The early years of my childhood connect to fond memories of hours in the kitchen, watching my Mom and Nana (grandmother) at the stove turning out dishes they were known for.
Nana had three or four dishes she was famous for in the family and neighborhood; number one on the list — home-baked bread.
I am hard pressed to remember a time throughout the 1960’s and early 70’s when the smell of freshly baked bread did not permeate our small Coal Region kitchen.
Nana baked nearly all the white bread we consumed, making three loaves at a time. As I close my eyes, I can see her donning her full cotton apron and gathering the supplies.
Heart of our home
Our home was typical to ones found in patch houses in the Coal Region; at the center of the eat-in kitchen was the chrome and vinyl dinette set around which every activity revolved. There was no fancy “kitchen island” or generous expanse of clutter-free counter-top: the kitchen table was the work-center and I always made sure I got a good seat to observe the action.
My Pappy (Grandfather) adored my Nana’s bread and could be found diving into a loaf of warm, soft bread only a few minutes out of the oven. To him, perfection was two slices of Nana’s bread with a generous layer of chow chow nestled between the slices. A “Pappy’s sandwich” was often on the table for his dinner or supper (or both).
Nana’s bread was much requested and often found its way to pot lucks, family gatherings, and bake sales. It even left the house tied with a bow as birthday gifts for her nieces who especially loved it.
Nana lovingly kneaded, shaped, and baked the loaves in decades old, and very well-used, loaf pans that I inherited.
I used those pans for a variety of reasons throughout the years and had to make some tough decisions when it came time to relocate back to Pennsylvania from New Hampshire. We could only take so much, and bake-wear was on “the hit list.”
The pans had seen much better days. I had not used them in awhile and I had some shiny new, heavy-duty ones in the pantry cabinet. One night during packing, my husband held them up with a questioning look in his eyes. With a lump in my throat, I nodded my consent for them to be disposed of.
To this day, every time I go to the cabinet to get a loaf pan, I think of “Nana’s pans” and get that same lump in my throat and ache in my heart; not for the actual pans, but for the loving memories of both my Nana and Pappy that flooded my heart every time I saw those dented, blackened, well-worn pans.
My Nana baked her bread up until she had heart problems making the kneading process too strenuous for her a few years before she passed away.
Since I equate home-baked bread with loving hands, I believe everyone should be able to bake a loaf of simple white bread. I use this family favorite easy recipe as my “go-to” whenever I bake white bread.
This recipe makes one loaf in a 9 x 5 loaf pan, but can be easily doubled. It requires no special or exotic ingredients and it uses all-purpose flour, not bread flour.
Ingredients you can pronounce
Home-baked bread does not have the staying power of store-bought bread; it is not loaded with preservatives, so it is best used within 2 or 3 days. Never refrigerate home-baked bread; this dries it out. You can freeze it; slice it as desired, place in a heavy plastic bag, seal well and place it in the freezer. Remove slices as needed and allow to thaw.
When I said this is easy, I meant this is easy. The recipe calls for instant yeast which requires no proofing (mixing the yeast with warm liquid and sugar to “foam” prior to using), simply add all the ingredients together, mix, and knead. You can use active dry yeast; just add it to the warmed milk and sugar, wait for it to foam, about 5 minutes, then proceed with the recipe as directed.
To make mixing easier for my arthritic hands, I use my stand mixer with the dough hook for the entire process, kneading for about 7 minutes. My recipe has been tweaked over the years to use weight for the flour rather than volume.
If you measure your flour with a measuring cup, hold back a little flour to see how the dough is coming together. I look for the dough to “grab” the bottom of the stand mixer bowl throughout the whole kneading process and be tacky when finished. Too much flour makes for heavy bread.
I turn my oven on to 350F degrees for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes then turn off the heat. This provides me with a “proofing box” in which to place my bowl with the dough to rise until doubles.
Time to bake the bread
Once doubled, I shape the loaf by gently punching down the dough in the bowl, turning it out onto a board, pressing it into a rectangle — the width of this rectangle being about the length of my loaf pan — then roll it tightly into a cylinder and place it into a well-greased loaf pan.
Place the bread in the pan back into the oven (which will still be warm), let it rise to about 1 inch above the edge of the pan, then turn the oven on to 350F degrees leaving the loaf in the oven while it heats, and bake 35 to 40 minutes.
Once browned and done, remove the bread from the oven, rub the top lightly with butter to make a shiny and soft top crust, wait 10 minutes, then remove the bread from the pan to a cooling rack.
The bread is delicious warm, but keep in mind the warmer it is when first sliced, the faster it dries out. I use honey rather than sugar in the recipe because honey helps keep the bread moist.
Hint: homemade loaves of basic white bread are easier to slice with a serrated bread knife if turned on their side for slicing.
Wrap the loaf tightly in plastic or place in a plastic bag for storing on the counter or bread-box.
Read the whole article and find the recipe on A Coalcracker in the Kitchen