Tag Archives: bread

bread: part 3

Another special bread, to me and countless others, has been my mother-in-law’s (Susie’s) homemade loaf bread.  The first time I ever came to her house, I was in high school and visiting the Asheville area.  Her daughter, Elizabeth, was my friend and I went to see her.  Elizabeth invited me into the kitchen, cut off a large slice off a fresh loaf of bread and spread it thickly with raspberry jam from a large pot sitting on the stove, before we headed out for a tour of their farm.  I was very impressed that there were four loaves of this home made bread on the counter (and impressed about all that jam!).  Elizabeth said her mother made 6 loaves of bread every other day – to feed, I found out soon, 5 of her own children, 2 high school exchange students, many of the 10+ cousins who came through the house, plus all their friends, and her husband.  This amount of bread – delicious, fresh, homemade bread at that – was almost magical.  And, as I came to know Susie and her bread, I never really changed my mind about it – there was definitely some magic.

Elizabeth and I tried to reproduce her bread when we were in college (even attempting to sell loaves to other home-deprived students).  But, ultimately, our bread lacked something.  Elizabeth would make new suggestions about how to make the bread, based on many observations and conversations with her mother about bread baking.  We finally gave up trying to make Susie’s bread – it just never turned out quite right – edible, yes, but not like hers.  We decided there really must be some magic in Susie’s kitchen that made her bread come out so well (and so much better than ours using the same recipe).  Was it the oven?  Her large, blackened, finicky thing filled with random objects from egg shells to pottery to cookies and bread?  Was it the general fermentation happening in her kitchen at all times?  All those fermenting (some might call it rotting) jars of jam, pickles, leftovers, and who knows what else, scattered over nearly every surface of the kitchen.  Was it her bread pans?  Old, blackened, thick – that she never washed, ever.  Was it the flour?  She claimed she thought it was important to use some pastry flour, but I’ve seen her use any kind of flour on hand and turn out great bread.   Susie was a conjurer – churning out great loaves of some of the best loaves of bread.  However she did it, her bread never lasted long at her house.  Which was good, because those homemade loaves did go stale more quickly than any store bought, less tasty, less textured bread.

Now, I incorporate some of all these bread traditions and some of my own into my cooking.  I make biscuits and cornbread.  I knead dough and form loaves.  I’ve now also made the no-knead bread – which is wonderful and easy but requires planning and time (and I tend to fall short on both).  I also enjoy making tortillas – corn and flour, and occasionally make batch of one or the other to keep the family fed with burritos, quesadillas, and tacos.  Even though we have no Latin roots, the influence is definitely felt and influence has become important (the food is so delicious!).  Will that get passed on to the next generations’ bread traditions?

Anyway, below is a simple recipe for the most basic bread I make a few times a month – a yeast-risen loaf bread.  Do you have any bread traditions or culture in your family?

Simple loaf bread (makes 2)

Mix 1 cup oats with 1 cup hot milk or water.  Let sit for 10 minutes

Add 1 Tablespoon (or 1 package of yeast) and 1 1/2 cups more of water or milk.  Mix and let yeast dissolve.

Add 1/4 cup honey or molasses (or brown sugar) and 3 cups of whole wheat flour.  Mix with a spoon for about a minute.  Let sit for about 30 minutes.

Then, add 1 T salt, 1/4 cup oil or melted butter (and an egg if you want).  Mix in well, then start adding white bread flour until the dough is too hard to mix with a spoon (about 2 more cups).

Turn dough out on counter and start to knead, adding flour as needed.  Knead for 5-10 minutes and shape into a ball.  Put the ball back into your original bowl after you sprinkle flour in the bowl to keep it from sticking.  Put a damp towel over the bread while it rises.

When it has doubled in size, take it out and cut in half and shape each half into a football shape.  Put each shape into greased (or buttered) loaf pans.  Let rise again, with a damp towel over the loaves.  After about 30-45 minutes you can bake the loaves (when they’ve doubled in size again).  I like to slice the tops a little with a serrated knife just before baking.  I bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.  There are a lot ideas about how to know when your bread is done.  I tap the loaves on the bottom to see if they sound hollow, but I also bake until they are golden or browned on the outside.  Susie says she can tell when they are done when she put a loaf to the tip of her nose and it does not burn.

Let cool out of the pan.

We eat lots of toast and sandwiches, so this bread does not last long.  I’m lucky if it lasts a week, but usually, it’s just a few days.

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bread: part 2

Being a good Southerner, cornbread and biscuits played predominate rolls in my culinary upbringing.  My mother made good cornbread and we absolutely loved it with butter and molasses.  So good . . . such a treat.  This is still a treasured supper dish in our house now.  Our children adore cornbread and molasses – finding it as big a treat as I did as a child.

Mom-mom, however, was not a born Southerner, coming from Oregon, but she endeavored to make a pan of cornbread nearly everyday for farm dinners (mid-day meal).  Her cornbread was very different from my mother’s.  Hers was flat and dense and quite sweet – everything my mother’s wasn’t.  You didn’t put molasses on that flat bread, just butter.  I don’t know where she learned how to make it like that, and I’ve never seen cornbread like it anywhere else.  But, it was good.  And, my grandfather liked it – and that was all that really mattered.

We were not a strong biscuit family.  Sure, we ate biscuits, made good ones and liked them, but I don’t recall anything special about them – no important techniques, recipes, or ingredient secrets that were passed on.  In fact, the first biscuits I remember making were with my great-grandmother, Grammy.  I thought it was amazing and I loved helping her.  First, you took a cardboard tube and peeled off the top, then you whacked it hard on the counter and pulled doughy biscuits out and set them on a pan.  We baked them for 10 minutes and you were done.  Grammy was a farm wife with four children, and many time-consuming tasks, who did not really enjoy cooking.  For her, sliced bread really was one of the best inventions . . . canned biscuits, a close second.

I make biscuits like my mother (and mother-in-law) did – from scratch and almost once a week.  They are easy to make, and often I make them because they are fast and filling for this small brood of mine.  This past fall, I checked out a book from the library called Biscuit – part of the Southern Foodways Alliance series.  It was a great little reference and had many rifts on biscuits I wanted to try.  I turned the book in after a few weeks but my mind kept coming back to it every time I made biscuits.  So, when I was in a book store in Raleigh last month, I bought this little gem.  I’ve made a few of the different biscuits and it has been fun.  One of the most popular in our house has been the fried pie recipe.  Basically, a biscuit dough, rolled thin, filled with spiced pumpkin or apple, deep fried, and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.  So good!

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mixing dough

 

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currant, gorgonzola, pecan biscuits
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fried apple pies

 

bread: part 1

One of my new favorite magazines is a quarterly called Taproot.  It is homestead-y, literary, artsy, sweet, and ad-free.  Each issue has a theme, and this winter’s theme was Bread.  It got me thinking about all of the breads that have been important to me throughout my life (so far).  My grandmother’s sourdough, corn bread, biscuits (a Southern staple), my mother-in-law’s bread, tortillas, and my own manifestations of bread as I feed my husband and growing children.  Bread is important and it can tell as story.   It can be difficult and surprisingly easy – to make, to understand.  And, it can be delicious!

The first homemade bread I remember was my grandmother’s sourdough bread.  She made two loaves at least once a week, every week, when I was young — and she had done so for many years.  That bread had a slight sourness, and a good kick of sweetness (I found out later was from a fair bit of sugar in the recipe).  The bread was absolutely delicious warm from the oven – even without butter.  I loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with that bread.  I loved the smell of that bread, and I loved seeing Mom-mom make the bread.  Her house would fill with it’s aroma when she was baking and that smell always made me feel at home and happy. I think she got her starter from a cousin in Oregon, and she told me once that she made the best bread of her life when her mother was dying of cancer.  She said she put all her anger, frustration, and sadness into the kneading of the dough, and would knead for long periods of time, working it all out.  That bread would come out wonderfully light.

Mom-mom gave me some of her starter when I was in college and I tried to make bread as a way to link me to some semblance of family life – probably I wanted that feeling that her bread gave me of being at home, loved, and happy.  It was hard moving to a city of over 100,000 people (and a dorm of a few hundred), when I’d come from a town of 15,000.  I wanted some security, to belong.  But, Mom-mom’s starter did not last long.  I could not keep it going with the erratic schedule of classes, breaks, and dorm living.  I also could not get quite the right result.  The taste was right, but the texture and rise were not.

Mom-mom never did give me any formal bread baking lessons, as she did for making cakes and cookies.  I guess I learned from just watching her work dough through on the counter and shape her loaves to rise – gently laying a wet towel over the bread while they rose.  I still use her techniques, even if I don’t use her recipe.

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bake on Tuesday (post on Wednesday): Self Rising Bread (Estella Cox)

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This recipe again comes from my great-grandmother’s (maternal) recipe collection.  I am not sure who Estella Cox was, but I think she might have been a friend.  When I first saw the title of this recipe, I thought it would be a soda bread, but then I read the recipe–it is an old-fashioned sourdough.

I did not have any cornmeal so I used flour in the first sponge.  I am not sure if using cornmeal makes a big difference, but I let this bread (and the sponges) ferment for much longer than the recipe called for.  I did not see the bubbles in either sponge for a few days, and then I let the bread “rise” for another day.  I was not sure it had worked at all but I heated up the oven on the 4th day and baked the bread on a stone.  I thought I would be cutting into a brick, but amazingly (or not, to those of you who know about fermentation) the bread was fairly light and had lots of nice air bubbles in it.  It tasted great too, moist with a very sourdough-y taste.  Since I’ve never made a naturally risen, or fermented, bread this was impressive to me–the power of native yeasts!

Anyway, here’s the recipe.

Self-Rising Bread (Estella Cox) [comments at bottom]

Sponge – i cup milk – t tsp. salt
2 Tblspns cornmeal – 1 Tblspn sugar

2nd Sponge
1 cup lukewarm water – 1 tsp salt
1 Tbspn sugar
2 Tbspn butter – 2 cups sifted flour

Dough – 3 1/4 cups sifted flour (about)

Scald milk, cool to lukewarm, add cornmeal, salt and sugar. Pour into covered fruit jar or pitcher. Place in pan of hot water 120 deg. Let stand for 6-7 hours or until signs of fermentation (gas bubbles) appear. Add ingredients for 2nd sponge. Beat thoroughly, cover, place in pan of hot water 120 deg. Let rise till very light then add remaining flour gradually till dough is stiff enough to be kneaded. Knead 10-15 min. Shape into 2 loaves, place in bread pans, brush top with melted shortening. Cover and let rise till very light, more than double. Bake in 375 deg oven for 10 min. Then lower heat to 350 deg. Bake 25-30 minutes longer.

Comments:
As I mentioned before, I did not use cornmeal, but flour, for the first sponge. Then, I forgot to sift the flour for the last addition.

It took much longer to get fermentation bubbles in the first sponge, but I could not keep a consistent 120 deg bath for either sponge, and I didn’t even try. So, I am sure that slowed things down some. Finally, since I was not at all sure the bread was going to work out, I did not put the dough in loaf pans but just let it rise on a baking sheet. Even after a full day and a half, it did not rise to double it’s bulk. I finally decided to go ahead and bake it–at 400 for the entire time–and it turned out fine.

I might make this again, just to see if I can get different results–better rise, etc.

Anybody else have experience with making a sourdough sponge or bread?

 

Baking Tuesday (and new series)

I’ve always liked that old adage, Ma Ingles said in Little House in the Big Woods:
“Wash on Monday,
Iron on Tuesday,
Mend on Wednesday,
Churn on Thursday,
Clean on Friday,
Bake on Saturday,
Rest on Sunday.”

I wish I could follow a schedule like that—maybe my house would be cleaner and more organized. But, a career and extracurriculars limit what I can do. Plus, I have a natural inclination toward household chaos. I am not an instinctively good housekeeper.

But, Tuesdays have become my baking day. Tuesday is the one day of the week I am home all day focusing on little 3 children in my home and getting some house work done. I (usually) have time to bake! We go through a lot of bread in our house. I don’t like grocery store bread, and Asheville is rich with great bakeries, but at the rate we go through bread, it gets far too expensive to buy.

bread

I try to make a 4-loaf batch of bread—3 regular loaves and one with I shape into buns, rolls, or cinnamon swirl bread. I sometimes also make tortillas or granola—some standard foods our family eats a lot of.

making swirl bread

My grandmother baked bread at least once a week when I was growing up. She made a sweet sourdough bread that my grandfather loved. She brought the starter from Oregon, from her family, and kept it going for something like 40 years. I remember her bread—sweet, white, soft, with a slight sourness to it. It was such a special treat to have warm fresh slice shortly after the bread came out of the oven. I tried to make bread for a few years with her starter when I was in college, but I was not a regular-enough baker to keep it alive.

rising bread

My grandmother, and her mother, and her grandmothers, were excellent bakers. Their recipes have been handed down for generations, and a few years ago I transcribed all my great-grandmother’s recipes. I am going to try a series here on this blog, baking each Tuesday from one of the recipes. I will post pictures and the recipe. It should be fun. I have always wanted to try them all, and this will give me a goal.

I feel good about Baking Day. I am accomplishing something domestic and making healthy food for my family—a good feeling indeed.

bread ready for oven

I’ll start the great-grandmother recipe series next week. This week, the bread recipe I use:

Large batch of Bread (adapted from Ken Haedrich’s Country Baking)

1 ½ quarts warm water
1 ½ cup old-fashioned oats (but I used millet or oat bran or other whole grains for part of all of this. I think you could use leftover oatmeal, cooked brown rice, etc.)
1/3 cup honey
1 ½ T yeast (or 2 packets).
Mix all this together and let it sit for 5 minutes.

Add 6-7 cups whole wheat flour and stir vigorously for 1 minute.

Cover and let sit for about 30 minutes.

Stir in 1/3 cup oil or melted butter and 2 T of salt

Then, stir in a cup or 2 of whole wheat flour. Keep stirring in flour till you can’t anymore, and turn out on counter and knead—adding more flour as needed. I start using white bread flour (unbleached) at this point, but you can use whole wheat. In total add about 11 cups of flour. I like King Arthur. Knead for 10 minutes, if you can last that long!

Shape into a large ball and put into the bowl you turned it out of. Most bread making recipes say to oil the bowl first, but I just sprinkle flour into the bowl that it came out of. No problems with sticking and no extra bowls or oily hands to clean.

Let rise for about 1 hour. Shape into loaves or buns/rolls, put into oiled pans/trays. Let rise for about 1 hour.

Bake at 375 degrees till done (about 30-45 minutes depending on size of bread and shape of pan). Bread is done when browned a little and it sounds hollow when taken out the pan and tapped on the bottom. I usually bake them in 2 batches because of limited room in the oven and that seems fine.