It’s no secret that I love bread. I could live on bread. Probably. Definitely. I love to make it, eat it, write about it, and I love to smell it . . . oh my goodness, nothing in this world smells better than freshly baked bread. I love to teach people to make bread, too — I’ll tell you more about that in a minute or two.
I love flatbreads, tall yeasty loaves, and hearty whole grain loaves with butter drenched slashes across the top. Biscuits are so good. So is cornbread, herb loaves, foccaccia, sourdough, rye, and so forth. The world of bread holds infinite variety, and I must try each variation at least once. Well, except for the ones with names like Hot Pepper Jack Cornbread. Hot peppers and I have a difficult past. I don’t interfere with other people’s relationships with hot peppers, but I’m cautious in my dealings with them.
I learned to make bread by helping my mother and grandmother, and I really cannot remember a time when I didn’t understand exactly how it’s made. Tucked between the pages of an old cookbook inherited from my grandmother is a scrap of paper with the recipe for ‘Mom’s White Bread’ written in Grandma’s handwriting. It’s the bread recipe I first learned. There’s nothing special about the recipe itself . It’s just flour, water, yeast, salt, and shortening. I’ve seen its copy or near copy in a dozen recipe books and on twice that many websites. It’s basic bread, and once upon a time, every housewife knew how to make it.
Mom’s White Bread is one of two recipes I use to teach breadmaking to beginners. (The pizza dough recipe appeals more to the teenagers and early 20-something’s I’ve taught.) I make it now and then for a neighbor, too, who doesn’t care for the heartier wheat breads. The rest of the time I go wild and use all sorts of fun and tasty ingredients, including freshly ground grain, duck eggs, and home-grown herbs.
Sometimes I make just one loaf.
Occasionally, I pull out the big commercial mixer with its twenty-quart bowl and giant bread hook. I’ve mixed twenty-loaf batches with the help of that big bread hook. Usually a ten-loaf batch is plenty for us and the neighbors. I have wonderful neighbors, and sharing bread with them is one way I can thank them for the many ways they’ve helped me.
I don’t have enough bread pans for the big mixer days, but no one seems to mind when they’re gifted with longer, rustic loaves instead of the square, sandwich shaped loaves.
The rustic, hearth breads develop a better texture when they’re allowed to spread a bit, I think.
Skillet cornbread is a favorite. Skillet cornbread with too much butter tastes even better. It’s partly to blame for the extra inches at my waistline.
I still use the biscuit recipe I learned in 7th grade home ec class. Mom and Grandma made really good yeast breads but their biscuits were just okay. Mom tossed out her recipe and used the class one after I brought it home. I even have the mimeograph copy of the recipe the teacher passed out before the lesson. The ink’s too faded to read the recipe now, but that’s okay. I memorized it more than 30 years ago anyway.
Those biscuits are particularly good with milk gravy. This batch of milk gravy is particularly thick and milky. The child I was making it for likes it that way. Sometimes I go with a spicier version, and sometimes I let the sausage and flour brown more for a darker gravy.
I tinker with my bread recipes this way, too. That’s the fun of it. Once you’ve mastered the basic techniques of breadmaking, you can play around a bit and experiment. You can go wild with exotic ingredients or just make do with what’s on hand. Either way, you nearly always end up with bread that tastes much better than anything you can buy in the store, and it’s better for you, too. No preservatives. No unpronounceable ingredients, hydrogenated oils, or ‘flavorings’. Just good wholesome, real food.
Join me here at The Land of Moo in the coming months for The Evolution of Bread, a series of recipes, lessons, and musings about the craft of breadmaking. I hope you’ll join the conversation and tell me about your own favorite breads.
Look for other changes in the blog, too, over the next few months — more frequent posts, tips and how-to articles, a resource section, and more. I’ve wanted to add these features for a long time, but there simply weren’t enough hours in the day for me to take care of the farm and write about it, too. I have full-time help now, and you can expect to read her contributions to the blog soon, too.
In the meantime, tell me about your bread. Do you bake bread? Do you want to learn to bake bread? What type of bread do you love most?