Sunday Bread Series: Just Like Mum Used to Make
I have vivid memories of both my gramma and my mum making giant batches of bread in their giant stainless steel mixing bowls. We still ate a lot of store-bought bread so homemade bread was always special. There’s nothing like the scent of freshly baked homemade bread and the taste of that first slice still warm from the oven.
Baking bread took me a long time to master. I could handle making my own pizza dough and cinnamon buns, but when I tried making bread in my 2nd year of university (a decade ago now!) I distinctly remember it being a horribly over-salted mistake. So I stayed away from bread for a few years. It wasn’t until the summer of 2006, when I was working with endangered flycatchers in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, that I recall giving bread-making another try. It was always scorching hot outside and I didn’t have my own vehicle, so on my days off in our air-conditioned field house I decided to experiment with baking bread again, and slowly I became more comfortable with it.
A lot of people who make bread at home rely on breadmakers to do most of the work. To me kneading the bread is the best part– well, other than that first slice. It just feels so satisfying. Bread has become one of my favourite things to make. In fact, if I had to pick something about me that I am most proud of, it might be that I can make my own bread. Actually, I have achieved total bread freedom (italicized to emphasis the cheesiness of that phrase)– I can make my own bread, buns, cinnamon buns, pizza dough, bagels, English muffins, and tortillas. So unless my life is so busy that I don’t have time to make bread, or if I don’t have access to an oven (both which are possibilities when I’m in the field) I never need to buy any bread product from the grocery store. Goodbye, strange additives.
(makes 1 loaf)
2 tsp yeast
1 1/3 cup warm water (100*F)
1 tbsp sugar, divided
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter or margarine, softened
3 2/3 to 4 1/3 cups all-purpose flour*
Place water, yeast, and 1 tsp sugar in a large bowl; stir to dissolve yeast. Let sit 5 minutes or until yeast is foamy. Stir in remaining sugar (2 tsp), salt, butter, and 1 cup of flour. Beat with an electric mixer for 2 minutes. Add another cup or so of flour and beat another two minutes. Add more flour to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead, adding more flour as necessary, until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch down, form into a loaf, and place in a greased 9 1/2″ x 5 1/2″ x 2 1/2″ pan. (My mum likes to poke holes in surface with a knife, but it doesn’t seem to be necessary.) Cover and let rise again, about 30 minutes. Bake in a preheated 400*F oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until bottom and sides are nicely browned when you turn it out of the pan and “the loaf sounds hollow when you tap the bottom.” I have never figured that one out.
I usually make more than one loaf at once. As this is preservative-free, I find it best to slice the loaf and freeze it, so I can easily defrost a few slices at a time as needed. But if you have family or roommates, it is easy to demolish a loaf quickly.
*My family likes to substitute 1/2 cup wheat bran for 1/2 cup of the flour. You can also substitute whole wheat flour, but add around 1 tbsp gluten flour (also known as vital wheat gluten) for each cup of whole wheat, which will help keep the loaf from being too dense. Also, if you are in the southern states, I learned the hard way that all-purpose flour sold there is lower in protein, so you’d be better off with bread flour, or add gluten flour to your all-purpose.)
If you know next to nothing about bread making and want more guidance on the basics, The Fanny Farmer Baking Book has a very detailed section on bread-making. It is out of print but you can likely find it at your library. My copy was a gift from my gramma.
Did your mother/grandmother/some other relative make homemade bread? Do you make bread? Do you have any bread-making questions?