Creative loafing

From baking and breaking, breads evolve in complicated processes

From baking and breaking, breads evolve in complicated processes

February 19, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

Bread has meaning beyond the simplicity of its basic ingredients - yeast, flour, water or milk, fat, sugar and salt.

It is what is requested in the Lord's Prayer, it is the sacrament of the Last Supper in Christianity. When people "break bread together" they are sharing more than a meal.

It's history is long. Prehistoric people mixed grain meal with water and baked it on heated rocks to make flat bread. The Egyptians are believed to have learned to make bread with yeast - probably when batter left in the sun attracted air-borne yeast, which is a single-celled living plant organism, according to the Wheat Foods Council.

The ancient Greeks learned from the Egyptians, the Romans from the Greeks and the Europeans from the Romans.

The smell of bread baking can bring back memories of years past for Cheryl Smith. Her memories don't go back to the Greeks or Romans, but to her childhood in Artemas, Pa., a small rural town near Flintstone, Md.


Her grandmother, Vada Karns, always made white bread - five or six loaves at a time, and when she was little, Smith always helped her. She brought "Granny's" recipe with her when she moved to Hagerstown 26 years ago.

Smith, 54, enjoys cooking and baking and says making bread is fun.

She also mentions a therapeutic benefit: "If you're upset with someone, you can take it out on the bread."

Kathy House likes to make bread as well as the wide variety of sweets - cakes, pies, cookies and candy and some sugar-free and no-sugar-added items - she sells at Ol' Town Sweets, the shop she opened six and a half months ago in downtown Boonsboro.

She's been baking since she was in high school, when she started working in local grocery-store bakeries part time. She worked 19 years for area supermarkets, traveling, setting up and opening bakeries in 20 stores.

House offers a broad selection of breads. Her list of about 20 different varieties includes wheat, Italian, garlic, multigrain, cheese, pumpernicklel, spinach-onion and a sundried-tomato loaf.

House works with basic bread recipes and gets ideas from cookbooks and magazines and makes them her own. She enjoys trying different concoctions, but doesn't eat them.

"I just like doing it," she says.

House has a commerical mixer and oven in her small Main Street kitchen, but her bread-making still is very hands-on.

"Take (the dough) and just smash it down," she says describing the kneading process.

House suggests a baking time of 30 minutes for the basic white bread she's transformed into a sweet herbed round. But she doesn't need a timer to tell her when it's ready.

"I just know."

Smith still makes bread the traditional way - mixing, letting it rise, kneading, letting it rise, baking and waiting for those memory-inducing aromas.

But she also uses a bread machine, a relatively modern invention introduced about 10 years ago. With a bread machine, the baker mixes the ingredients and can sit back and let computer-chip technology do the rest.

Smith finds the machine-made bread to be a lot heavier, more condensed than the "from-scratch" bread, but she makes it frequently.

Unlike Granny's recipe, you only get one loaf at a time, Smith says.

And there's another drawback: "You don't get to pound the dough," she says.

Sliced or unsliced, the "staff of life" is the world's most widely eaten food, according to World Book Encyclopedia.

  • Baking tips

  • Stirring flour before measuring adds a little air and helps texture.

  • Dissolve yeast before mixing with dry ingredients.

  • Mix dry ingredients in food processor before adding yeast or other liquids.

  • Don't omit salt in your recipe. In addition to enhancing flavor, salt strengthens the gluten and controls the rate of fermentation of the yeast. Without salt, the bread will overrise and have a different texture.

  • Kitchen temperature and humidity can affect the amount of time it takes to prepare dough for baking.

  • Let the dough rest for five or 10 minutes after kneading to make it easier to handle.

  • Use about 1/4 cup wheat bran, wheat germ, bulgur or cracked wheat for every two cups of flour when adding to a bread recipe. Because these ingredients absorb liquid and tend to produce a drier loaf, leave the dough as moist as possible. Knead less to avoid cutting gluten strands with sharp edges of these ingredients.

  • Poke dough with your fingers to see if it is kneaded enough. It should spring back. Blisters on the dough surface also indicate sufficient kneading.

  • Honey may be substituted for sugar - one for one.

  • Place dough in the refrigerator if you want to slow the rising process.

  • Place the covered bowl of dough in an oven heated with a pan of steaming water to speed up the second rising.

- Source: Wheat Foods Council

Basic White Bread

  • 1 1/4-ounce package active dry yeast

  • 2 tablespoons shortening

  • 1 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees)

  • 2 tablespoons white sugar

  • 2 tablespoons salt

  • 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted

Mix together shortening, sugar, salt, yeast and 1 1/5 cups flour.

Add warm water and beat by hand about 300 strokes, or three minutes with electric mixer.

Add remaining flour, scraping bowl often and mix all together until smooth.

Cover with a clean cloth and let rise until doubled in volume.

Cut dough in half. Shape and knead bread to make two round and flat - pizza-shaped - loaves.

Brush with olive oil and honey.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rise about 30 minutes.

Topping (to taste): tomatoes and green peppers, diced; garlic and rosemary

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bake approximately 30 minutes, until golden brown.

Glaze again with honey.

Delicious warm.

-Source: Kathy House, Ol' Town Sweets

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