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Breaking Bread

September 7, 2010

Courtesy of Martha Stewart

My mother is a wonderful cook. She learned from her mother and older sister, as they are fantastic in the kitchen as well. But, the thing I think about the most often in my mom’s repertoire is all her own, her homemade bread. Where I live now, in the South, it’s truly all about the biscuits (and I’m trying to master rosemary ones), but there’s nothing more comforting or that reminds me as much of my own roots than my mother’s recipe for simple white bread.

She started making it when they lived in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina in 1971, but it will forever take me back to my Midwestern roots. It’s a bit rustic and no frills, but make no mistake, it’s simply Heaven on a plate. I didn’t always think that, though. Around age eight I recall being really embarrassed at lunch when we were the only kids in the cafeteria noshing on pb&j’s sans the Wonder bread. But, my mom tells a different story of stopping bread baking while my dad traveled for long stretches to Egypt for work and my brother came home and asked, “Where’s that good bread?” Hence, the homemade version was resurrected.

When we were younger, my parents both loved to entertain and threw epic parties generally resulting in my dad calling some old Army buddy of his in some foreign country around 4 a.m. and talking at the top of his lungs after downing gin and tonics all night. But, for those nights that were a bit more civilized, I remember that bread making an appearance, often baked in little terra cotta pots for guests to have their own individual loaf to break.

Ritually, on Wednesdays and Sundays, she’d make that bread. A long, slim loaf that she’d knead out in the morning, let rise in the afternoon, and bake by evening. My favorite way to eat it has always been the same–just out of the oven with a thin spread of butter. That’s it. Since I’ve been in Kansas with my mom this past week, I thought I’d finally nab the recipe and share it with you.

Perfect White Bread
(from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook)

1 package active dry yeast
¼ cup water
2 cups milk, scalded
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon shortening
6 to 6 ¼ cups sifted all-purpose flour

Oven 400°

Soften active dry yeast in warm water (110°). Combine hot milk, the sugar, salt, and shortening. Cool to lukewarm.

Stir in 2 cups of the flour; beat well. Add the softened yeast; mix. Add enough of remaining flour to make a moderately stiff dough. Turn out on lightly floured surface; knead till smooth and satiny (8 to 10 minutes). Shape in a ball; place in lightly greased bowl, turning once to grease surface. Cover; let rise in warm place till double (about 1 ½ hours). Punch down. Let rise again until double (about 45 minutes).

Cut dough in 2 portions. Shape each in smooth ball; cover and let rest 10 minutes. Shape in loaves; place in 2 greased loaf pans (8 ½ x 4 ½ x 2 ½ inch). Cover and let rise till double (about 1 hour). Bake in hot oven (400°) 35 minutes or until done. If tops brown too fast, cover loaves with aluminum foil last 20 minutes. Makes 2 loaves.