Thursday, January 15, 2009

Channelling my Nan - Home Made Bread

So about two years ago now, in the midst of my “nervous breakdown” I was suffering from some pretty serious insomnia. I was also doing a lot of cooking, it was in fact the beginning of my joy of food stage. On this particular night I had been without sleep for about two days. It was five in the morning and I was completely fed up with lying in bed, desperately willing unconsciousness.

Some time during this sleepless night, as I tried to lie still and achieve some state of peace and calm, my thoughts turned again to food. In the next breath though, in that flow of consciousness, seemingly unrelated way that sleep deprived thoughts flow, my departed Grandmother, my Nan, appeared behind my closed eyes. I was drawn to thoughts of how disappointed she would be in me, in past choices made, in paths chosen.

Then somehow I came back to food yet again. The insanity of sleep deprivation led me to a seemingly obvious conclusion. I needed to make bread. Yep, that’s right, I needed to get up, get to the kitchen and bake. In my exhausted, depressed mind I rationalized that I could make my Grandmother proud by successfully accomplishing a task she completed for the sustenance of her family daily.

Sebastian got up and left for work, which meant I could stop pretending to be asleep so that I wouldn’t disturb him or have him worry any more about my state of mind. I headed right for the kitchen and the cookbooks and got down to work.

My memories of that first experience with bread are, not surprisingly, hazy. What I recall mostly is crying into the dough as I kneaded it on my board, asking my Nan if she was proud of me now. I remember feeling her over my shoulder and the sense that I seemed to just know what I was feeling for in the dough, the texture, the consistency, the elasticity. I remember a sense of peace that this knowing must have come from her. And then I remember falling asleep as the bread dough rose in its bowl, overcome with peace and calm and that everything would somehow be okay.

White Bread Recipe

2 pkgs. dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water
2 cups lukewarm water (scalded then cooled down)
3 1/2 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp shortening (or margarine)
1 1/2 tbsp. salt
7 to 8 cups bread flour
soft margarine or butter

Dissolve yeast in warm water and allow to rise.

Add milk, sugar, shortening (or margarine), salt and half the flour. Mix until smoothly incorporated. Begin adding the remaining flour until it's easy handle (and too difficult to stir)

Turn the dough out onto floured surface and knead (I add remaining flour in at this point as I'm kneading). Knead for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic, not sticky at all.

Place dough in a greased bowl and turn it greased side up (make sure the up-side is well greased) cover the bowl (I cover it with a moist cloth). Let rise for an hour, until you can punch it down and the indentation stays.

At this point I let the dough rise up again in the bowl, you don't need to do this, but I've been told it makes all the difference by long time bread makers.

After the second rise divide the dough in half and roll into rectangles (18x9 inches). Start rolling into a log with 9 inch ends. Roll up very tightly pinching all edges to seal and keep out air, fold ends under (make sure it's all sealed tight to keep air out during baking).

Place loaves seamed side down in bread pans. Brush the tops with margarine or butter. Let rise again for an hour.

Heat oven to 425. Place loaves on lower rack (so they're centred in oven). Make sure pans don't touch. Bake for 25-30 mins. Until golden brown on top and sounding hollow.


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