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Babci’s bread: cultivating the need to knead


As part of the frugal living challenge, I decided to bake my own bread. My mom has been baking bread since before I was born; to this day, I am consumed with gushy childhood memories at the smell of bread baking. I can’t say why I have never attempted my own bread, or even helped her out enough to know the recipe by now, especially considering how much I love to cook. I suppose it has to do with my general disdain for the fussiness and measuring of baking. I love to smell and taste as I’m cooking–a pinch of this and a smattering of that–so baking has never appealed to me beyond easily-mixed, fool-proof recipes like breakfast cookies.

In the beginning, even buying flour and getting out the proper bowl were tough for me, having never done it before. Luckily, I stumbled upon this quick Bread 911 page from the Washington Post, which I discovered when googling whether I could use my biggest metal bowl (answer: no metal bowls! Glass, ceramic, and plastic are all okay).

As I’ve gotten into the swing of it, I understand now why people continue to bake their own bread over the generations. At once gratifyingly simple (the kneading) and dazzlingly complex (yeast is a fickle creature), bread-making can induce a serenely meditative state. Put on your favorite classical album, or perhaps listen to a good audio book. In my inaugural bake, Tom Ashbrook’s melodic voice, of NPR’s On Point, served as my means of morning meditation (mmmmmm).

For my first attempt, I made this basic brown bread recipe from a fellow blogger. I love molasses and figured it to be a good match. It’s delicious and makes great sandwich slices. Now that I’ve broken the ice, a new world of recipes, rolls and buns and loaves, is opening up to me. I’m a brand new me! I’m going to dig up my great aunt’s recipe for cinnamon rolls next; at the time she gave a roll-making tutorial to my family, I never thought I’d continue the tradition. Three cheers for the survival of heritage recipes!

To jump start your journey into baking, I’m sharing what I’ve learned in my admittedly short life as a bread maker:

1. Yeast is a living organism, so be sure yours is fresh; it should bubble and foam if it is working. It will only grow in water between 105 and 115 degF warm.

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2. If you are adding both oil and a sticky substance (e.g. molasses, honey), measure the oil first; your measuring cup and scrubbing hand will thank you.

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3. It will probably take more flour than the recipe says. It IS important to add it in small increments (1/2 c.) when kneading, but it’s not important to be careful and level off each cupful.

4. The kneading stretches the gluten, which gives you a better textured bread, so you aren’t going to hurt it by punching and pulling; the more, the better.

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Look Ma! It worked!

5. Knead at least five minutes or until your arms burn and your dough no longer sticks to the board or your hands. It should also spring back when poked.

6. The bread will release from the loaf pan easily if you grease it before adding the bread and leave it in the pan for 5-10 minutes after it comes out of the oven.

7. Wrap bread in a tea towel and cool completely before cutting. This process softens the hard outer crust and makes it easier to cut into thin, even slices.

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A few air holes in this loaf. I didn’t punch it hard enough.

8. To freeze, wrap in freezer-safe plastic (I re-use grocery bags or bread bags) and store in a chest freezer for up to 6-8 months. They are lucky to last a week in our house. More bread-freezing tips are available here.

Mom happily shared her recipe for high-rising yeast bread, which is delicious with lots of butter and perfect for dinner parties. It’s a show-stopper! “Babci” means Grandma in Polish, and it’s what mom called her Polish grandmother who didn’t speak any English and is now what Vivi calls mom. This recipe is mom’s version of her grandmother’s bread, tweaked into her own style of baking:

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Babci’s High-Rising Yeast Bread

In a small bowl, add:
1 c. warm water
2 packets of yeast (that’s 2 Tbs. if you use a jar)
1 tsp. of sugar

Let the yeast do its thing for at least 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix together:
3/4 c. milk
3/4 c. hot water (to offset the coldness of the milk)
1 Tbs. salt
1/2 c. plus 4 Tbs. sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 c. oil

Add yeast water and 7 c. flour (mom likes King Arthur’s unbleached white flour; I like the same brand but get “whole wheat white flour”). Keep 1-2 cups of flour on reserve before your hands get messy. Dump the mixture out onto a floured board and knead, adding flour as needed, until it no longer sticks to the board or your hands. Fold, press, fold, press.

Let bread rise in an oiled bowl with a wet tea towel on top for 1 hour. Punch down and let rise again for 30 min to 1 hr. Divide it in half, roll into burrito shapes, and put into greased loaf pans. Cover with a wet towel again for 30 minutes.

Bake at 350 degF for 30-40 minutes; time depends on altitude and your oven.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of Monday Mania, Homemaker MondayTeach Me TuesdaythePatchwork Living Blogging Bee, the Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways Blog HopSimple Lives Thursday, Frugal Friday #1, Frugal Friday #2, Fight Back FridayDIY Friday, and the Homestead Barn Hop

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