Tuesday, March 8, 2011

On Bread- and How it Equals the Joy of Living.

Last week I read a post by Jordan Anne and it was about bread and how it is ridiculously expensive and wouldn't it be so great to make one's own.

Well, I figured for many of the people in this corner of blogland, bread is old hat, but in truth, baking bread is a passion of my mine and one I love to talk about given the chance.

The little "runt of the litter" in this photo always makes me smile.

I bake bread about 3 to 4 times a week usually in the morning so I can place my loaves in a sunbeam by the window to warm (those of you who have been in my kitchen when the light is pouring through the windows know just how warm that can be!)
Usually it's a morning routine while I sip a cup of coffee, and as much as I admire all of you out there who do everything by hand, quiet blissful moments are hard to come by in consecutive stretches and having dough covered hands doesn't help, so for now, I say prayers of thanks for the marvels of bread makers.
Mine's a Black and Decker model, and I love her.

She's got all sorts of recipes that I've never tried and all sorts of functions I don't know how to use, so after several VERY unsuccessful attempts at following meticulous directions (not my strong suit) and coming up with some large lumplike rocks that resembled bread NOT AT ALL,  I gave up and she sat on the shelf for a VERY long time.

Finally one day I pulled it out, called my grandmother and went to work.

A new part of me felt like it was coming to life. It's not an exaggeration to say that my first bread baking experiences are what inspired me to overhaul so many of the habits I had for housekeeping and lifestyle. This is why I chose one of my favorite portraits of my loaves for the header for this blog. Something about baking my own bread (even if some of the help comes from a machine) felt so elemental. Humans have been baking bread for as long as humans have been around on this planet and it just felt so good to be doing something so...homemade.

 Lovely brown eggs we buy from a hobby farmer Kevin works with. Don't they just make you want to bake anything?

I baked 4 loaves that first day and took pictures of each one like they were my newborn children. Each one lying on a different t-towel like a baby blanket in their little baking pan cradles, making sure the light was just right to show off their golden faces.... I would share these photos but I think I deleted them when I looked back later in embarrassment. (oh rookie).
Rookie I was, but when I bit into that first slice, there was no going back.

Being pregnant and nesting at the time, I baked so many loaves I could've filled the whole deep freeze, but I also ate so much of it that the demand kept up with the supply.

Over time I improved, picked up new tips from Grandma, tried new ingredients and used her modifications for making brown bread.  I've timed myself on getting everything thrown together in under 6 minutes, found te perfect sunbeams for rising at different times of day, stopped using measuring spoons for most of the ingredients (eyeballing or palming most of it) and even stayed up to make emergency loaves at midnight for the husband's lunches the next day.
I've ventured out, using the old girl to make cinnamon buns, pizza dough, monkey bread, butterscotch rolls and tray buns.

Butterscotch rolls....you know you want the recipe for these too?....

Imagine how complete my joy, when I sat down with Kevin and we worked out all the math down to the percentage of a penny of salt used per loaf and discovered that to make this deliciousness, it cost us .47 a loaf!  Of course with the initial cost of the bread maker, I doubt it has yet broken even, but that was a gift from thoughtful Jan, so at this point, I think we`re way ahead.

I`ve included some of the recipes here that my grandmother shared with me. She`s the reason I bake the bread, the reason I do so many of the arts and  crafts and activities that I do, not only does she inspire me, but I think it`s in the genes. (perhaps it`s time I wrote a post about/for her?- you'll like her, she's fascinating)

Anyway, here's the recipes and tips. ENJOY!!!!!!!!

For Basic White Bread.

Put everything into the bread pan in the order listed. (this probably has a very logical and boring explanation but for me, I liken it to a very mysterious order of ritual that must be preserved . A lot of bread baking is logical and boring...but a lot of it is cool and mysterious too :)

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 egg
1/4 cup margarine
2 tbsp. honey
1 cup of flour
1 tsp salt
3 more cups of flour
2 tsp of yeast.

My tips. I always fill my my measuring cup with hot water and place a fridge cold egg in it. It warms the egg up and cools the water to the perfect temperature, and maybe it's just my superstition, but it seems to be better that way.
Also, I would recommend making the little dent in the top of your pile of flour for the yeas, that seems to work the best too, rather than just dumping it all in.
And I have used more than one type of years and while the "bread machine" yeast works very well, the other kinds have worked pretty good too.

Set the bread maker to the dough cycle and let her go.
When she beeps marvel at the perfect dough she has created and gently dump it onto a floured surface.
Divide the dough in half and lay each have in a little loaf pan.
(This always reminds me of laying a little baby in a bed and makes me smile for some reason.)
Set loaf pans somewhere warm and cover lightly with a clean kitchen cloth.
Warm your oven (I set mine at 350 F) and let the loaves rise until they are peeking over the sides of their bed but not quite doubled. (if the bread over rises, it goes stale quicker later I find.)

Put the loaf pans into the oven and bake for about 30 minutes.
True Confession : I have never actually TIMED my bread. I pull it out when it smells done and when it is the shade of gold on top that I like.... please if someone follows this recipe and times it out, let me know what the exact time is?

Pull the bread out when it is done and either brush the top with butter and a basting brush or cover with a damp t-towel to cool.
(Either method will prevent a hard crust from forming.)

Modifications for brown bread.

Instead of 1 1/2 cups warm water---use 1 2/3 cups.
After adding all the egg, margarine and honey, add 1/3 cup all-bran cereal.
Then add 1/8 red-river cereal and a couple tablespoons of ground flax.

I premix my flour so it is in a ration or 1/2 white 1/2 whole wheat and I follow through the rest of the recipe using this flour mix for the flour components.
I've gone so far as to use 3/4 whole wheat and 1/4 white flour, but it get's a little finicky at that point and you have to start using other ingredients to help hold the dough together etc. So again, if someone has a better way use it. But this recipe does make a lovely 60% whole wheat loaf.

Well, there you have it, the basic recipes. I hope they help some folks. These recipes are not specific to a Black and Decker machine, so unless you have a very small bread pan in your machine or do not have a dough setting, this should work in any machine.

If anyone has any other questions, pass them along and I will answer them or call my grandma and ask her :)

Happy Baking everyone!

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