Friday, May 17, 2013

My Mother's Bread

whole wheat bread golden ridges

My mother has been making her own bread for most of her life, using the same trusted recipe that she's perfected over time. I called her up several months ago asking for it and jotted it down hastily as she narrated it over the phone. I've made bread in the past, but it never turned out like my mother's - her loaves were always perfectly formed, with dark brown exteriors that weren't thick or crusty or hard to slice through. They were always baked evenly throughout, and even though they were made with whole wheat flour they weren't too heavy or dense, but had a light crumbly texture.

I missed my mom's bread, so I decided it was time to get her recipe and see if some of her bread making wisdom had rubbed off on me over the years. I've watched her make bread from the time that I was small enough to use her bread mixing bowl as a winter sled. She taught me how to knead bread and form it into loaves (although mine always end up looking a little odd). She showed me the trick of using your wrist to gauge the temperature of the water for proofing yeast: "If it's warm enough to wash a baby, it's the right temperature". (I'm still not sure that I would trust myself to wash a baby though.)

Of course, the main thing with making bread is patience. My mother always used to make bread on the weekends, on a lazy Saturday or Sunday. The big bread bowl would come out, along with the bread pans, darkened with use, and the entire morning or afternoon would be dedicated to the making of bread. She'd occupy herself with other chores or just relax in between rises - even though the bread takes about three hours to make, the majority of that time is spent waiting. My father and I would always wait impatiently, both of us looking forward to that first slice of fresh bread, still warm from the oven, smeared with melting butter.

So be warned, this bread requires time and patience, but it's more than worth it, if only for that first glorious slice.

my mother's recipe

Whole Wheat Bread
This bread is delicious, hearty and full of character. It's crumbly and has a rich nutty flavour from the whole wheat flour, and tastes of goodness. Feel free to mix in other whole grain flours to play with the flavour and texture, like spelt or rye.

2 cups milk
1 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar or honey
1/2 cup oil
4 tsp salt
2 cups boiling water + 2 tsp brown sugar or honey
2 tbsp dry active yeast (not instant)
10 - 12 cups whole wheat flour

Makes 4 loaves.

how bread begins proofing yeast proofed yeast
add flour and start stirring! whole wheat bread in the making whole wheat bread dough, ready to rise
the first rise pat out the dough roll it up
flatten the ends tuck in the ends let's bake it!

1. Mix together the milk, 1 cup water, brown sugar, oil, and salt in a pot over medium heat, stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

2. In a separate large bowl, combine the boiling water with the 2 tsp of brown sugar. Let the mixture cool until it's about 110°F. If you don't have a candy thermometer, you can test it by placing a few drops on your wrist - it should be warm, not hot. Once it's the right temperature, add the yeast and let it proof for 10 minutes.

3. Once the yeast mixture has proofed, stir it into the milk mixture. At this point, you can add in a handful of wheat germ, oats, or milk powder to the mixture if you so desire for some added nutrition and texture.

4. Start adding the whole wheat flour to the liquid, stirring in 1 cup at a time until a dough forms and starts to pull away from the edges of the dough. When it becomes easy enough to handle, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and continue to knead in flour until the dough becomes supple and smooth. Only add as much flour as you need, as the amount may vary.

5. Oil the bottom of a large bowl, then place the dough in the bowl, making sure to oil the top and bottom of the dough. Cover it with a damp towel and leave it to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. If you forget about it and let it rise longer than an hour, don't worry! The bread will still turn out fine.

6. When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and divide it into four sections. Knead each section on a lightly floured surface until smooth and supple. Knead it out into a rectangle shape (or as close as you can manage) and roll it into a log, kneading it as you roll it to work out any air bubbles. After you've formed it into a log shape, flatten the ends and tuck them under to form a loaf. Transfer to a greased loaf pan. Alternatively, you can form the dough into round loaves and bake on a baking sheet, or form into buns. Cover the loaves/buns with a damp towel again, and let rise again until doubled in size, or until it reaches the size you want, about 1 hour. Note, it will rise more as it bakes in the oven.

7. Once the loaves have risen, bake them at 400°F for 10 minutes, then at 350°F for 20 - 25 minutes, or until the bread comes away from the sides of the pan. If you're making buns instead of loaves, you won't need to bake them as long.

8. When your bread has finished baking, remove from the pans and let it cool completely on wire racks. The bread will keep well for up to at least 5 days stored at room temperature in a sealed bag. You can freeze the extra loaves for up to several months. Whenever you want a fresh loaf of bread, just take it out of the freezer and let it come to room temperature.

crusty bread loaf my mother's bread

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