The perfect loaf of bread
Did you ever attempt to reproduce the loaf of bread your mother or grandmother used to bake? How many loafs turned out just like hers?
Not many if you were like me!
After my Mom passed away, I came across her lifelong collection of recipes. Many I already knew because of my interest in cooking. My own recipe collections had helped propel me into the restaurant business. But there was one recipe that eluded me no matter how many books I bought or magazines I read , that of a the loaf of homemade bread I had eaten as a child growing up in Idaho. It was the one recipe my Mom had not written down in her collection, she didn’t need to, she knew it by heart. To her it was like breathing. There is no need for an instruction manual in breathing, is there?
It wasn’t until I was in the process of doing research for my coffee table cookbook ( Maw Maws recollections, observations and recipes) that I realized in fact I did have my mother’s recipe. In my younger days when my Mom was still present on this celestial ball, I once took a job as the foreman on a cattle ranch. There, I befriended Jeff, a fellow ranch hand. Now Jeff lived in the small town just outside the ranch along with his 90 plus year old but very spry grandmother. On a cold rainy day, I gladly offered to drive him back home when his pickup truck refused to start. As I entered his home behind him, I smelled the delicious aroma of his grandmother’s freshly baked bread. Being from a generation that believed you should never let company part your home hungry, she sliced up the warm loaf and spread a goodly amount of butter on it. I remarked on its familiar taste and color telling her I believe my Mom made her bread from the same recipe. Jeff and I talked of weather concerns and other ranch related subject until I had to get going. As I was leaving Jeff’s grandmother handed me a hand written copy of her bread recipe. Thanking her profoundly, I returned to the ranch. Since my own mother was still years away from leaving us, I put the recipe along with other mementos of the ranch in a box for safe keeping.
There it lay packed away for over thirty five years. Jeff is a grown man now with young grandkids. Sadly, as is the nature of things, his grandma passed on some years ago. It was on a day when one begins to reminisce about his childhood that I came across her bread recipe in that box. How ironic it seemed that the one thing I really wished I had, I had in fact been safely harboring for years! Since that time, I have rarely purchased bread at the grocery, and when I do, it taste bland and mushy!
I hope you find some similar memories as I did when you smell the familiar scent of this real homemade bread baking.
2 ½ cups of bread flour ( Do not use all purpose flour as you need the added gluten for a good rise)
1 cup of whole wheat flour
(The combination of the two flours simulates the dense rougher texture and higher gluten content of the heritage flour that was used back in the day)
2 Tablespoons of sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 1/2 teaspoons of yeast (Instant or active, it makes little difference)
1 Tablespoon of unsulfured Molasses
1 cup of warm water
2 Tablespoons of softened / melted butter
(Optional added ingredients if desired = 1/4 cup of wheat germ and 1 Tablespoon of flax seed)
2 Tablespoons of milk for brushing the loaf before and after baking. This gives the loaf a wonderfully soft crust.
1) Using a mixer with a dough hook, add the dry ingredients and mix together well. Then add the wet.
There is no need to pre mix water, sugar and your yeast. Most common yeast today will activate without a ‘wet’ pre activation step
2) As the dough is mixing, if it appears too dry add a tablespoon or two of water, one at a time. If it appears to wet, add a tablespoon of the bread flour. It should have a slight sticky feeling, similar to that of a post it note but should leave no residue on your fingers
3) Knead the dough ball on low for 5 minutes, then remove it, fold it over on itself a few times and replace the dough into the mixer on low for 3-4 more minutes.
If mixing by hand you must hand knead the dough for at least 10 – 15 minutes or until spongy. You can also use a bread machine to mix and knead the dough.
4) Place kneaded dough in a greased bowl and cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel. Let it rise until double in size. Approximately 1 hour. Since high gluten flour can rise faster than regular flour keep an eye on it. Do not let it rise past double its size.
5) Once risen to its proper size, remove and gently punch down the dough. Fold and shape it into a nice smooth loaf and place it into a greased bread pan with the seam on the bottom.
6) Pre heat oven to 350 degrees at this time.
7) When the dough has again risen with its top peaking 1/2 inch above the bread pan and it fills the pan, brush the top of the loaf with milk. Using a toothpick, poke a few holes in the length of the top. This will prevent the loaf from bursting out its side from the rapid oven rise. The holes act as gas escape vents.
8) Place in the pre heated oven for 35 minutes or until nicely browned and hollow sounding when you ‘thunk it’ with your fingers.
Each oven bakes differently so keep an eye on it. This bread will look darker than regular bread due to the molasses in it!
9) When done, brush once again with milk and cool for 10 minutes then remove from the bread pan and cover with a dry towel until completely cool. Place in a plastic shopping bag and refrigerate to extend its freshness. There is no preservatives in this bread so it should be consumed within a few days.