Sunday, April 24, 2005

on baking bread

I first ventured into the world of cooking when I was a little girl and my mom said that I could experiment in her kitchen. We decided that I would bake biscuits and they would be hot when my dad walked through the door at suppertime. My mom was brave. She turned me loose and, alone with Betty Crocker, I whipped up the most beautiful, golden brown, fluffy biscuits one could hope for. Imagine my dad’s delight when he sat down and, mouth watering, took that first bite. Then picture his expression as he discovered that I had used baking soda rather than baking powder without souring the milk! Somehow he downed that whole biscuit and took another before my mom and I ate ours and realized what had happened. I felt both humiliation at my mistake and wonder at a terrific father who was more interested in encouraging me as a homemaker than in his own culinary experience! Within a week I had baked a scrumptious loaf of pumpkin bread and my reputation in the kitchen was restored!

I had determined early on in our marriage to learn how to bake bread. Clay had told me that his Grandma Campbell always baked bread and she had done it so often through the years that she didn’t even need to use yeast anymore because so much of it was floating around in her kitchen! Naïve and inexperienced in baking as I was, I believed him! But I also knew that Clay’s dad, Clayton Jr., made sure to drop by his mom’s house just when the bread was coming out of the oven. I knew, instinctively, that a mom held terrific sway over even a grown son by her culinary prowess! It was a bit of magic I intended to wield!

I have since learned much more about bread and the importance of good yeast. Here is my favorite bread recipe of all time:

Pilgrim Bread

The blended flavors of four grains are even better when toasted! It is extra good if you are able to grind the wheat and rye berries right before making this recipe.

¾ cup yellow corn meal
½ cup brown sugar
1 ½ TBS salt
3 cups boiling water
1/3 cup oil
3 packages active dry yeast
¼ tsp ginger
1 tsp sugar
¾ cup warm water
1 ½ cup whole wheat flour (1 cup wheat berries)
¾ cup rye flour (1/2 cup rye berries)
6 cups sifted white flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 egg, well-beaten

Thoroughly stir corn meal, brown sugar, oil, and boiling water. Let cool to lukewarm, about 30 minutes. Soften yeast, sugar, and ginger in ¾ cup of warm water. Stir into the cooled corn meal mixture. Add the whole wheat and rye flours. Mix well. Stir in enough white flour to make a moderately stiff dough. Turn out on a floured board, knead until smooth and elastic. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease surface. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double, about 1 hour. Punch down, turn out on a floured board and divide into thirds. Cover and let rest 10 minutes. Shape into 3 loaves, place in greased loaf pans or shape into round loaves and place on greased cookie sheets. Brush tops with egg mixture and sprinkle rolled oats on top. Let rise again until almost doubled, about 35 minutes. Bake in 350 degree oven for 40 minutes. Check after first 20 minutes if it is getting too brown and loosely cap with foil. Remove from pans and cool on wire rack.


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