The cool thing about family is that you never know where the DNA is going to land. It’s why your cousin’s fourth child is the spitting image of your great grandfather, according to the elders, or why your doctor uncle and your surfer brother are so preternaturally sympatico.
The daughter of my mother’s brother and my son. They’ve only met a handful of times — she lives across the country from us — but from the first it was clear. There was a quiet comfort between them. An understanding. Some bond they share for reasons no one can explain. It’s just where the genes fell. She instructs. He listens. He wants to help her in the garden, watch her bake, sit with her on the patio.
We flew out to spend a week with Linda and her family, and on the docket were several activities we don’t get to do much in Southern California, including chasing chickens, paddling in a pond, picking blueberries and baking bread.
Yes, I have local friends who do all of this is SoCal, but we don’t.
The marquis attraction of the week, however, was the baking of “that bread,” which Linda makes every time we come out to visit, and which has left a deep impression on my boy.
I include the recipe, which comes from “Mom’s Cookbook,” a home-made tome my cousin gave me several years ago that contains the combined recipes and wisdom of a New England mother of five. I keep meaning to write about it here but I don’t know where to start.
I digress. This is the provenance of “That Bread” recipe, which Linda and her family refer to as “Mommy Bread.”
This will make five loaves of white bread
2 pkgs dry yeast
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons sugar (heaping)
5 tsp. salt (don’t oversalt)
1/2 bag Bob’s Red Mill – 10 grain or lower)
1/2 cup honey
5 lb bag of bread flour
1 can evaporated milk
5 standard loaf pans…
Add yeast to 1 cup lukewarm water in a small bowl or measuring cup.
Add oil, salt, cereal and honey. Sir until dissolved. Add evaporated milk and two cups cold water. When mixture is lukewarm, add yeast and blend well. Then add enough flour to make a stiff dough…you will use most of a 5 lb bag. This will look like the blob when you dump it onto a floured surface. Knead this for 10 minutes.
Let the boy do it. Or the teen. Kneading is good for the soul and gets out aggressions.
Put into a large bowl and use your hands to coat lightly with vegetable oil…lightly moisten a clean dishrag with hot water and
cover the bowl, before setting it in a sunny place to rise. Let it sit there until it’s double in size, about 1.2 hours.
Punch back down. Again, let the kids do this.
Let rise again. Behold!
Punch down, then shape into loaves…you can pull it or cut it into five bits….you need to shape it into loaves…
Put into buttered bread pans and let rise until double in size . When shaping, try to squeeze as much air from the blob as you can.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and bake bread for 10 minutes.
Turn oven heat down to 350 and bake for another 25 minutes for latex pans (27-30 minutes if your bread pans are glass) or until the loaves are nicely browned. Remove bread from oven, let sit for five minutes. Then you turn them onto wire racks and cool for an hour.
You can wrap this bread in cling wrap and freeze it, but it’s still not going to last the week. We fell on the first loaf. Tucked into the second that evening. Following morning and the third was being cut into.
I watched my cousin teach my son how to make bread. Every so often she’d fix me with that look of hers…”And you’re gonna make this at home for him, right?”
“Yeah, Mom,” says the boy. “I’ve been bugging you for years.”
True this. But c’mon. It’s bread. It’s a very serious endeavor. I want to. But something tells me I’ll start down the bread baking path and run screaming off into the moors, hair undone and shrieking at the moon. Baking bread; It’s too big. Too primal. Too important. I am quite honestly afraid to open that door.
And I have phenomenal manana skills. Ask anyone.
So I’ve put it off until now. Even with the boy nagging me to please make “that bread.”
But here we are in New Hampshire. And my son has just baked this bread for the second time with his Auntie. I’m sort of on the line now.
Will I step up to the plate?