February 14, 2006

Updated: Happy Valentines & A Legacy of Love

Update below. Thanks to the man who sent these wonderful photos!

A Legacy of Love: From My Parents, Grandmother & Great Grandmother

In my family, celebrations of anyone's return or any special occasion involved the kitchen and the dining room. Home made bread was almost always available and, over the years, the men in the family learned to knead it to help the women. Food prepared together is a large part of showing and sharing love. With that in mind, and in honour of my parents, a grandmother and great grandmother whose recipe came down to me, what follows is how my mother made bread. I try, but mine will never be as good, even following the same recipe. It was the best smell when we came home after school. There is nothing like warm bread, butter and a glass of milk.

Mother's Bread and How to Knead Bread

Use the base for white and brown bread – especially when you have a growing family who like homemade bread. It freezes well.

The base:
4 cups lukewarm water (To test for lukewarm, put a few drops on your arm, and if it is neither hot nor cold, then it is lukewarm. Also, I use coffee mugs for measuring so don't quite fill to the brim. Anyway, don't get too hung up over measurements. You will learn to feel when bread is right over time.)
3 packets dry yeast or 3 tbsp loose yeast
1 ½ cups sugar (Try using less after you try it this way. Older recipes tended to use more sugar than recipes today.)

Beat with a mixer.
Let all the above sit in a warm place until the yeast is working well -- 20-30 minutes. You will know when it is working by looking at it.

Meanwhile, melt 1 cup butter or a mix of butter, margarine, lard, shortening and add:
a 2 litre ice-cream container of lukewarm water ( I learned rather loose methods and measurements at my mother's knee. Sorry but that's the way she did it.)
3 eggs beaten
3 tsp salt (or 4 ?)
Add this to the yeast mixture or vice versa and beat.

12 cups flour – Add to the above 4 cups at a time. Add a bit more, if it is sticking.
Mix well. Then knead (see below for method) 15 min. or until it becomes elastic and doesn't stick. Let rise, place in 10-12 bread pans and bake at 350 degrees for 45 min. or until done. Check after 25 minutes.

To make white and brown breads with the same starter

If you want brown bread, separate the dough evenly into two large bowls before adding the flour.

White bread from ½ of basic mixture:

Add 6-8 cups flour (more or less), knead 15 min. and let rise until at least double in bulk (overnight, if you wish). The amount of flour is hard to determine. As you knead it on a floured board, it will stick less and less. You’ll need very little flour on the board or the table to keep it from sticking. It will achieve an elastic quality and I think you will recognize it. It becomes easy to knead and doesn't stick. Cover the bowl with clean tea towels for rising (proofing).

Brown bread from half of basic bread mixture:

To ½ the basic mixture, add:
1 ½ cups molasses -- or a bit less -- You'll figure it out, over time.
1 cup seeded raisins – or any other you like. You may soak them in 1/4 C brandy, water, or sherry first to make them plump.
Add 6-8 cups flour (approximate) and knead 15 minutes.

Brown bread tends to be stickier than white, so add a little more flour and keep kneading. Let rise until double in bulk (overnight, if you wish, but do cover it with clean tea towels – and don’t leave it on your finest wooden table in case it rises above the top of the bowl and falls over the side).

When both the white and brown bread have risen over double, put each out on a table, knead 4-5 min. more and leave under a tea towel 15 minutes. Then cut into loaves and knead each loaf 4-5 minutes (Mother kneaded it longer.) and place in greased bread pans.

How do you know how much to put in a pan? Cut some dough off, knead it, put it in a pan; if it is no more than half way up the side, it is probably a good amount. Let rise again until it fills the pan and is at least double in size – or more. Bake at 350 degrees 45 min. or until, when you tap it, it sounds hollow.

Brown bread burns easily because of the molasses or sugar in it so you may have to cover it with a large sheet of foil (loosely – not fastened down) to prevent it from burning – after it is as brown as you want it. There will be a distinct hollow sound when you tap the top of bread so you’ll know the bread is done. If you take it out of the oven and the bottom is not pleasingly brown, return it to the oven until it is. (Later,check your oven. It may not be heating evenly.) This whole thing will make between 10 and 13 loaves of bread. (Mother’s rose better than mine.) Anyway, you may make half of it or only white bread, but Mother’s brown bread was the best I ever ate.

How to knead bread

Once you have incorporated enough flour to render bread dough more or less a ball and not too sticky to handle, sift flour (if you own a sifter) onto a clean surface. If not, throw some flour onto the board or table; it works just about as well, though good cooks would disagree, and put the dough on the flour. Lightly roll it around so a fine dusting of flour covers it and prevents sticking. Form a ball. Some will stick to your hands; rub it off with a bit of flour.

With your hands, fold the 1/2 to 1/3 of the ball toward you. Press it in with the heels of your hands. Turn the ball slightly -- about 1/4 turn -- and do the same again. Keep doing this, adding a little more flour to the table if the bread still sticks. Eventually, it will become an elastic ball that doesn't stick, and the more you knead it, the finer the texture. Continue for 12-15 minutes.

Then, place it in a large bowl, one that will allow it to rise to double or more in bulk. Oil your hands and rub the ball in the pan with the oil -- keeps a crust from forming on the top as it rises. (I don't know whether good cooks do that but it works for me.) Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and let rise in a warm spot. In winter, while I am cooking other things and the kitchen is warm, I put it on the cupboard next to the stove, or on the floor next to the heater coils or whatever they're called (electric heat). If your bowl is large enough (the large stainless steel ones sold at restaurant equipment outlets are a good size), you may cover the bowl with a large clean towel over the tea towel(s) and leave it all night to rise. Sit it on towels, as well to keep drafts from it.

Then, in the morning, punch it down and knead it again for 5 min. before you cut off pieces to knead and shape into loaves. Follow the rest of the instructions above.


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