It was Albert Einstein who said that a thing should be “as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
I have come to the same conclusion by way of bread.
Bread should be pure, simple, the most basic form of sustenance, and yet it is a thing that can’t, and shouldn’t, be hurried.
This is a long story, friends. It will take up two posts because our journey to a simple family bread that we could bake and use daily has not been a short one… not short, mind you, but entirely delicious, and in the end, well worth the effort.
So, let’s see, I suppose it started one day with one fateful lunch.
My kids were having pumpkin butter (that we made) slathered on toast (store bought) and eating pretzels (store bought) dipped in cream cheese (that we made) and yogurt (that we made) mixed with real maple syrup (from some farmers in Vermont that are reported to care deeply about their trees), and apples (store bought) slathered in peanut butter (homemade).
My guys were having the best time discussing among themselves what we had made ourselves, remembering the making and wondering if we couldn’t make the rest of the things on their plate that had come from the store.
Mama, could we make syrup?
Mama, could we make pretzels?
Mama, could we make bread?
Mama, can we grow apples?
We live in Texas though!
Oh alright, I suppose that we could
maybe raise up a crop of sugar cane and rig up an old fashioned press and make our own sugar cane syrup
(which we love just as well as we love the maple variety), but that’s probably not going to happen, and we have a distinct lack of maple trees, so I think that really, the best that we can do is support those Louisiana
and Vermont folks who do the job so
As for the pretzel sticks, well we know how to make soft pretzels, but the crunchy stick ones? … I’m at a loss.
But bread…. we could do that, right? I guess so, but geez, there’s all the measuring and the kneading and the carefully timed rising, TWICE, and the precise baking and good grief, a woman can only do so much in a day, right? A loaf now and again sure, but DAILY bread? I just don’t think I could swing it.
So I continued to buy bread at the grocery store even though I know it’s chock full of preservatives and partially hydrogenated this and that, and high fructose whatever. Yeah yeah yeah.
I’m gonna be straight with you. I’ve tried baking bread, many times, and mostly I’ve succeeded in creating nice smelling bricks, so it was going to take a lot to get me off store bought bread.
Maybe a bread machine would do the trick?
I read. I researched. And after a while, I developed something like an obsession with a bread machine that I MUST HAVE
! It’s $200, and while I”m sure it’s worth every penny, it’s a little out of our price range.
Craigslist and ebay have been no help at all.
Then, one day, I remembered that there was one bread that my husband’s mother served years ago… I remembered that we’d all raved over it for days.
I quickly emailed her, and sure enough she still had the recipe.
It goes like this:
Like County Line Bread (County Line being a local barbecue joint that is famous for their yummy bread)
2 T warm water
1 ½ t yeast
1/2 t sugar
3 ½ c bread or all purpose flour
¼ c solid vegetable shortening
In a small cup or bowl, combine warm water with yeast and sugar. Let sit for about 10-15 minutes. Then, in a large bowl pour yeast mixture, water, flour, shortening, sugar and salt. Using an electric mixer, blend on low until all ingredients are incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Mix for 7 minutes.
Remove dough and place in a clean bowl that has been greased lightly with oil. Turn dough over in bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp clean cloth and place in a warm spot to allow dough to double in size.
After dough rises, punch down to eliminate bubbles. Spray or grease and flour 9×4 or 5 inch loaf pan. Shape dough into a loaf and place in pan. In warm spot let rise again until double in size.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake loaf for 30 minutes or until loaf sounds hollow when tapped lightly on top. Makes 1 loaf.
So I made a loaf, and it was easy! Not only was it easy, it was really, REALLY good. So much so, that my men (the Daddy included) polished off an entire loaf at lunch.
I made another for dinner, and it fell to a similar fate.
Accept for a few things …
It’s all white flour.
It contains Crisco (read: partially hydrogenated this and that)
It includes a good bit of sugar.
Trust me, this recipe is worth making, as is, now and again, but it’s maybe not exactly what I want to feed my family everyday.
What seemed like a happy ending was only just the thoughtful beginning of a delicious journey.
Come back tomorrow, and I’ll fill you in on a few of the twists and turns that have finally brought us to a bread that is all ours, easy to make and respectably heathy.
The result is a simple recipe that even an old brick baker like me can manage and even grow to love. The measuring, the kneading, the rising… I’ve become a believer.
Bread is now as exactly as simple as it should be, and not one bit more.