Baking Bread, Cracking Jokes & Missing Mom
My Mom isn’t remembered for what I’ll call her “hands-off goulash,” a boring, overcooked stew with ground chuck bubbling away in the crockpot when we came home from school. Her breakfast skills were limited to preparing electric-skillet fried onions and potatoes and scrambled eggs or getting us to make our own instant oatmeal and cold cereal. “Creative cook” she was not: she far preferred spending time in the garden or knitting sweaters to spending lots of time in the kitchen. Except, however, when she was baking bread.
A Family Bread Recipe
Mom’s homemade bread is famous in my family both for how Mom secured the recipe—from Dad’s intimidating grandmother Ruth, the family matriarch, when they were newly married—as well as the hand-made wonder of a fresh loaf of bread in an increasingly “convenience food” world. Every December, Mom would send us to school with a collection of loaves to distribute to our teachers and bus drivers as her low-cost but much appreciated thank you gifts for the folks who took care of her kids during the day.
Everybody who enjoyed a still-warm slice or relished their own loaf absolutely loved Mom’s homemade bread because of that je ne sais quoi quality of the homemade, hand-made product. Homemade almost always tastes better than commercially-prepared (unless you forget to add the salt, which I’ve only done one time: yuck!). “You can’t have the recipe until you’re in the family!” Mom used to tease my sister-in-law: she made a big deal of finally sharing her recipe. One sister even filmed Mom demonstrating the steps, including punching down the risen dough which she used as a chance to crack a parenting joke.
Funny Mom, to the End
Mom was a funny gal who’s exuberance and quick humor caught my introverted Dad’s eye from the first time they met in their college religion class. She was the only girl among the four kids in her family, all of whom would grow up to be characters, as you can see here in a photo series taken at the height of her last chemotherapy treatment.
Our unpleasant acquaintance Cancer spent three years with Mom as she battled to retain her humor in the face of this disease’s pain, indignity, and terminal nature. My Mom wasn’t a perfect parent, especially in the early years: I wish she’d been more affectionate and attentive to all her kids as they were growing up—five kids!—but if you look closer, you can see she tried to show how much she loved us all. When I think of all the home-baked loaves, hand-knit sweaters, freshly-picked rose bouquets, and other ways Mom tried to show and share her love to her five kids and eventually to all her grandchildren, too, it makes it easier to forgive her mistakes.
One of Mom’s mistakes? Using slimy vegetable shortening as an ingredient in her super-special homemade bread. Ick! Now, I can’t give you her official recipe (with the vegetable shortening) because, you know, you need to be in the family. I will, however, share with you the hippified recipe I plan to make for Mother’s Day. This year I’ll make some cinnamon bread with either melted butter or coconut oil and see how it changes this old recipe toward health and flavor.
Although I don’t make this recipe very often (because folks at Little Ren Hen Bread, Hush Harbor, and others do such a great job keeping us in great bread!), this foodie family is grateful to have learned early on about the magic of yeast for making bread and pizza dough and of the emotional, loving quality of homemade things. Thanks Mom.
Mom’s Hippified Homemade White and/or Cinnamon Bread
Ingredients for 2 Loaves
- 1-1/2 cups warm milk
- 2 tsp. yeast
- 1 egg beaten with a fork until fluffy
- 1-1/3 tsp. salt
- 1/8 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup melted and cooled butter or coconut oil
- 3+ cups sifted flour
Add yeast to 1 Tbsp. warm milk with a dash of sugar. Let it set until it bubbles or liquifies.
In another bowl, combine beaten egg, salt, the rest of the milk, sugar, butter/oil, and the yeast.
Put flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add liquids. Stir well until it’s all mixed in. Cover with a clean cloth and let rise for 30 minutes.
Roll out dough onto a floured board and knead well. Oil a heavy sided bowl, tuck under the ends of the kneaded dough and set in the bowl, cover with a clean cloth and let rise in a warm spot.
After 45 minutes, punch down the dough and divide into 2 loaves set into oiled-floured pans. If you want to make cinnamon bread, roll out one of the dough balls into a rectangle with the short side approximating the length of the bread pan. Scatter/sprinkle a mixture of cinnamon and sugar over the dough and roll the short end to the other end and place in bread pan with the seam of the roll under the loaf.
Cover with a clean cloth and let rise in a warm spot for another 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325° and bake for 45 minutes or until nicely browned. Remove from oven and set pans on their sides so baked loaf can be easily liberated from the pan. Rub tops of warm loaves with butter and allow to cool a bit before slicing. Try not to eat the whole loaf in one sitting.