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!

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