When we were dating, I was continually amazed at Mary Anne’s ability to throw a dinner party with a pack of pasta, a pound of ground beef, and whatever was in the fridge. Her refrigerator, by the way, was much better stocked than mine. I had typical guy stuff: milk, coffee, butter, bologna, and pimento cheese. I may have kept an egg carton for appearances. I don’t remember it always having eggs in it.
My darling’s dinner parties were Events. They were the candlelit highlight of the week. She’s the only person I’ve ever met who can throw together a tuna casserole, a salad, a cheese plate, and a pan of brownies all while chatting with guests and keeping their wineglasses filled. I may be a competent cook, but I have a one-track mind. She’s a wonderful, creative hostess who always had our friends lined up outside her door wanting to know what was for dinner. Sometimes it was something I’d never heard of. Sometimes I think it was something she’d never heard of. But it was always delicious, and no one else had linen napkins. We had an absolute blast entertaining.
After we got married, I got a dinner party every day (when I wasn’t underfoot in the kitchen, at any rate — I have an unnatural talent for getting in the way). Finally, I think in desperation, she told me to go make rolls. Now, I should have been able to make rolls. My mom could make rolls. She made some of the best rolls I had ever eaten. Sadly, when I asked Mom how to make them, I got her recipe: a dollop of butter, some milk, “enough” flour, and yeast. Oh yeah, and “enough” warm water to make the dough rise. (“Enough” again! How the heck much was “enough?”) My mom was a wonderful cook who taught me all about seasoning with bacon drippings, but I could never follow her directions. My first attempt at rolls produced objects that I think the Nashville Predators could use in practice sessions. Certainly no one could actually eat them.
So, since I couldn’t make rolls, maybe I could make loaf bread. When I was a kid, I had helped Mom and Dad make bread, and I knew that there is simply nothing quite so satisfying as good, warm bread fresh from the oven. I made bread a few times after the rolls, but unfortunately it was messy and took forever. Usually, I destroyed the kitchen in the process. Since I didn’t really have three hours to spend whenever we wanted a loaf, homemade bread went by the wayside. I did, however, keep an eye out for a quicker method and eventually came across a recipe designed for elementary school kids. Best of all, the sloppy bit was done in a zipped plastic bag, which cut down considerably on my mess-making potential. It wasn’t an unmitigated disaster, but it wasn’t the best thing ever made, either. The search for a better bread recipe continued.
Fast forward twenty years. We gave each other a new Kitchenaid mixer for Christmas to celebrate our new kitchen. There were several bread recipes in the instruction book that looked good, but it felt a little strange. I mean, it essentially said “Attach the gizmo using the bolts provided. And now you’ve done that, here’s some nice food to make.” On the other hand, I’m a guy. What could really be wrong with cooking from an equipment manual? (When I mentioned this, Mary Anne pointed out that Kitchenaid has a whole staff of chefs whose job is to create recipes that make their equipment look good. It was probably foolproof. She was right.)
So I’ve started making bread again. It’s still time-consuming, but it’s also very relaxing and loads of fun. We use unbleached organic flour, real butter, organic milk, organic sugar, and sea salt. It’s as healthy as we know how to make it — and we can pronounce all the ingredients.
|Homemade bread fresh from the oven.
(adapted from Instructions and Recipes for Your KitchenAid Stand Mixer, 2009)
1/2 cup whole organic milk
3 tbsp organic sugar
2 tsp sea salt
3 tbsp butter
4-1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1-1/2 c warm (about 110°F) water
5 or 6 cups unbleached organic all-purpose flour
Melt butter, sugar, and salt in milk over low heat. Stir until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Set aside to cool to lukewarm.
Meanwhile, warm your mixing bowl with hot water. Dissolve yeast in the bowl in 1-1/2 cup warm water, then add the milk mixture and 4-1/2 cups flour. Mix on low speed for about a minute, then add flour 1/2 cup at a time until dough forms (it will cling to your dough hook and clean the sides of the mixing bowl). It may take a couple of minutes to reach this stage. Note that you may not need all 6 cups of flour.
After dough forms, let the mixer run for another couple of minutes on low speed. You want the dough to be smooth and elastic. While the dough is kneading, butter a clean bowl. Turn your dough into the bowl, rolling it to coat all sides. Cover with a clean cloth and set in a warm (around 85°), draft-free place to rise until it doubles in size (about an hour). A very slightly warmed oven works well for this.
While dough is rising, butter your loaf pans; mine are 9×5. When the dough is ready, punch it down and cut into two pieces. Shape each half into a loaf and place in a loaf pan, turning to coat the entire surface. Cover and let rise until doubled in size again (about another hour). Then bake at 400° for about a half hour or until golden brown. Cool in wire racks. Or, better yet, grab some butter and cut a slice to enjoy while it’s warm.