breads previously.  Instead I found an idiot-proof yeast bread that turns out perfectly every time.

There were two off-the-wall ingredients that caught my eye:

Whole Dill Seed.    Fresh dill and dried dill weed are widely available and widely used in home cooking.  There’s very little that fresh dill can’t improve.  Dill Seed, on the other hand, took a little more hunting to find.  It’s a gets-stuck-in-your-molars-sized seed with a satisfying crunch and a little bit of a bite.  It functions much like caraway seeds but with a sharper, almost citrusy flavor.  It dominates the final flavor profile of Airy Light Casserole Bread.

Warm Cream-Style Cottage Cheese.    Not an ingredient you see called for very often, and certainly not in a bread recipe.  The “warm” makes sense because it keeps the yeast at optimum temperature, although it’s still not obvious to me what role it plays in the final product.  At the end of the cook there’s no trace of curds or cheese or even a particularly milky flavor.   Whether it contributes to the Airy in Airy Light Casserole Bread is unclear.

The other little historical oddity is that the recipe calls for “cream-style cottage cheese” which, these days, is more or less the only kind of cottage cheese you can find.  The “other kind” of cottage cheese is dry curd cottage cheese, which I can still find from time to time at one of my local grocery stores.  (The dairy that produces it doesn’t even list it as a product on their website).  I bought it once and couldn’t figure out what to do with it, aside from mixing with canned fruit.  For twenty-first century cooks it is presumably a niche item. 

The other big selling point for this recipe (for me) is that it only requires a hand mixer.  No kneading.  No dough hook.   No worrying about whether your dough is overworked or underworked.  This is a low labor, high reward recipe.

Airy Light Casserole Bread lives up to its name:  the end product light, airy, pillowy goodness.   The bread itself doesn’t have much flavor so the herbs come through loud and clear.   If dill seed is hard to find (or just not your thing) there are any number of fresh herbs that would work in its place:  rosemary, whole cumin seeds, or minced garlic would all be excellent alternatives.   Add a little bit of melted butter and salt before serving.  Enjoy!

Airy Light Casserole Bread (Oklahoma, 1970s)

  • Preparation: 15 min
  • Cooking: 40 min
  • Ready in: 2 h 55 min

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Mix the yeast, sugar, and warm water and let stand for 10-15 minutes. If your yeast is fresh and alive you should see bubbles or foam emerging from the liquid.
  2. Add the yeast mixture to a mixing bowl. Add all other ingredients except for the flour and mix with a hand mixer on medium speed until blended.
  3. Add the flour a half cup at a time and continue to mix with the hand mixer until a stiff dough forms. Cover and set aside in a warm place for 1-2 hours.
  4. After the dough has risen, punch down the dough and transfer to a greased 8 inch round cake pan or - ideally - a buttered 8-10 inch cast iron skillet. Spread the down out to fill the pan like you would with a pizza crust. Cover and set aside for 30-40 minutes.
  5. Bake in a 350 F oven for 25-35 minutes until lightly browned on top and a toothpick in the center comes out clean

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