A batch of homemade bread dough is ready to be baked. Photo by Getty Images/Ann_Zhuravleva
I was fortunate enough to grow up with a mother who cooked nearly everything from scratch. In addition to cooking meals and packing lunches for our large family, she also began baking bread when I was young. She most generally made four loaves at a time, three times a week, to meet the toast, garlic bread, and sandwich needs of the 10 of us.
One of my favorite memories of those years was Mum timing the bread so it was coming out of the oven just as we were getting home from school — a particularly wonderful, welcoming, warming smell on those cold, wet Northwest winter days.
My mother mixed up her bread dough in a contraption I remember as simply “the bread-maker.” It was a heavy dough hook with a wooden handle, connected to a lid that clamped onto the rim of a large, deep pot. The pot sat in a simple base with suction cups that held it securely in place on the counter.
She put the ingredients in the pot, clamped on the lid, and cranked the handle. The dough hook sat just above the bottom of the pot, so it mixed the ingredients quite thoroughly and efficiently without scraping the sides or bottom of the pot. I don’t remember how long she had to crank, but once the mixing was done, she simply left the dough in the covered pan to rise. Later, she removed it, shaped it, and put it into bread pans to rise a second time before baking.
Nowadays, bread bakers are advised to let loaves cool for at least an hour before cutting; cutting bread while it’s hot, we’re told, releases moisture from the bread as steam, resulting in bread with a shorter shelf life. But on baking day, trudging home hungrily from school and opening the front door to that familiar-yet-indescribable aroma, who could wait for it to cool? Of course, when bread is hot, you really can’t slice it thinly. So, crowding around the kitchen island and the cooling racks full of golden-brown loaves, we would wait impatiently for Mum to carve off thick slabs for each of us. We slathered the hot, moist bread with butter and homemade raspberry jam. Oh boy!
Clearly, shelf life was not much of an issue when it came to Mum’s homemade bread.
Excerpted with permission from Victoria Redhed Miller’s book From No-Knead to Sourdough, published by New Society Publishers.
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