Saturday, December 11, 2010

White Bread Roots

     My Grandmother Susanna had a sister named Katherine. They were very close. The sisters lived near each other after they were married. Above is a picture of them before they came to America. Katherine (Tante Klein, as we called her) is on the left and Susanna is on the right. Below is the bread I mentioned yesterday. Grandma baked it every few days. My mother baked it once or twice a month. I have a written recipe, in Katherine’s hand. The instructions are cryptic and interspersed with German, so I elaborate below, especially for first time bread bakers.

                                               Tante Klein's White Bread

3 c. very warm water (about 110 degrees Fahrenheit)
¼ c. vegetable shortening (I use canola oil)
4 ½ tsp. yeast (2 envelopes)
1 tsp. sugar
1 Tb. salt
6-8 c. all-purpose flour (I love “King Arthur” brand, but it is more expensive. Try to used unbleached flour. Bread flour is fine, too)

Preheat oven to the lowest possible setting (usually 180 degrees Fahrenheit) , and as soon as it reaches that temperature, turn off the oven. Check the temperature of the 3 c. warm water by dropping a little on your wrist. It should feel very warm but not hot. Warm a 1 c. glass measuring cup and a large bowl by holding them under a warm faucet. Put ½ cup of the very warm water into the 1c. glass measure and the rest into the bowl. To the glass measure add the yeast and the sugar. Stir to start it dissolving. Let it sit for about 5 minutes. The yeast will proof (rise) and it should be very bubbly and approaching the top of the measure.

To the bowl, add the shortening/oil, 2 c. of the flour and the salt. Stir well with a wooden spoon. Once the yeast mixture is bubbly add it to the bowl. Stir well. Continue stirring, adding a cup of flour at a time until the dough leaves the side of the bowl. It will go from being sticky to just moist. At this point, turn the dough out onto a floured counter or surface. Knead the dough for 5 to 10 minutes by folding the dough in half toward you, and then pushing it flat and away from you with the heel of your hand. Turn it a quarter turn and repeat.  When you have kneaded the dough for 5 to 10 minutes it will feel very soft and more pliable. Small broken blisters will appear on the surface. At this point, oil the bowl that the dough was first mixed in and place the dough back into it. Turn the dough over once to coat with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and place in the warmed oven. If the rack still feels hot, place the bowl on top of a cookie sheet or potholder. Too much heat will cause the yeast to stop rising and will dry the dough.

After about 1 ½ hours the dough should have doubled in bulk. Take the bowl from the oven and remove the covering. Punch firmly with your fist into the center of the risen dough. Kids love this part. The dough will deflate. Give the dough a couple squeezes to get more air out and let the dough rest on the floured surface for about 5 minutes. Knead the dough again for about a minute, then divide into three equal parts with a knife. Knead each part separately a few times and then flatten it into a rectangle about 8” x 10“. Roll the dough up, from the short side and pinch the ends and seam closed. Repeat with the other two loaves and place into greased loaf tins (4'x8"). Once again, cover loosely with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and place on top of the oven for about ½ hour. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. When the dough has risen above the level of the pans, place pans in preheated oven. If you like a crusty top you could brush the surfaces with a little water before baking. If you like a softer crust, brush lightly with milk or oil or butter. I prefer it crusty like my Mom and Grandma made it. Bake for about 30-40 minutes until golden brown on top and when it sounds hollow when you lightly knock on the top of the loaf.

Remove from the oven and cool in pans for 5 minutes on cooling rack. Then turn out the loaves by rapping the side of the pans sharply as you turn the loaves out onto the rack or towel covered counter to cool. I like to let them rest on their sides while cooling. The bread can be eaten after it cools about 15 minutes. Cut with a serrated or bread knife. I like it best the next day, toasted with butter! My daughter Susanna (whose birthday is today!) loves this bread. It can also be baked into little freeform rolls (her favorite). Shape lemon-sized portions of the dough into little mini-loaves and place seam side down on a cookie sheet. Place them a few inches from each other to allow for rising. Rise as for the loaves, and bake, but only for about 20 minutes. They are done when golden brown.

Happy Birthday to Susanna!

God Bless you today,

The Abbey Farm

                                The Gelsinger family in Austria-Hungary, about 1908
                                                        Katherine at far left, Susanna at far right

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