This recipe came as a wedding gift. It was given to Susan by Mrs. Murray, the wife and mother of the family with whom I lived for a while during professional school. Mrs. Murray was a good baker, but dilly bread was one of her specialties. I asked her for the recipe every time she made it, but she always declined or “forgot.” It was an old family secret, she explained, but when Susan and I were married, she gave Susan an index card with the hand-written recipe inscribed on it. She presented the card with great flourish and the admonition not to pass the instructions along as it was a real family secret. For a few years, Susan honored the request until she was asked to contribute a recipe to a fund-raising collection that was being assembled by the Housestaff Wives’ Club! (Do they even have such a thing these days? And it is probably called Spouses’ Club.) In any event, Susan inadvertently omitted a key instruction about letting the bread dough rise. If one is a baker, one would probably have figured that out, but many in the group of newly- and recently-wed women did not. They accused Susan of intentionally leaving out key instructions. That’s what some home cooks, protecting their prowess and their secrets, did in those days. Susan has never again contributed a recipe to a cookbook project.
I believe that Mrs. Murray’s family recipe may not have been as old as she suggested. The Pillsbury Company sponsored an annual Bake-Off® * which was very popular with home cooks in the 1950s and 1960s. The events were always held in big cities, and the winners took away a lot of prizes including cash, new stoves, and mixers. Leona Schnuelle was declared the Grand Champion at the 1960 Bake-Off® in Washington, D.C., with her recipe, “Dilly Casserole Bread.” The win must have been very exciting for Mrs. Schnuelle who lived on a farm near Crab Orchard, Nebraska, a town of around 40 southeast of Lincoln. In my efforts to track down the dilly bread history, I keep coming back to Mrs. Schnuelle, so I guess she must be considered the inventor of dilly bread. I say that with a little uncertainty because dilly bread has been described as “Amish dill bread”, and there are others who claim invention. All of the claims that I have found come after 1960, so in my opinion Mrs. Schnuelle can still claim inventorship.
This recipe has several differences from the original prize winner. It uses fresh onion instead of dehydrated onion; amounts of ingredients have been doubled; a brief kneading has been added; and loaf pans are used for baking instead of a casserole. You will note that I have included instructions for rising. The cottage cheese may retard rising, so it might take longer than with regular bread. Be careful not to kill the yeast with too-hot water, as I did in one try for the blog. In spite of all these changes, it is basically the same recipe as Mrs. Schnuelle’s, and the end result is the same – tender, delicious, fragrant bread that you might wind up eating at one sitting.
*Pillsbury is trying to resume the event in cooperation with Rhee Drummond and the Food Network. Deadline for entries was November 10.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup finely chopped onion
- 2 envelopes active dry yeast
- ½ cup warm water (105-115°F)
- 2 cups small curd cottage cheese
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons dill seed + some to sprinkle on top before baking
- 2 teaspoons dill weed (If you like, substitute finely chopped fresh dill fronds)
- 2 large eggs
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- melted butter
- Kosher salt
- In a small pan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add the chopped onion and cook slowly until translucent. Do not allow to brown. Set aside to cool.
- In a large bowl, add warm water and sprinkle the yeast. Stir until completely dissolved and let stand for 5 minutes.
- Add the cooked onion, cottage cheese, sugar, salt, baking soda, dill seed, and dill weed. Mix thoroughly. Then stir in the eggs until they are fully incorporated.
- Add the flour, a cup at a time, mixing it thoroughly after each addition. Use a large spoon for mixing at first, but as the dough becomes stiff, use your hands to mix in the flour. When the flour is completely incorporated, knead the dough for about 5 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. If the bowl is large enough, you may knead the dough in it. You can also knead the dough on a floured surface.
- Wash, dry, and oil the mixing bowl. Return the kneaded dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 1 – 2 hours.
- Punch down the risen dough. Divide in half and shape into smooth loaves. Put the loaves in two well-greased 9 inch x 5 inch bread pans. Cover and let rise for the second time in a warm place until doubled in size. The dough should just about reach the edge of the pan. Immediately before putting them in the oven, brush the tops of the loaves with melted butter, and sprinkle with dill seeds and Kosher salt (I use Welsh smoked sea salt – Halen Môn – but any coarse salt will do.)
- Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350°F for about 50 minutes or until the loaves are well browned and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Turn out of the pans and cool on a baking rack.