Thursday, April 3, 2008

The House Smells Incredible!

Back in the Dark Ages, I used to make my own bread from Margaret Rudkin's original recipe for Pepperidge Farm bread, she who started PFarm in her kitchen and grew it until she sold out to Campbell's Soup for several zillion dollars. Pepperidge Farm bread was really delicious when I was a child (sadly, CSoup has changed the recipe and it's mush now) and she was my heroine when I was a young wife with a husband in grad school and no money. Not only was it far cheaper to make my own but it also tasted and toasted like heaven.

After moving back to California thirteen years ago, I had a full time job with an hour commute on either end, not a schedule conducive to the wifely art of bread baking (plus, for a while there, I wasn't a wife), so I stopped making my own and tried unsuccessfully to find a solid, tasty, non-mushy white bread.

Now that I'm retired, however, I have TIME. What an amazing thing time is! Time to let the bread rise twice so it tastes rich. Time to bake six loaves and give two to the neighbors, so that when you come back into the house feeling all generous and smug, you smell that yeasty, fresh bread smell all over again. Time to sit down with a cup of tea and a slice of your own still-warm bread and butter...

So far, I'm adjusting well to retirement.

Margaret Rudkin’s Pepperidge Farm White Bread, adapted from The Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook, Grosset & Dunlap, New York, 1963.

Over the years, I have simplified the recipe to my style of baking but the ingredients have not changed. I’m going to type what I do but for the real deal, you may want to see if you can find a copy of this cookbook. Mine is all spattered and tattered and falls open to Page 215 where the Standard White Bread recipe lives, but I still love it!

1/2 cup milk (I use 2%)
3 Tbs sugar
2 tsps salt
3 Tbs butter, cut into slices if cold
1-1/2 cups warm water
1 pkg dry yeast
5-1/2 cups unsifted flour (I used unbleached)

Combine milk, warm water and butter in a small saucepan over low heat until the butter begins to melt. The butter need not be completely melted but you want it to be soft and the liquid not to be hot (or it will kill the yeast. Test with your finger before adding to the dry ingredients – if it’s too warm, let it cool).

Meanwhile, mix 2 cups of the flour, the sugar, the salt and the yeast in the bowl of a food processor with the dough hook in place.

Add the lukewarm milk/butter/water mixture and process until you have an evenly mixed “slurry” of dry and wet ingredients, about 5-10 seconds. Remove the lid and add 3 to 4-1/2 cups more flour. Start with 3 cups and process for a minute or two. If the dough still feels sticky when touched, add a bit more flour (perhaps half a cup) and process again. Keep adding flour by half or quarter cups until the dough is smooth, shiny, elastic and non-sticky. You won’t need to knead – that’s what the food processor just did.

Transfer the kneaded dough into a large, oiled bowl, turning the dough in the oil until it is lubricated all over (if the bowl is not oiled, it will stick to the dough and retard the rising). Cover with a kitchen towel and set in a warm, draft-free place.

(*Note: In colder climates, that’s more difficult. When I lived in Western New York, I would turn my oven on briefly (perhaps 30 seconds) at the lowest setting just to gently warm the oven, turn off the oven again and set the bread bowl inside. Inside a microwave oven works, too, as long as you have one large enough and you don’t need it in the meantime. You can leave it out on the counter if you have a nice, warm kitchen. The idea is to give it a warm, draft-free place but not too hot as that would kill the yeast action)

Let the bread rise until it has doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. You will know when it’s ready as it will be puffy and if you touch it gently with your finger, it will leave a dent in the dough. If the dough springs back from your finger, let it rise longer.

Punch down the dough, releasing all the air bubbles and even squeeze it in your hands to make sure all the big bubbles are gone or you will have holes in the finished bread. Cut in two equal pieces. Shape each piece into a rough loaf shape and lay into 2 oiled loaf pans, each about 9 x 5 x 3 inches.

Cover the pans with a kitchen towel again and set them back into your warm, draft-free place for another hour or until doubled in bulk. They will rise a little in the oven but not much as the yeast action will be killed by the oven’s heat so let them get almost as big as you want the loaf to be before baking.

Bake in a hot (400 degree F) oven for about 25-30 minutes, checking at 20 minutes. You want the loaf to be richly browned and to have a hollow sound when tapped.

(*Note: the original recipe calls for 50 minutes of baking but I have found that to be too long for my oven – you will need to experiment)

Remove the loaves from the pans immediately and cool the bread on wire racks. When completely cooled, (if you haven’t already eaten the whole thing by then!), wrap airtight and keep refrigerated. Because there are no preservatives, the bread will grow lovely molds if not refrigerated.

The bread freezes well if wrapped airtight (I wrap the loaves in plastic wrap and then in freezer bags). I make six loaves at a time and wrap five for the freezer – it takes only an hour more and it justifies the messy fun for longer.

Let me know how yours turns out!



Blogger Dagny said...

Seems like you've taken to retirement quite well.

Thursday, April 03, 2008  
Blogger ChrisB said...

That photo looks so good I can smell the bread ~ how I wish I was your neighbour!

Thursday, April 03, 2008  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Dagny, indeed! :-)

ChrisB, next time you come to visit Sam, remind me and I'll make one for you!

Thursday, April 03, 2008  
Blogger peter said...

It's the best incense of all.

Thursday, April 03, 2008  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Peter, you're right - it was delicious even before the first bite!

Thursday, April 03, 2008  
Anonymous Sam said...

Looks good! Did I know you were such a foodie??

Thursday, April 03, 2008  
Blogger Rev. Biggles said...

Oh man!

I made bread once, once. And that's all I need to say about that.


Friday, April 04, 2008  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Sam, I think of myself more as an honorary foodie - not as knowledgeable as a real foodie would be. You might enjoy my post for St. Patrick's Day if you are looking for something to give you a break from your dissertation.

Rev. Biggles, if you can read, you can make bread, but I could show you the ropes for your second try, if you want to persevere...

Friday, April 04, 2008  
Blogger Christine said...

So can you give us the recipe??? Please? :)

Saturday, April 05, 2008  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Christine, welcome! If you'll check back in a day or so, I'll type up the recipe and post it at the end of the bread post. I spent a few minutes at your site with your adorable boys and enjoyed it very much! You are lucky - the boys are so fresh, healthy and fun!

Sunday, April 06, 2008  

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