December 19, 2010
Nothin’ says lovin’ like somethin’ from the oven
~The Pillsbury Dough Boy
The art of cookie-making eludes me. Burned bottoms every time. In the early ‘80s, I turned out a fine pie, with a light, flaky, melt in your mouth crust. Our neighbor, Roz, who toiled occasionally in the kitchen at Sammy’s, was so smitten with my apple and red raspberry version she wanted to add it to their chichi menu.
Unfortunately, I lost my touch. My Aunt Jean told me to just buy Pillsbury refrigerated crusts and roll them out thinner, so that’s what I began doing. Are they as good as scratch? Not quite, but they’re a pretty decent substitute.
I make good cakes. This is applied science, along with care and patience. Follow the directions exactly. Measure carefully. Do not improvise if you want edible results.
Bread is another story. Baking bread is like making love. You take your time. Put your body into it. Really feel with your hands. My bread is great although don’t misinterpret this statement as braggadocio about my skills in the nooky department.
For three decades, a couple of days before Christmas, I’ve baked four to seven loaves of two different recipes. Homemade bread, with premium butter and paper thin slices of raw garlic (don’t turn up your nose like that, it’s delicious), is the first course of our traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner, called Wigilia ("vigil") which starts when the first star appears in the sky,
The World of Breads published in 1966 is the source of both recipes. One is an egg-based baguette called “Danish Franskbrod” but the Danes call it “French bread,” perhaps because it’s similar to brioche. The other, made in loaf pans, is a sour cream bread, my favorite. It’s so tender that you must wait until the next day to eat it. As it keeps well wrapped in a cool place, days later it makes fabulous toast, especially when slathered with Irish butter and blackberry jam. Here’s the recipe:
Sour Cream Bread
Makes 1 large or 2 small loaves. This recipe is easily doubled.
2 cakes or packets of yeast*
1/3 Cup warm water (between 105-115 degrees)
1/2 Cup milk, scalded
1 Cup sour cream
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/2 Tablespoons butter, melted in the hot milk
4-1/2 Cups flour (like King Arthur or Sapphire, my fave)
Additional melted butter for brushing the loaf tops
Equipment: 1 medium and 2 large bowls, one buttered; a kitchen thermometer; a bread board or really clean kitchen counter; buttered loaf pans
In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water. In the medium bowl, add the milk and melted butter to the sour cream, sugar and salt; stir to combine.
Beat the sour cream mixture into the yeast mixture. Add flour gradually, beating after every addition. (Save 1/2 to 1 cup flour; you’ll add more later.) After flour is incorporated, plop the dough into the large buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a dish towel, and place in a draft-free room until doubled (any where from 35-60 minutes depending on what type of yeast you’re using).
When doubled, turn out dough onto lightly floured bread board and kneed until smooth, elastic and no longer sticky. You may need to add a tad more flour — or not. Let the feel of the dough in your hands tell you. Shape into a ball and put it back into the buttered bowl, covered. Let rise again until doubled. Doubling time gets shorter every round.
When doubled the 2nd time, punch down to eliminate air bubbles, turn out on board, and kneed, working in a little more flour if necessary. (Don’t be too eager to do this! The dough should be pliable, silky, sensuous.) Shape into one large loaf or 2 small ones.
If making 2 loaves: cut dough in half. Roll out dough to length of loaf pan and about 8 inches wide. Roll up the rectangle; seam should be on bottom when placed into pans. Brush tops with melted butter, cover with plastic wrap and towel, and then let rise yet again until doubled.
Bake in a 400 degree oven for 30-35 minutes. When tops are golden, and the timer goes off, turn one loaf into your oven-mitt-covered hand and tap the bottom of the loaf with your other hand. If the bread sounds hollow, it’s done. If not, back into the oven a few minutes at a time until done.
*I use Fleischmann's dry rapid rise
We’ve heard holiday carols since Halloween; can you bear one more? The English evergreen “The Holly and the Ivy,” sung beautifully, and slowly, by Natalie Cole. By the end, I’m always teary-eyed.
Ready for another? Here’s my Mom’s favorite, “The Christmas Waltz” by Frank Sinatra.