My mother will never know this because unfortunately she’s no longer with us but she really taught me the art of baking. She was an excellent baker, as well as an excellent cook. Me, I’ve always steered more toward baking than cooking. From a young age I was whipping up cake batters, cookies, and strawberry shortcakes.
I truly can’t remember one thing that mom baked that didn’t turn out perfect. She made making pies look like the easiest thing on earth, never having to piece together a crust like I’ve had to do on more than one occasion. Her sugar cookies were the sweetest and softest I’ve ever brought to my lips. Sweet enough to risk getting caught stealing them out of the freezer where she kept them for “safe keeping” before Christmas. I will never make rice pudding like she did, even following her recipe.
The other day I decided that with the cold weather setting in I’d make a couple of loaves of whole wheat bread. I love the fall for this reason. Everything seems to slow down a bit and I can focus more on cooking and baking. While I was making the bread I wondered what mom would think if she were sitting at my counter watching me. I decided she’d probably be very glad that I enjoy baking like I do, maybe she would give me some helpful tips, but she would probably wonder why I couldn’t make bread without making my kitchen such a mess. It doesn’t matter how careful I am not to get flour all over the place, it still happens and sometimes I swear the more careful I am, the bigger mess I make.
This recipe for the whole wheat bread came from one of my favorite Williams-Sonoma cookbooks called Baking. The recipe gave me the option of mixing by hand, or with a mixer and a dough hook. I opted for the dough hook, so out came the mixer.
I have never used the mixer to make bread before. I’ve always made my bread by hand or cheated and used my bread maker. I have to say it was nice letting the mixer do the work for me. It was also nice getting more than one loaf of bread, not an option when I use the bread maker.
The recipe is as follows, with a few adaptations.
In a bowl, whisk the whole wheat flour and 2 1/2 cups of bread flour (I used all-purpose flour in place of the bread flour). In a large bowl, or bowl of the electric mixer, combine 2 cups of the flour mixture, salt, and yeast. In a saucepan over low heat, combine 1 cup of water, the milk, molasses, and butter. Heat to lukewarm (110 degrees). Stir this liquid mixture into the yeast mixture and beat until hard and smooth. Add the remaining flour, mix and knead. If kneading by hand, knead for about 10 minutes. If using a mixer with dough hook the dough should pull cleanly from the sides of your bowl (about 6-7 minutes.) *Note the dough will be heavy.
Place the dough into a greased bowl and cover with a greased piece of plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until the dough is doubled. ( About 1 -1 1/2 hours).
Grease two loaf pans. Turn the dough onto lightly floured surface and cut in half. (The recipe tells you to roll flat, and then roll up tightly and pinch the seams to seal.) I formed each half into an oval loaf, and place in the greased pans. Cover the pans with a clean towel, and let rise until doubled. (About 45-60 minutes).
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the loaves with egg yolk (I skipped this stage, and brushed the loaf with butter when it came out of the oven for a softer crust.) Bake until golden brown, and the loaves sound hollow when you tap them. (About 30-40 minutes). Transfer to a wire rack and cool. When the pans are cool enough to touch take the bread out of them.
I figure if my mom was here to taste my bread she would have overlooked the mess I made of my kitchen and said it was all worth it in the end. The bread sure tastes good toasted with the homemade peach jam I made this summer.
Do you prefer to bake, or cook? Did someone teach you the art? If so, who was it?