Capture the memory of homemade bread. Recall the aroma that seeps from the oven and pervades the whole house. . . . Then the smell quickly takes second place to the taste of freshly baked bread. One bite of a naked loaf is ecstasy, but smother it with butter, honey or strawberry jam and you are transported to heaven.
Nothing says "home" more than homemade bread. Few things suggest caring more than a warm loaf shared with a friend or neighbor.According to Beth Hensperger, author of a new cookbook, "Bread," breadmaking even has a therapeutic value.
"It's a total sensory experience that soothes one's thoughts. A good loaf of bread radiates beauty at every stage of its creation: the fresh yeasty odor of fermenting dough; its smooth, slightly blistered surface after kneading on a scrubbed wooden board; and the spongy texture of dough that has risen to the top of your ceramic bread bowl. A handmade loaf of bread is a source of pride for anyone who likes to cook."
In years past, breadmaking was an everyday reality. There were no bakeries or slick-packaged grocery loaves to choose from. Eating daily bread meant baking daily bread.
Years ago women kept the home hearth oven filled with baking loaves, but men were the first to bake bread outside the home. The labor-intensive baking process was a male-dominated field.
Bread was the first foodstuff to be commercially prepared outside the home. Today, millions of bakery loaves are sold each day. Local consumers, many with wheat grinders and bread mixers are frequently purchasing a homemade-like loaf at bakeries like Country Mill or Great Harvest.
Russ Callister, owner of the Country Mill Bakery, 1844 E. 70th South, has seen his wheat-bread business energetically grow since its inception last April. Callister began as the lone baker and now has six on his staff. Demand for his loaves necessitates two deliveries a day to most groceries he services; three deliveries are required on Saturdays. Bakery customers during the holidays purchased dozens of loaves at a time, still wanting to share a loaf with friends but unwilling to do home baking.
Regardless of the bakery, it's still hard to substitute grandma's time-worn recipe, requiring an old bread bowl and the up-to-the-elbows kneading of a loaf at home.
Breadmaking, however, is not a skill inherited with grandma's recipe. Practice and patience are key ingredients in getting the treasured recipe to perform in your kitchen.
Basic techniques and ingredients run true to everyday recipes. With practice, you will learn the correct amount of flour to add, how a sufficiently kneaded loaf feels, and how a chunk of dough is shaped into a symmetrical, rounded loaf.
Ingredients, too, make a difference in the baked product. Hard wheat is used for making bread flour; it is the highest in protein and the most desirable for breadmaking. Bread flour can, however, be used interchangeably with all-purpose flour. All-purpose flour is a combination of 80 percent hard wheat and 20 percent soft wheat. Unbleached flour is refined but has no added chemical preservatives. It may also be used successfully in breadmaking. Whole wheat flour and a number of specialty flours - rice, corn, oat or stone-ground - are available as a change of pace in baking.
Yeast is the "soul of bread." It must be activated by heat, sugar and moisture, and can be killed by too much heat. Yeast can be purchased in four different forms: active dry yeast, compressed fresh cake yeast, quick-rise yeast and instant dried yeast.
Yeast doughs are affected by high elevation, beginning about 3,500 feet above sea level. The yeast reproduces at an accelerated rate, so decrease the yeast required by one-third. For example, if the recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of yeast, reduce it to 2 teaspoons. The rising times will also be shorter. To keep a good developed flavor, allow the dough to fully double two times before forming it into loaves. Dough may also tend to dry more quickly, calling for a bit more liquid or a bit less flour, as you feel fit. Many bakers also increase their oven baking temperature by 25 degrees. Note: Local recipes should be adjusted for altitude and have been successfully tested. Yeast amount may be a concern for nationally published recipes.
Once the selected ingredients have been mixed, kneading thoroughly integrates the wet and dry portions of the bread. The protein in the flour, called gluten, becomes elastic and creates a structure that contains the carbon dioxide gas manufactured by the yeast and provides support for the loaf.
Knead flour in a tablespoon at a time; recipes contain only guidelines for the amount of flour. Experience with the recipe will result in discovering the right feel and appearance of a loaf.
A prepared loaf must raise properly, allowing time for the yeast to activate. Large glass, ceramic or plastic bowls are best for rising; metal bowls conduct heat easily and can "cook" the dough if it rises in too warm a spot. Yeast works most effectively between 75 and 80 degrees. Winter home temperatures may needto be subsidized in order to get bread to rise properly:
- Turn the oven to 150 degrees for 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the dough in sit inside with oven door ajar.
- Allow the dough to rise over a gas pilot light on the stove top, or inside the oven, or on top of the dryer while drying clothes.> - Place the bowl in or over a pan of warm water away from drafts.> With a loaf risen to the proper height, there's nothing left to do but wait for the baking. After the time consumed by mixing, kneading and rising, the baking minutes rush by. The aroma escapes the oven, and before you know it, a hot slice, oozing with butter and honey, is only a bite away.
Baking bread need not be only a childhood memory, one attached to grandma's kitchen. Today's kitchens would respond to an occasional bread baker. Your oven may be surprised, but then so would your family.
What a loving Valentine surprise to share - a quintessential, one-of-a-kind, aromatic loaf of homemade bread!
- Thanks to our many readers who submitted bread recipes:
Carolyn Masters, Ada Hatch, Marilyn Lavendar, Gloria Lambert, Pat Walker, Beth Burton, Mrs. M. Zitting, Loni Walters, Cindy Zawrotny, Joyce Slusser, Ellen Koucos, Grace Price, Shauna Helie, Connie Clawson, Sharleene Wilson, Sarah Sanders, Jan Aubrey, Mrs. Steed, Darleen Masters, Laura Zitting, Carolyn Terry, Shirley G. Ruth, Laurel Timmins, Sue Mohlman, Mrs. Barbara Earl, Nancy Zitting, Debra Sheppard, Marianne Van Beekum, Marcia LaBarge, Betty Young, Alice Gorringe, Colleen S. Chipman, Dorothy B. Gaines and Deborah Winegar.
Others were Mrs. Jay Liechty, J.D. Skollingsberg, Sharla Luker, Shirley J. Walter, Edna Hill, Susan Maughan, Nancy Ashcroft, Chris Graham, Fay Sargent, Ruby Tippets, Tami England, Bobbie Maberry and Elizabeth Bunting.