Thanks to the inept Trump Administration, COVID-19 is popping up all over America. It’s going to get worse, too. SO MUCH WORSE.
America is sliding into full-on, toilet-paper-hoarding pandemic mode. Yay.
Andy texted me from Costco this weekend: “They’re rationing bottled water.”
Me: “Who cares? Be sure and get all the flour, sugar, and butter you can.”
Baking supplies and recipes. I’ve got both!
My love of baking probably started when I discovered butter at age 10. For some ungodly reason, my parents only used margarine until then. (My parents were both terrible cooks.)
Margarine is a manmade product created during WWII to replace butter.
Margarine is tasteless, colored oil on your food.
But butter? Butter is fucking magical. Creamy butter elevates even toasted Wonder Bread into rich deliciousness.
When I was twenty, I got a taste of homemade bread with butter. Simple, but heavenly. I decided to make my own bread. This was before the internet made everything easy. I had to consult books! Old books. Falling apart books. In one, I found an old recipe from an even older religious sect called the Shakers–short for “Shaking Quakers.” Not many Shakers exist any more (this is what happens when a religious group practices celibacy), but their bread recipe looked simple enough for an amateur baker.
My first loaf was tasty and moist. Baked in loaf pans, Shaker bread is soft, without the hard crust of most European breads.
Author’s side note: No offense to Europe! I once traveled all over Germany, France, and Italy with a loaf of hard bread and stinky cheese. That was the best snack ever although one travel companion complained about the smell incessantly. Serves him right for always insisting on riding shotgun while my friend M and I were squished into the backseat.
I’ve spent years tweaking that Shaker bread recipe. I once made it during the hottest, muggiest summer ever in Virginia Beach; the dough rose so much it looked like marshmallow fluff. When I’m planning on making bread in dry, desert-like conditions (i.e., Los Angeles), I now bump up the humidity in the kitchen to jungle-like conditions.
I don’t use a bread machine, because the texture of the finished loaf doesn’t feel quite right to me. (Andy says I’m ridiculous, that the texture was the same. Probably he’s still mad I made him get rid of his bread machine.)
If you’re an American trapped at home–or, like Marta or my new readers in Asia, you’re STILL stuck at home–enjoy my Shaker Bread recipe. Warning: all the measurements are Imperial! Sorry, non-Americans. Think of it as one more step to keep you occupied during quarantine.
2 packets fast-rising yeast (or 1 tbsp and 2 1/2 tsp yeast)
1/4 cup warm water
2 cups buttermilk (regular milk or a mix of milk and cream are also fine, you can put in 1 tbsp vinegar if you want a little tang)
4 tbsp butter, cut into chunks
4 tbsp sugar
3 tsp salt (if using unsalted butter; if using salted butter, 1 1/2 tsp)
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2-3 cups regular flour or bread flour (or you can use 5 cups regular flour if you want a finer white bread that rises easily)
2 tbsp more butter (to butter dough and coat loaf pans during rising)
Dissolve yeast in water in a large bowl (stainless steel is my preference). Heat–but do not boil– buttermilk and butter (I usually put it in the microwave on high for 2 minutes). Add sugar, salt to warm buttermilk mixture and stir until they dissolve/ melt.
Pour warm (not hot, or you might kill the yeast) milk mixture over yeast mixture and stir. Add whole wheat flour and 1-2 cup of regular flour. Stir until dough roughly shapes a ball.
Spread at least 1/4 cup remaining flour on cutting board or kneading surface. Put sticky ball of dough on top of flour, dump another half cup of flour on top, and knead. Gradually knead in remaining flour until dough is smooth and elastic.
You’ll need someplace warm for the dough to rise. (I usually butter a stainless steel cookie baking sheet and put it on a heating pad or a dryer if it’s cold.) Smear the ball of dough with 1 tbsp of the remaining butter (I use my hands, yes, it’s messy, but warm hands help melt butter), and put it on the buttered baking sheet.
Cover the dough with a big bowl and let it rise until double in size (no more than 45 minutes to an hour, usually).
Butter two standard (8-1/2 x 4-1/2 x 2-1/2 inch) loaf pans.
Cut dough in half.
Pound 1/2 of dough down on baking sheet until dough covers sheet in a thin layer. Roll dough up width-wise, then shape to fit loaf pan. Coat with more butter, put in pan. Repeat with remaining half of dough.
Here’s how my loaf pans look. Yours might be neater!
The dough should rise somewhere warm and humid again. I usually set my loaf pans in the microwave over my range and either boil water on the range or take advantage of Andy making stock, especially when it’s cold and dry.
While the dough rises, preheat oven to 440 degrees (Fahrenheit). If it’s not humid, fill a shallow pan with water and and put it in the over as well. This will help keep your dough from collapsing.
After about an hour, your second rise should be done. Gently put the pans in the oven (don’t be banging them around, or the dough will collapse). Bake for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes, or until the top crust is golden brown.
Remove loaves from oven and gently invert pan over a wire cooling rack. The loaf should slide right out (that’s what all the butter was for). Turn it right-side up to cool on the wire rack for at least 10 minutes.
Cut your loaf with a serrated knife, top with butter, and serve. Use bread for sandwiches, eat with cheese, or turn it into French toast when it starts to get stale.
Remember, wash your hands before serving anyone else.