Makes three 5” x 9” loaves
1 tbsp. dry active yeast
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup melted butter
2 ¾ cups warm water
1 ½ tsp. salt
½ cup maple syrup, molasses or honey
8 cups whole wheat flour
Oil or butter for greasing
Directions: Mix the yeast with ¼ cup of warm water until dissolved. Add egg, butter, remaining water, salt and maple syrup, molasses or honey and stir until all are dissolved. Add the flour and mix. Prepare a work space by heavily flouring a surface for kneading. Dump the dough out onto the floured surface and slowly knead by folding the dough over and mashing it down in the center. If the dough gets sticky, add more flour as needed. After about 10 minutes, the consistency of the dough will become smoother. Shape the dough into a round ball. Add a small amount of oil or butter to a ceramic mixing bowl to coat the edges of the bowl and roll the dough in the bowl to coat with oil. Place a dish towel over the bowl and place in a warm place, away from drafts for an hour to rise.
Take the risen dough out of the bowl and place back on the kneading surface. Divide the dough into three and knead each portion separately for a few minutes, then shape and place into greased 5” x 9” loaf pans. Cover the pans with a towel and rise again for another hour, then bake in a preheated oven at 350̊ F for 45 minutes.
One of my favorite and earliest memories from childhood is of my grandmother, wrapped in a floury apron in an Indiana kitchen kneading yeasty bread. Her tiny four foot, eleven inch body belied the powerhouse that lived in her, and her strong arms pummeled the belligerent dough into submission. I was enthralled by the process of mixing, waiting, rising, kneading, waiting again, rising again and finally baking the loaves. There are few sensations that can compare to the smell of freshly baking bread, and eating it is even better. At my young age, the sensations of homemade bread felt like nurturance, comfort, anticipation and home. Today, the sensational olfactory delight is mingled with bittersweet nostalgia.
Grandma would make a dozen loaves at a time to feed her family of seven daughters and an army of grandchildren, cousins or whoever happened to be visiting at the time. With a full house, the delicious loaves lasted less than a week and she was back in the kitchen repeating the process. My grandmother was a reserved woman who had difficulty expressing her affections openly, but when we ate her bread, we tasted love.
Although her bread making may have started out of the economic necessity of feeding a large family during the Great Depression, she continued the ritual long after the need had passed. Grandma could have easily traipsed down to the grocery store and purchased a loaf of Sara Lee or Pepperidge Farm, but she didn’t. Her choice to bake bread enriched us all with something that cannot be translated into terms of dollars and cents or convenience. Her simple act of nurturance was priceless.
Although she may have never realized it, Grandma’s loving baking activities also served the earth. Absent plastic packaging, innumerable mysterious chemical additives and shipping from far flung factories, a homemade loaf of bread baked with simple ingredients locally obtained does little to harm the earth. Conversely, examination of the sordid ingredient list and history of a commercial loaf reveals a reality that damages both environmental and human health. Our daily bread can either nurture and feed us or make our bodies and our world sick.
As my grandmother aged, she lost her hearing and eventually her eyesight and then she could no longer bake bread. A couple of years before she passed away, she entrusted me with the precious gift of her bread recipe. The recipe is surprisingly simple given the deliciousness of the loaves that result. I now bake bread for my family. I am not as diligent as Grandma, and sometimes, when pressed for time or simply too tired, I pick up a freshly baked loaf from the local farmer’s market or even the grocery store. But when I can, I love to sink my fists into yeasty dough and engage in a family ritual passed down to me from my grandmother that nurtures my family and even helps to save the planet.
When I bake bread, I use whole wheat organic flour that is stone ground at an historic mill just a few miles from my home that grinds the wheat with a river powered water wheel. The butter comes from a local creamery. Honey is supplied by friendly neighborhood beekeepers, and the chickens in my own backyard supply me with ample eggs. My bread is a community effort that connects me with interesting people from all walks of life each doing their part to make the world a better place. Nothing I can buy at the store can even begin to compare. What we eat can make a huge difference in the world.
Now I am sharing this revered ritual with the hope that the simple act of baking bread will enrich the lives of all who undertake the task and all who are fortunate enough to enjoy the sensations of freshly baked bread slathered with a dab of butter. Enjoy and pass it on.