Food is Love, Love is Food.

A blog devoted to the connection between meals, memories and the special moments in our lives.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Longing for Bread

For me, bread is the ultimate comfort food. Not just any loaf will do, though. It has to be

homemade, crusty and straight out of the oven, like the bread of my childhood. We grew up in the same house as my Italian grandmother, and part of her weekly routine was baking the bread we ate on a daily basis with meals and for sandwiches. The smell of bread rising in my house brings me right back to my grandmother’s kitchen, which was cozy, warm and filled with lovely aromas. At least once a week, this is where my sister and I would eat our after school snack. The loaves of bread would be cooling on their sides on the large wooden butcher-block board Gram put on top of the table on her major cooking days. We would slice a piece, usually fighting among ourselves and our cousin Douglas who lived across the street, over the end piece, as it was the prize. The edges were crispy from the oil that she used in the loaf pans and the inside soft and airy. Usually, the oven was still warm, so we would slather on the butter and pop the slice of bread back in the oven for a moment or two, to make it all melty and luscious. A sprinkle of salt on top was the only other thing necessary to make it perfect. I can only imagine how much kneading and mixing happened in that kitchen, since Gram always made at least 5 or 6 loaves of bread in addition to homemade pizza, followed by fried dough for dessert that evening.

Though her kitchen was not fancy, luxurious or large, she managed to create meals and memories that I still cherish. Its brown carpeted floor, the mustard yellow oven, the Formica countertops could never compete with today’s sleek and functional kitchens, but they couldn’t hold a candle to the food that my grandmother put out on a daily basis. She shared her love for us, her childhood memories, and her very self with us in that kitchen, and I long for it still.

The bread I bake at home is not the same as the bread baked by my grandmother. I do not make it nearly as often, which is a very good thing. Mine is a simple and basic dough recipe, which creates a dense loaf with a crusty exterior. It works well with add-ins, like rosemary or kalamata olives. Make sure you start the baking in a cold oven; turn it on after everything is in place and you are ready to bake. This technique is a little different, but it really works well. The pan of boiling water on the bottom shelf of the oven helps to create that chewy crust.

Crusty Bread: (barely adapted from Craig Claiborne’s The New York Times Cookbook)

2 cups lukewarm water
1 tbsp. active dry yeast
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt
1 1/4 tbsp. honey
6 – 7 cups bread flour

Dissolve yeast in warm water, then add salt and honey, stirring to combine. Add flour, 1 cup at a time, and mix until incorporated. Add enough to form a stiff bread dough. Place dough in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with dough hook, and let it run on medium speed for at least 5 minutes. This kneading can also be done by hand. Form dough into two balls, smooth on the top, and place in a greased bowl or pan. Cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel, and place in a warm spot to rise until doubled in size. Carefully roll the dough out onto a baking sheet or a pizza stone in a cold oven. Let rise about 15 minutes more. Slash the top of the dough, and then brush lightly with boiling water. Place a pan full of boiling water on the bottom rack of the oven, close the oven door, and turn the oven on to 400 degrees. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until very golden brown.

Just see if you can keep yourself from eating it the second it comes out of the oven!

No comments:

Post a Comment