Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Bread Making

I raised my family on home made bread. It all started when Rick said to me shortly after our wedding, “Will you make bread like my mother’s bread?” Fortunately, I had enjoyed his mother’s bread several times on visits to the Whitt farm before she died in 1962, and it was outstanding. In a world of Wonder Bread, her bread was firm with just a bit more salt than commercial breads of the day. As the kids were growing up we referred to commercial breads as phony plastic bread.

I had never made breads other than biscuits and muffins, and those accomplishments were due to my home economics teacher when I was in junior high school. Thanks again, Mrs. Robertson. My mother wasn’t a bread maker and I don’t think my grandmothers were, either. So I did the next best thing. I opened the tried and true cookbook given to me by my mother, The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, by Fannie Merritt Farmer, 8th ed., 1948.

I had no photos like the ones in today’s cookbooks, no DVD, no internet baking experts, no real knowledge about bread making. After all, it was the 1960s. What I had were the texture and the taste in my memory as a guide. I had tried to make rye bread once before with disastrous results due to not understanding that yeast requires warmth to do its magic. So I tossed out that failure and started anew.

My bread was a success because my cookbook was a success (also, I could read). The bread chapter presented a tutorial on flours and leavening, liquids and flavors. The recipe for white bread went on for a page and a half. How could I fail? Best of all, it looked and tasted a lot like my mother-in-law’s bread.

My bread was simple, in contrast to the excellent bread that my daughter, Mary, makes and has described in her culinary blog, Mary’s Food Journal. Mary uses more ingredients including powdered buttermilk, which I think had not yet been invented when my cookbook entered the world. Mary’s rising process (the bread rising, not Mary rising) requires a lot of time. She is truly a woman for today. I noticed on her blog that the hands of the person pictured kneading that bread are those of her husband and not Mary, so it is a team effort. Our bread making experiences say a lot about the way we approach food. Our daily bread is our daily life.

Bread making is about process. People who want results without process can buy bread.  My daughter-in-law Sherry uses a bread machine, and that's okay. Results can come in various ways. I think that there is something like this in the Bible. Remember Moses? When the Hebrews were out in the wilderness on their forty year journey away from Egypt, they ate manna, a food that came to them from heaven. Was it bread? Maybe. It was about results, not the process of making the food. And did they complain about it? Did they want pizza? Moses was the complaint department, I think. It’s no wonder he retreated up onto a mountain, where he got the Ten Commandments.  So if we complain about our results-driven diet today, we can think about those Hebrews who were lost in the wilderness and benefiting from the celestial supermarket product of manna.
Here is the wonderful process-driven bread that I made for a lot of years, shortened from the aforementioned page and a half. Today I rarely eat bread, but it is part of the family story. The nutrition part of bread is not part of this essay. You can read about that somewhere else.

White Bread

1 cup scalded milk                              2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup hot water                                   1 package dry yeast
2 tablespoons butter and/or oil              ¼ cup lukewarm water
2 ½ teaspoons salt                              6 cups all purpose flour (approx.)

Mix together milk, hot water, sugar, butter and salt. Cool to lukewarm. Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water and add to liquid mixture. Stir in 3 cups flour and mix thoroughly. Add remaining flour gradually, using just enough to prevent stickiness. Knead it on a floured surface until it is smooth and elastic, about ten minutes. Put the dough into a lightly greased bowl and cover it with a dish towel or some other loose cover. Set it in a warm place to rise until it is double in bulk, about an hour. When it is doubled, punch it down, turning it over and over. Don’t skimp on this or you might cause a yeasty or sour taste.

Divide the dough into parts to equal two or more loaves, depending on desired size. For me this makes two standard size loaves. Knead the pieces and shape them into loaves. I flatten the dough a bit, roll it up and tuck the ends under so that the seams don’t show. Place them into two greased loaf pans (about 9x5 inches). If you are making round or oblong loaves, place them on a greased cookie sheet. Cover them with a dish towel and let them rise again until double in bulk, about an hour. Bake the loaves at 375 degrees 40 to 60 minutes until they are brown and make a thumping noise when you rap on them. Turn them out of the pans immediately.

That’s my bread, without the dissertation about what happens if the dough rises too long or not long enough, the rising temperature is too high or too low, or the oven is too hot. Bread making is an experiment.

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