Baking for Bookworms: Bark Sail Bread from Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News

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It was a little difficult to choose something to make from this book, not because there wasn’t a lot of food mentioned (there was and a lot of it was intriguing), but because many of the ingredients are harder to come by in my land-locked state (as in, tons of seafood). Since Paul and I are trying to stay away from too much fish due to over-fishing issues and things (not to mention mercury issues…), I tried to find something that I could make without too much difficulty. Luckily, one of the characters in the book is quite the baker, and so I thought I’d try my hand at a traditional Newfoundland bread called bark sail bread. Despite the strange name, there is nothing tree-like about this bread. Instead, the name just signifies that the bread has molasses and raisins in it.

The passage from the book is forthcoming. I recently made a trip out to my parents and in a genius move guaranteed to win me several coveted prizes, I left my charger cord, which means I don’t have access to any of the book passages I’ve collected. But it should be up by tomorrow–the cord is coming!

The food in the book tells the story of assimilation into a new place. At first all the food seems strange and foreign, but soon the book’s characters eat the foods they once considered strange without comment and with enjoyment. Food becomes one of the many signs Proulx employs to relate how the protagonist, Quoyle, begins to fit into his new home.

Bark sail bread takes quite a bit of time to make because the molasses makes the rising process slower, but it’s worth the wait, and it’s perfect for a day you’re sticking around at home and don’t have too much to do (though there’s plenty of time to get things done while the dough rises).

This recipe is slightly adapted from Rock Recipes. It will make two loaves of bread in loaf pans or one giant thing of awesome breadness if you’re like me and you can’t for the life of you figure out where your loaf pans have run off to. You can bake this in an 8×8 pan, but see the adapted baking instructions.

Bark Sail Bread

  • 1/2 cup warm, but not hot water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 packet yeast
  • 4-5 cups flour (divided, might be more or less depending on the consistency of your bread)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup molasses plus one tablespoon
  • 1/2 cup warm milk
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1/2 cup raisins (feel free to add more–up to 1 cup)


Mix the sugar with the warm water and pour yeast packet on top. Let sit for ten minutes until nice and frothy. If your yeast doesn’t froth, it might be too old, and you’ll want to get new yeast before adding the mixture to the rest of the ingredients.

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer add: 2 cups flour, salt, molasses, warm milk, melted butter, and the beaten egg. When the yeast is ready, add it in, and slowly beat the ingredients (with a spoon, or if in the mixer, with the paddle attachment) together for 3-5 minutes, until its smooth and lump-free.

Slowly, 1/2 cup at a time, add in your flour and start kneading in the bowl (with the dough hook now) until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and is no longer sticky. This can take anywhere from 2-3 cups of flour. Add in your raisins and knead until fully incorporated. Continue to knead on a lightly floured surface for an additional 10 minutes (or 7-10 minutes in the stand mixer).

Place dough in a bowl, lightly cover, and let rise for one hour.

Punch down dough and knead for 3-5 more minutes. Divide into four balls. Grease your pan/s of choice. If using loaf pans, put two of the balls in each pan. If using an 8×8 pan, put all four balls in. Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for 2-3 hours or until the dough is about 2 inches over the side of the pan.

When the loaves have risen, bake them at 350 (340 for 8×8) for 35-45 minutes (or 45-60 minutes) until cooked through and golden. You can brush the tops with melted butter if you like. Let cool completely before cutting and serving.


Do you have any family recipes with strange names? Let me know in the comments. Also, if you have any books you’d like to see on Baking for Bookworms, put those in the comments too. And if you decide to make this bread, let me know how you get on.




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