kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
[personal profile] kaigou
Still waiting to hear from my dad about his mother's chocolate cake recipe (and his rhubarb pie recipe, just because it sounds bizarre but it's best evidence to cite of making pie from anything) -- but here's my Mom's (and now also my) favorite bread recipe for when guests come to visit. I could've sworn I'd posted this before, but apparently not.

1 c scalded sweet (whole) milk
1/4 c butter, salted
1/3 c honey
1 pkg yeast
1/4 c warm water (about 80F)
1 tsp table salt
5 c flour (all-purpose or bread flour)
2 lg eggs, beaten lightly

Scald milk in hot saucepan, and drop in butter and honey. Butter will melt faster if you slice the stick and drop in a few pieces at a time. Stir until butter melts, and let cool until lukewarm, about 70-80F. For faster cooling, stick the pot in the fridge, but remember to stir it every 8-10 minutes.

Dissolve yeast into warm water; proof. I always throw in about a tablespoon of granulated sugar, or a large dollop of honey -- the sugar makes the yeasties especially happy. Proofing is when you make sure the yeasties are happy -- the mixture bubbles -- but sugar is a way to stimulate them if they were feeling emo. The sugar doesn't impact the overall recipe much, because the yeasties will have eaten most of it by the time the mix is proofed.

Add yeast mixture to milk mixture, with salt & 2 c of the flour. DO NOT SKIP THE SALT. It's not there for taste; it's there for chemistry. If you use unsalted butter, then there's a proportion of salt you'll need to add to compensate. Most baking books should tell you.

When that's all mixed well, then add eggs & the rest of the flour. Keep the mixer on low, if at all possible. Too much mixing and/or too-strong of mixing will damage the yeast critters. Pressure is one thing, like when kneading, but mechanical mixing can be too fierce for bread.

Knead until not quite so rough, but not smooth: remove from mixer and knead the last five minutes by hand.

Form into a large round ball, and pour about two dollops (roughly a 1/4 cup) of canola oil into the bottom of a large bowl (I just re-use the mixer bowl). Put the bread in top-down (your grip is on the 'bottom') and swirl the bread around to get the oil coating evenly. Then roll the bread over, so now it's coated nicely with oil. Now you're ready to let it rise, but if it's not about 80% humidity and over 80F in your kitchen, you'll need to help the bread along. That's not because you can't make bread when it's not humid... that's because this recipe's proportions are based on making this bread in Georgia.

(The recipe is also based on making the bread with Southern flour -- which, if you didn't know, flour is very regional. I've made this bread when living in New England, but I had to work extra-hard to keep it humid, and I also believe I ended up adding a bit more liquid because the flour's water content was low compared to the flour I bought in Virginia.)

If your kitchen is dry: get the tap water to as hot as you can stand it, and soak a dish towel in the hot water, wring out most of it so it's hot-damp, and cover the bowl with this cloth. Fold the cloth over for a double-layer if your kitchen is especially dry, to keep a little more water/humidity inside the bowl for the bread.

If your kitchen is cool: stick the bread in an unheated oven, and turn the oven light on. Cover the bowl with a damp-hot cloth, and set the timer for about 20min (so you'll know to come check the bread before it rises right up out of the bowl, which would be bad).

If your kitchen is cool AND dry: boil some water in a teapot or pot -- microwaved water cools down too fast, IME -- and pour this water into a pan. Set that pan on the oven-shelf BELOW the bowl of bread. (DO NOT set the bowl of bread INTO the pan of hot water! You will kill the yeast critters!) Close the oven door, to trap heat and humidity in there with the bread.

Back home in Georgia and Virginia, I always left the rising bread out on the countertop, but with damp cloth to protect it. Now I'm in the lower Midwest, and I do the oven+water+cloth trick to make the bread happy.

When the bread's risen to about twice its size, take out the bowl, punch down the bread, and then knead. Doesn't have to be too much, and no major pounding is required -- this isn't that kind of bread. Best is to squeeze it between your hands, to pop the bubbles. Fold it over, press down, fold, press down, do that about a dozen times. Form it into a ball again, add more oil to the bowl, swirl the dough-ball around to coat it, then re-cover with re-warmed damp towel and stick it back in the unheated (but probably rather humid by now) oven. Redo the hot water in the pan, if you need to.

Repeat this rise-and-beat-down process... well, at least twice if you don't have a lot of time. Four times if you want the bread to turn out decently fluffy. Six times if you've got in-laws coming and you really want the bread to melt in their mouth. A'course, I almost always do 5-6 times, but that's mostly because I get distracted and don't want to deal with baking it quite yet, so I just let it keep rising. More than six times, though, start to undo all your hard work (unless your kitchen is really hot, and humid, like by midway through a family holiday with sixteen dishes being made, in which case let the bread rise on the table because it'll be happy enough with the warmth that it won't need the oven's protection).

When you're ready for baking it, use a big chef's knife and CUT the bread-amount you want. Do not tear/rip! Uhm, there's a reason but I can't remember it now. Anyway, this should make about three of the usual loaf pans, or two decent-sized loaves and maybe a smallish half-a-loaf (your tester loaf). Again, oil the pans and swirl the dough the same, then let it rise a last twenty minutes or so.

Bake in a 400F oven for about 20 minutes. The tops should be a soft light brown, and the loaves should slide easily out of the pan. Turn a loaf over; the bottom should be no more than medium-brown. Thump lightly on the bottom with two fingers. If the bread sounds 'hollow' -- like there's nothing inside the loaf, really, but a lot of air -- then it's done. If unsure, sacrifice the small loaf to test, but at most you may need another minute or two.

In case you do need more time, don't leave the oven door open while you check the bread (or the temp is escaping and that'll whack your estimates for time needed to bake). Just open the door long enough to pull out the small loaf. Overall, you probably shouldn't go over about 24min total in the oven; if you need more than that, something's really wrong.

When warm, the bread is best if you pull it apart (which also shows off the multiple layers and strands of all the folding with each rising time) -- when cool, you can pull or slice. Slicing when warm, for some reason, tends to be more likely to crush the bread a little. That's assuming that you still have any bread left by the time it's cooled off.

This is not a bread that's ever kept well when I've made it, simply because there are always two-legged rats willing and able to devour the bread as soon as it slides out of the baking pans. This is also why I always make a double-batch, which gets me three large loaves, two medium loaves, and two small loaves: that's the only way to make sure there'll be some bread leftover for me.
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kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
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"When you make the finding yourself— even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light— you'll never forget it." —Carl Sagan

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