Friday, September 08, 2006
I woke up sleepy, as usual, my back aching, as usual and I groaned at the thought of rising and putting breakfast together for my clan. Then I remembered the lovely loaves of homemade bread sitting downstairs under a clean towel - waiting to be devoured with butter and other delightful spreads. How could I have forgotten that yesterday I had helped Anna , for her first time, bake my bread recipe - 'Janet’s bread'?
My bread recipe ‘Janet’s bread’ is so much more than just a recipe. It is a hoard of memories that go all the way back to my first years of marriage and our first baby - all from during my years of University. In our second year of school Hugo decided to take a course in astronomy and it was there that he met Jim, Janet’s husband. Jim and Janet were a bit older than Hugo and I and already had two children, with their youngest being only a month or two older than our Aimee.
It happened that one of the assignments in Hugo’s astronomy course required signing out one of the university’s telescopes causing them to be in high demand. Jim and Hugo decided to sign one out together and have our little family over to Jim's tiny home allowing Janet and I to meet as well as Aimee play with their two young daughters. I was nervous about meeting Janet but she was so warm and welcoming, when I arrived, that my shyness quickly melted. The children hit it off right away and while Aimee crawled about behind them, Janet put coffee on and I sat down at the kitchen table.
The coffee pot perked away throwing off it’s heavenly scent and I watched Janet professionally tend to her many loaves of bread sitting on the counter. I think, if I remember correctly, there were eight loaves and a few dozen rolls sitting there rising. Their bread for the week. I was amazed. My first and only attempt at baking bread had resulted in a single loaf that felt and weighed more like a door stop than bread. After rolling it across the floor a few times for the cat to chase and enjoying a good laugh at my pathetic attempt to bake bread, Hugo and I had thrown it out - wondering if we should post a caution note on the bag for the garbage man so that he not break his back in the attempt to lift it.
I asked Janet how many times she had had to double the recipe to get this many loaves.
“Oh,” she blithely remarked - “this is just one recipe.” I refused to believe her and continued to tease her that it was not possible to get so many pans of bread from just one recipe. Jim came in rubbing his hands together, anxious for mugs of coffee to take out for himself and Hugo so as to help warm themselves in the cold November night. Hearing my teasing, Jim assured me that indeed this was just one recipe and that Janet made it every week. My eyes, I am sure grew in wonder but soon my tummy was growling as the smell of the baking bread began to warm the air.
It was not long before piping hot golden loaves were pulled from the oven only to be quickly and efficiently replaced by more loaf pans by Janet. Giving the loaves just barely decent time to cool we quickly sawed huge slices off and rolled hunks of butter onto them with butter knives. Her children stopped playing long enough to consume a piece each before resuming their rambunctious play with my baby daughter. Aimee was watching their youngest with delighted eyes. Here was a child her own size walking upright and unassisted. Aimee took her first steps at five months, yet had continued to cruise along the furniture, dropping to her knees to cross from chair to couch and couch to table.
Janet generously offered to give me a copy of recipe but I exclaimed that I could never bake such fluffy white delicious bread. “Phsaw, she said - “you just come by next Saturday. The girls can play and you and I will bake bread together. Looks like Jim and Hugo know how to keep busy so we won’t need to take care of them except to keep their mugs full of coffee.”
After tasting Janet’s bread when he and Jim came in to thaw out for awhile - Hugo quickly agreed that we did indeed need to come back next Saturday.
We were back the following weekend and Janet and I rolled up our sleeves while Aimee tottered behind Janet’s daughters. Having seen someone her size run about she had been inspired and between the two visits had bravely let go of the couch and walked to the chair and from the chair to the shelves - never to look back.
I watched Janet expertly rise her yeast and deftly add the flour to her base. Then in amazement I watched the bread grow and grow and more than double it’s original size. This process was repeated four times through out the day while we feasted on the last of the previous Saturday's baking along with steaming hot spaghetti for lunch, coffee and friendly chit chat. Finally Janet pulled out her pans for the last raising and I sat, astonished to see how tiny each ball was that sat forlorn and lonely in what looked like, in comparison, humongous pans. I could not believe that such a tiny roll of dough was going to become the enormous loaf of bread such as we had just consumed at lunch time.
At the end of the day, we headed home generously loaded up with rolls as well as a loaf of this delightful bread and an invitation to come back often, which we did. And so when I cook up a batch of Janet’s bread, I am never just making bread. I am visiting our old 2 bedroom apartment in the married residence, thinking of old friends, remembering cold November nights and my daughter's first unassisted steps. Sometimes I even share some of these memories with the children as they watch me knead, punch and rise the dough. But I have never, ever been able to make my batch stretch into 8 loaves AND rolls too. I think the closest I have come is 4 loaves and 2 dozen rolls. (This could be because I have never been patient enough to wait through four full risings!) Still it is my favourite bread recipe and always will be.
Shortening/Butter or Margarine
After putting water on to boil prepare a small bowl of
1/2 cup of tepid water in which you dissolve a teaspoon or two of sugar (or honey)
Sprinkle over this bowl of tepid water 1 - 2 Tablespoons of yeast.
When the water come to a boil
Pour 3 cups of the boiled water over the following ingredients (that have been placed in a large bowl):
1 heaping tablespoon of shortening (or butter or margarine)
1 handful of salt
3 handfuls of sugar (or ½ cup of honey)
Stir until all ingredients are dissolved.
Once the yeast has risen (usually in about 10 minutes) check the large bowl that has the boiled water in it and see if the water has cooled to tepid temperature. If it has not, add enough water until it is tepid.
At this point you add the yeast to the larger bowl and stir it in.
Then you begin to stir/add in flour until the dough begins to come away from the bowl. (This has, for me, varied from 8 cups to as much as 16 cups) When you first begin to add flour you can substitute some of the flour with wheat germ and,or whole wheat flour. I have played around with this a lot - always with delightful results)
Allow the kneaded dough to rise once to just barely double its size in a large greased bowl - covered with a damp towel. After punching it down allow it double or a little more than double its size another full two times. For the fourth rising allow it to rise in the greased bread pans while you preheat your oven at 350.
As the loaves come fresh from the oven, lightly brush with butter for soft, tasty crusts. Enjoy your first slice with a cup of your favourite hot beverage and dream old memories. Read more!