I don’t think our old farmhouse kitchen ever smelled better than when my grandmother was baking bread. While the loaf was still warm she would cut it into slices and there was always homemade preserves of jam on the table with butter. I remember the peach and cherry jams and how they highlighted that ever so warm tasting bread. It would literally melt in your mouth.
So how about a recipe for old fashioned bread?
Making homemade bread is so rewarding, especially when it disappears before it even gets a chance to cool. I can remember how good and soft the insides were, and how crunchy the crusts were.
Here is the basic recipe for old style country bread
4 3/4 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups water
3/4 tsp yeast
Bread making is 10% recipe and 90% technique. Sugar, oil, eggs and milk can cause breads to get stale faster, an old style country bread is the kind one might find in a paper bag or basket on the kitchen counter.
Lets get started on our technique. You will need to mix together the salt and the flour in a large mixing bowl. Then make a well in the middle of this mixture and put the yeast in it. Next you will need 2 cups of 75 degree water. This doesn’t sound like it will be warm enough since you are used to 110-115 degrees for regular bread. This is just warm enough to activate the yeast and will make sure that your bread rises slowly. Next pour this water into the well and mix until the yeast dissolves,then start mixing in the rest of the flour. This will be sticky to the touch but don’t add more flour or you won’t get anything but heavy regular bread. The dough will be less sticky after it has been kneaded a bit.
After you have the flour all mixed up, turn it out on a very lightly floured bread board. If you do not have a bread board, dampen your counter and sprinkle flour over it, then lightly smooth the excess flour to one side.
Kneading old style country bread is a bit different then regular bread in that you don’t use the palms of your hands, instead you will stretch and fold the dough. Pick it up and throw it down, fold it over and slap it down on the counter some more. Keep doing this for about five minutes then cover the dough with a clean cloth and let it and your arms rest for five minutes. Repeat the kneading for another five minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic by now. Cover up the dough and let rise for exactly forty-five minutes, no longer. After forty-five minutes have passed, knead the dough for five minutes again, then let it rise for forty-five minutes again. You will need to repeat this one more time. Make sure the room that you are rising the dough in is at least 70 degrees, and not nore then 75 degrees.
While waiting for the last rising, you will need to prepare a baking stone for the final loaf rising. If you don’t have a baking stone, a baking sheet will do. Sprinkle some of the cornmeal on it. Then divide the dough in half and form into the desired loaf shape. Place the loaves on your baking sheet or stone and cover with a cloth to let rise for an hour and a half. You can make slits in the loaves just before baking.
While the loaves are rising, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put a shallow, empty roasting pan on the bottom rack of the oven when you preheat the oven. Put the loaves in the oven and add 1/2 cup of water to the roasting pan. Close the door quickly and bake for fifteen minutes, without peeking. The water will create steam that will keep the loaves from breaking open. After fifteen miutes, turn the temperature down to 425 degrees for thirty minutes or until hollow when tapped.
Remove the bread from the oven and cool completely. If you give in to the temptation to eat it hot from the oven, you will surely miss out on the flavor and texture that is formed from cooling the bread completely. You are only limited by your imagination. If your first try doesn’t come out just right, please try again, you won’t be disappointed.
And keep those cherry and peach jams at the ready for some really good eating.