’07 Holiday Gifts: Miracle Bread
This is it – the final piece in the Straight from the Farm’s First Annual Holiday Gift Round-Up bag o’ goodies. In truth, I hadn’t necessarily planned on making anything else. But then I figured a package that contained this and this, two items that just begged to be spread on something right out of the bag, had better have a little something else to round it all out. A loaf of homemade bread would do just the trick.
I’ve been making bread since before I can remember. I know this because my mom has a picture of me, standing on a chair that I’d pulled up to the kitchen counter, kneading dough and covered in flour from head to toe. I’ll see if I can snag it while I’m home for the holidays to put up here for your amusement. It certainly makes me chuckle every time I see it.
I’ve also been using the exact same recipe since then. It came from my mom who snagged it from who knows where. It’s called “Miracle Bread.” I bet you have the same question I had….why’s it called that? I wish I had a concrete answer for you here. I do have two of my own theories though. The first is that this likely came out of some old church cookbook (as so many of my mom’s standbys do) and some cheeky housewife in the ‘40s thought putting “miracle” in the title would make her holier than all the other housewives. Amusing possibility, no?
The second of my theories might be just ever so slightly more plausible, since I know for a fact it’s the truth. I just don’t know if it’s the real reason behind the bread’s name. See, this recipe is truly foolproof. Besides making sure your yeast rises when you first mix it with the water, there’s no way you can mess it up – or at least I haven’t found a way yet and I’ve had my fair share of “woops!” moments with this dough over the years. It’s also ridiculously adaptable…you can make loaves in pans, loaves of your own shaping, rolls, plain, whole wheat, rye, herbed, raisin, and even cinnamon buns. I’m going to try to add to that list in January when I put together a Week of Bread for you. So taking into account its indestructibility and adaptability, the bread is pretty darn miraculous.
I used this recipe for the whole wheat rolls I made for Fred and his dulce de leche gift. And then I decided to use it to make a very slightly sweet plain loaf to put in everyone else’s bag. I bumped up the sugar in the liquid by a scant teaspoon to harmonize with the sweetness of the jam and dulce de leche. The resulting loaf was proof that just a small change like that gives this bread a whole new personality. Had I not used up all my whole wheat flour making Fred’s rolls, I might have also thought to make these loaves whole wheat with a touch of honey for the extra sweetness. I don’t think honey matches the flavors of plain bread nearly as well, but that might just be personal taste.
Making your own bread is very rewarding and, I dare say, relaxing. Forget the bread machine – in my opinion, it’s one of the few modern appliances that takes away from (rather than adds to such as my new dishwasher does) the joy of cooking. Kneading bread dough is very therapeutic, especially after a stressful day. And since this recipe is so forgiving, you’ll not have any frustration messing with your “zen”.
Bread making also allows you to control what goes into this cupboard staple, sidestepping all those questionable preservatives that make the Pepperidge Farm loaves I get last an unnatural month without molding. A word to the wise though – since it has no preservatives, this bread generally doesn’t hold up for more than a week. It’s typically gobbled up much faster than that though, and you can prolong its staying power by putting it in the fridge.
So, I hope you’ve enjoyed the ’07 Holiday Gifts and feel truly appreciated as readers. Should I do it again in ’08? There will be a few more recipes in 2007, but just in case you’re scooting away from your computer soon, let me wish you all happy (and tasty) holidays! It’s been a wonderful year and wonderful having you here!
My mom’s recipe
2 c. boiling water
2 T. butter
2 T. sugar
2 t. salt
Combine above ingredients and cool to lukewarm.
1/2 c. hot (but not boiling) water
2 packages of rapid rise dry yeast (2T.)
1 T. (scant) sugar
Whisk together Part II ingredients in a medium bowl and cover with a towel. Let yeast rise for 15-20 minutes, being sure it froths up and expands considerably. If yeast doesn’t rise, toss it and get new yeast before proceeding.
Once yeast has risen, combine with Part I. Add 6 to 6 1/2 cups of flour*, mixing with a spoon at first and then using your hands as it comes together. Add just enough flour to keep dough from being sticky. Knead dough for a few times and then cover bowl with a towel to let it rise. Come back to it every 10 minutes to punch it down and knead it some more, repeating this process 4-5 times. Don’t worry if you leave it longer – just be sure to punch it down a few times before proceeding with baking.
Divide dough in half at least once as it makes two large loaves. You can also divide it more times if you want to make smaller loaves or rolls. Place loaves on a greased baking sheet or in greased loaf pans. Cover again with a towel and let dough rise to double the size. If you want, you can use a sharp knife to make cuts in the dough to create ridges when they’re baked. I used an X shape this time on my round loaves for a nice artisan look.
Preheat oven to 375 F and bake risen loaves for 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Take loaves from the oven and brush with melted butter or spray with cooking spray to give loaves a nice sheen.
*The flour can be all unbleached white flour or a mixture of whole wheat and white flour. Use at least 3 cups of white flour or else the dough won’t be as forgiving.
(makes two large loaves OR four medium loaves OR a dozen rolls)