Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Great Grandma's Homemade Bread

Here's a recipe that goes back to my great grandma.  She made it, my grandma made it, and so did my mom.  And now, so do I.

There's a lot of going by how things look and feel, rather than what the book says.  Somedays the dough takes more flour than others.  Sometimes the yeast is fussy and won't rise well.  

The entire process, from measuring the ingredients to taking the loaves out of the oven, takes about three and a half hours.

I haven't used the written recipe in ages.  Here it is, from my memory.  <3

3 cups water in a microwave safe container
1/3 cup margarine or lard
3 teaspoons salt
1 strip quick rising dry yeast (three sections)
1/4 cup sugar
5 to 7 cups bread flour


Cut the margarine or lard into little pats, and and put them in the water. Microwave it for 1 to 2 minutes, until the margarine or lard is melty.  The water should be between 120 and 125 degrees or so.  No higher than 130 degrees F or it'll kill the yeast.  (Use a thermometer to check the temperature if you need to.) 

Here's what it'll look like when it's done.  There shouldn't be any clumps of margarine or lard.

Put the yeast, sugar, and salt in the mixing bowl, along with 2 cups flour.

Give the dry ingredients a quick stir to combine them.

Next, add the hot margarine (or lard) water to the mixing bowl.  Mix on medium speed until it's combined.  It'll bubble up as the yeast dissolves.

It'll be a bit lumpy too.

 Once you see these bubbles, add another cup of flour.  Mix on high until it's combined.  The consistency of the dough will turn sort of foamy/frothy.

Now comes the addition of flour until you reach the kneading consistency.  Add a cup of flour, then mix on medium to combine.  Continue as needed.  It may take anywhere from five more cups to more than seven.  

 Right here, the dough is still too runny and sticky:

 After another half a cup of flour, the dough starts riding up over my mixer's dough hook.  This is the point where the dough no longer needs more flour.  A general guideline is, when you can touch the dough with a floured fingertip and it doesn't stick, it's ready.  (When you knead the dough, you don't break through the surface, so poking the dough here is not a good indicator.)

Once at this stage, reduce the mixer speed to low and let it knead the dough for about two minutes.

 Once the two minutes is up, it's ready to be kneaded by hand.

Place the dough onto a floured countertop.  Use a spatula to help it out of the bowl.

It's totally unpretty at this stage.  Don't worry, this is normal!

With floured hands, knead the dough.  Fold it in half toward yourself, turn it 90 degrees, fold it in half towards yourself, turn it 90 degrees... repeat for a minute or so.  

Shape the mass into a ball and place it in a big bowl which has been sprayed with cooking spray.

Spray the top of the dough with cooking spray and cover it with plastic wrap.

Let it sit for half an hour.

 After half an hour, the dough will have doubled in size.  

With a floured fingertip, jab the dough.  If the divot from your finger remains, then the dough is ready for the next bit of kneading.

Dump the dough out of the bowl, onto a floured countertop.  Flour your hands.

Divide the dough into three equal sections.  Knead them using the same knead-by-hand process a few steps ago.

Form the dough into small balls, and put them back in the big bowl.  Cover everything with the plastic wrap again, and let it sit for ten minutes.

Working with each dough ball one by one, use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough out flat.  Take extra care to remove all the air bubbles - if any are left they'll leave a big air bubble hole in the baked loaf.

Fold it in thirds, and roll it flat so that it all gets mushed together.

Mom always says, flour the rolling pin and not the dough.

Roll it into a length about eighteen inches long, and the width of your bread pan.

Then roll up the dough into a loaf-y shape.

Smush the sides together well.  Smush the end flap to the loaf.  Smush it well, so it all sticks together.  The dough will continue to rise and it could pull apart in the oven if not smushed well.


Once smushed, put the loaf in a loaf pan.

Repeat with the other two dough balls.

Cover the loaves with the plastic wrap, and let everything sit for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

 After thirty  minutes, the loaves will have risen.  

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes.

The bread is done when the tops are hard, you can tap them and they sound hollow.  The bottoms will brown more than the top, so you can turn then pan upside down to check the loaf's color on the bottom.

Remove the loaves from their pans, and place on a cooling rack.  Run some butter over the tops.

It helps to develop the color and add flavor.

It's my favorite treat - the end piece of an oven-hot loaf of bread.  The crust is crunchy and the inside is fluffy.

So good with butter, or strawberry jam!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Homemade Laundry Detergent!

Sweet Renee sews, and does all kinds of other stuff.

This summer I started making my own laundry detergent.  It's so incredibly easy and quick to make.  It's thrifty.  And by not purchasing a bottle of laundry detergent, I'm not throwing plastic into a recycle bin.

There are a lot of recipes online.  Do a search and you can find plenty.  I tried several and this is the one that I like the most.  I found all the ingredients in the laundry aisle at the grocery store.  

1/2 bar Fels-Naptha soap (or Ivory, it works well too)
1/2 cup washing soda (NOT baking soda!)
1/2 cup Borax
2 gallons water


Grate the soap.  I just use my regular grater and throw it in the dishwasher when I'm done.

It rather looks like cheese.

Place your soap shavings and 6 cups of water in a good sized pot.  (Here too, I use something right out of the kitchen cabinet and run it through the dishwasher.  As of yet we have not suffered soap poisoning or any ill effects, but have a lovely, super-clean pot.)  

Put it over medium-high heat, and stir until all the shavings melt.  Things will get a little bubbly.  

While that's melting, heat 4 cups of water in the microwave.

Once the shavings are melted, add 1/2 cup Borax and 1/2 cup washing soda. The mixture will thicken up a bit. Stir until it's dissolved, and remove from heat.

Pour the 4 cups of hot water from the microwave into a big bucket.  (I use a 3-gallon bucket with a lid.)  Then pour in the soap mixture from the pot.  Stir.

Next, add 1 gallon plus 6 cups of water (22 cups total) and stir again.

Let the mixture sit overnight before using it.  It'll thicken up considerably, turning to a gloopy, good-smelling gel.  

I keep the lid loosely on the bucket, but don't snap it closed.  Before using the detergent, I give it a good stir, and then scoop out 1 cup.  

It's a gloopy, sludgy mess with some chunks and some runny bits, and it does a fantastic job!!

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Sweet Renee is now on Facebook.  Behind the scenes photos, information, fun facts, surprise giveaways and random coupons for the Etsy store.  We're hitting the ground running, starting with two big giveaways.  Check it out!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Ever wondered, "Why 'Sweet Renee?"

Click here and check out the brand new About page on Etsy.  You'll find the answer there. :)

The new About page on Etsy is one of a number of changes Sweet Renee is undergoing. 

There are new photos for Etsy listings, new items on the cutting table, a couple of craft fairs in the works, as well as a new logo and  new business cards!

Monday, June 18, 2012

More from Mom

Mom makes lovely lap quilts and baby quilts for my Etsy store.   Here's the most recent addition Made awesome by my mom, and awesomeness captured by Diane.

Mom's so much a fan of sewing these quilts and has built up quite the inventory.  So much that she wants to be a vendor at a craft fair.

So, we'll be in New Holstein in August and in Bonduel in September, selling handmade awesomeness together.  

While she's off doing that, I'm here doing this: