Bread has to be my favorite food.
I love desserts, but bread, ahhhh . . .
I’m a big fan of butter too. Or margarine. And honey, yes lots of honey, oh and cinnamon sugar. And salami and onions, olives, cheeses, cold roast chicken, cheeses, hummus, olive oil, did I mention cheeses? Gravy. Soft boiled or fried eggs with runny yolks. Beef stew, spaghetti with a rich tomato sauce, slow-cooked pork and black beans. . .
I do not digress: these things all have a common theme. That is, they are wonderful in, on, around bread. Think of crispy flat bread, thick olive-oil crusted focaccia, soft white bread, hearty rye or wheat, a chewy bagel, a warm na’an—there are more breads than I can list in a reasonable amount of time and space!
Toasted whole wheat is tasty for soaking in soft egg yolks or to nestle a piece of roast beef and Swiss cheese in, complimented by whole-grain mustard and pickle slices. A slathering of sweet cream butter on freshly baked soft white bread makes the beginnings of an onion sandwich. Sprinkle with a little salt, a little black pepper and that’s all you need. Tear a piece of an Italian or French loaf, slice it in half, add a drizzle of olive oil, sliced tomatoes, onions, and some red wine vinegar. Maybe a chunk of salami. Wash it down with a cold dark beer…
Of course, that lists only a few of the yeast breads. Scones are short and sweet, biscuits fluffy and somewhat plain, coffeecakes redolent with cinnamon and Marion berries. Quick breads take well to butter and honey (scones); gravy and sausage (biscuits), jams, marmalades, fruit (any of the above). Corn or flour tortillas encompass meat fillings, rich with flavor and heat; cornbread is a tasty accompaniment to soups.
My mom used to make bread daily. Rye, whole wheat, Parker house rolls, soft white loaves, yeast coffee cakes. She made crumb cakes and blueberry buckle, waffles, pancakes and biscuits–something every day. At one point, she sold bread to make extra money, thinking of a future bakery. She was also working part time in a real estate office, had four kids and a house way out in the country to take care of while my dad was gone working long days, sometimes gone a week at a time, depending on the job. Mom had to step back to rethink it all when family friends who had been buying loaves of bread regularly from her asked for a standing order of 10 loaves per month! That was just one order! Mom quit selling bread, but fortunately she didn’t quit baking it for us.
Holiday time — Easter and Christmas — Mom could be found up early as usual, or late at night, making sweet dough to form into lovely yummy coffee cakes with apricot or other jam filling for the neighbors. We lived on a small saltwater inlet we referred to as “the bay”, and there were only a handful of people who lived out by us year-round. Five or six golden, raisin and cinnamon, or fruit-filled coffeecakes would be delivered the eve of the holiday to these neighbors. Of course, there was always one for our family too.
Mom raised her bread with a pan of hot water in the oven, or on a rack over the wood stove. The mother of a friend of mine used to set her bread to rise by the floor registers. When we got a real furnace, I’m not sure that my mom ever did that. We always had
dogs and cats, and kids running in and out, without much care. The floor would have been a dangerous place to put rising bread in our house!
Mom would give my siblings and me a little piece of bread dough to make our own mini-loaf or roll when she was baking. We would roll and form it, then proudly place the misshapen forms to rise on the baking pan Mom had ready for us.
Ironically, the first time I made a loaf of bread from start to finish was with an acquaintance who lived with her hippy boyfriend in a big old house in the woods. They had a great kitchen, shopped at a co-op for whole grains. The bread didn’t turn out so well, to my thought. We used whole wheat flour and wheat berries, or buck wheat. All of which makes a heavier loaf, but I still could tell from the looks and feel that we used too much flour. I tried again once I got home. I must say my loaf baking solo turned out much better. I guess I had picked up more from my mom by osmosis than I realized.
Still my bread has never been as good as hers. Mostly because she was a great baker, possibly because there is a little nostalgia in there of childhood in a warm kitchen with the baking smells and textures part of our everyday life.
I could go on describing the sensuality and earthiness, finesse and sophistication of breads, depending on what kind, but it’s something you’ll have to discover for yourself. Baking yeast breads gives a warm, grounded feeling of good will; making pastries and waffles says “you’re home.”