Wednesday, February 14, 2007

My First Bread ...

I learned how to make bread when I was 8.

My Aunt Anne, who always reminded me of Piglet - small and soft-spoken with a sweet, kind face (nevermind the fact that she was a pool shark in her day) - taught me and my cousin Lora. She wrote out the recipe on a piece of my pink stationery. I don't know where it's gone.

Pogacha, it's called, though it's essentially just a white bread that only raises once and is formed into round, flattish loaves instead of the traditional shape. I stopped needing a recipe years ago, but I'd like to find the pink paper and see Aunt Anne's handwriting again. All the aunts had very similiar handwriting. I never understood why.

It makes spectacular toast. Truly. The best toast you'll ever have in your life. The denseness of the bread plays a big part. Slather on some butter and apricot preserves and you're in breakfast heaven.

Similarly, it also grills up well for bruschetta. It soaks up an egg mixture well for French toast. It's very versatile. I don't make sandwiches with it, strangely, but I made a couple loaves for my brother's family around the holidays and my niece wanted to be sure that they saved a couple slices so she could take a sandwich when she returned to school.

People are daunted by the making of bread, but it's really rather simple. And, at the same time, miraculous. A few humble ingredients, some love, and some time, and voila!

The most important thing to know is the proper temperature for any liquids, lest you kill your yeast. You can haul out a kitchen thermometer, if you feel the need to be precise, but my Aunt Chick (one of Anne's sisters) always gauged the temperature of the water on her wrist. "Baby's bath water" is the rule by which we live. Pleasantly warm, not hot.

The second most important thing is to add flour gradually. You can start with a few cups at once (in fact, you want to, and then whip that mixture to form the gluten in the dough), but as the dough becomes more cohesive, flour needs to be added gradually, lest you end up with too heavy of a dough.

Can you use a bread machine? I don't know. Can you? I've never used a bread machine to make dough, much less bake bread.

I believe that we put a part of ourselves into the food we make. I suppose you can dump a bunch of ingredients into a machine and turn it on and walk away and it will churn out something that looks like bread. But if you're going to make bread, commune with it. Get your hands a little doughy.

Little can compare with the satisfaction of making bread by hand from scratch, then inhaling the aroma as it wafts out of the oven, and then slicing the warm loaf and smearing it with butter. That, my friends, is life worth living.

Right, the recipe, then:

(Note: I use my KitchenAid for most of the heavy lifting, and finish kneading it by hand.)

2 t. salt
2 T. sugar
2 T. butter
1 C. hot milk (I use organic 2%)
1 C. hot water
1 package yeast proofed in 1/4 C. warm water
5-6 C. flour

Combine the first five ingredients in a bowl. Let mixture cool until it is warm. (I put mine in the freezer for a few minutes.) Add the yeast mixture and 3 cups of flour. Using the paddle attachment (if using the mixer), beat for a few minutes. Switch to the dough hook and start adding flour until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl. Finish kneading by hand. Separate dough into two pieces. Knead each. Form into flat rounds. Place on greased baking sheet and spray loaves liberally with Pam. Cover with a towel and raise in a warm location until about doubled in bulk. Bake at 450 for 10 minutes, then lower the temp to 350 and bake for 25-30 minutes.