Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Fine Art of Baking Bread

On Baking Bread...



I've talked a lot about my grandmother over the years, but what I haven't mentioned is that my mom (Aurora) is also a fantastic cook/homemaker.

Sure, she wore platform shoes and frosted afro wigs in the 70's - mortifying me at more than one parent teacher night - but despite her groovy appearance, she was an old fashioned girl at heart.

We always had a garden and at this time of year my mother would be blanching vegetables to freeze, canning tomatoes and making pickles and jam - in fact I just got off the phone with her not two minutes ago after having had an animated discussion about the freezing of tomatoes.

Like her mother before, my mom was and is a great gardener and it wasn't unusual for me to have an orange ring around my month come Autumn from eating raw carrots which she grew in abundance.

The funny thing is, I took absolutely no interest in any of it.

Friends who knew me back in the day can't believe it when they find out I turned out to be so domestic.

They remember that I failed home economics in grade nine.

Oh yes I did.

Unlike my mom who was always a genius with a needle and thread; sewing her own clothes, upholstering furniture, making curtains, and even going so far as to make a lampshade out of cloth a few years back, the sorry ass blouse I made in grade nine garnered me my first ever "F."

I wish I had a picture.

***

We were a household that seldomn had things in our pantry like store bought cookies, potato chips, or Wonder Bread.

In fact, for most of my childhood all the bread in our house was homemade.

My mom would bake bread every couple of weeks doing up two or three batches of five loaves each and freezing them.

Though I didn't appreciate it at the time, baking bread has now become a favourite past time for me.

I find it relaxing.

No bread machine for this gal either. I like to get my hands right into the dough, kneading as I go, imparting my own special brand of care with every fold and punch.

Though it may seem daunting, baking bread is really very easy...

Want to learn how?

Let's begin with my mom's simple recipe for white bread... next week we'll make my Uncle Glen's Sunflower Health bread which is a lot more complicated, but for this week, I'll start you off easy.

My Mom's White Bread

One of the things I'm hoping to do with this blog is to define my style as a cook, which would best be described as simple and rustic.

I want to show you that cooking and baking aren't as scary as you think, and that the preparation of good food is attainable for all, no matter what your experience or skill level in the kitchen.

In food as in life, don't be afraid to experiment, have fun, and mess up.

Messing up, after all, is the best way to learn...

***

Being old fashioned as you know I am, I subscribe to the Indian way of baking and do most things by hand and by feel. But you can also mix your bread up using a Kitchenade or other mixer.

So...

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl, starting with yeast and water and mix for a minute with a wooden spoon.

4-1/2 cups warm water
3-4 tablespoons yeast
2 tablespoons salt
1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons oil



Next add five cups of flour and mix for several minutes in a mixer or with very clean hands. Keep adding flour (5-7 more cups) gradually blending it in until you reach the right consistency: a little soft, a little sticky, but still easy to handle.

Now turn the dough out on a clean, floured work surface.

Flour your hands well.

Use the heel of your hands to compress and push the dough away from you, then fold it back over itself.



(not my picture but I thought it was a good depiction of what kneading looks like for someone who may not know)

Give the dough a little turn and repeat Step 4. Put the weight of your body into the motion and get into a rhythm.

Find your Zen.

Be the bread.

Do this for ten minutes.

Seriously.

As my father in law Victor Wells would tell you, "The secret to great bread is in the kneading."

No one on earth made better bread than him when he as alive.

Just ask the Poolboy.

***

Yours will look something like this when you're done:



Put it in a bowl that's been rubbed with vegetable oil, and get it all good and shiny.

Again, think Dr. McSteamy, and leave it in a warm place to rise.

Oh mama.



Let double (which looks like above) and punch down. Let rise again ( to look like above) Punch down.

Here's what it should look like when you punch it down. Basically you're punching the air out of it...



Now roll it out into a rectangle and cut into five equal pieces.

Put each piece into a bread pan that you have buttered and form it to the pan.

Let rise to the top of pan.

Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Brush tops with melted butter before baking if desired.



Like my mother did so many years ago, I baked ten loaves this weekend, sliced them, placed them into freezer bags and froze them all.



It will be really nice to take sandwiches to work on fresh homemade bread...

A simple pleasure that adds so much to daily life.

***

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