My husband family immigrated from Greece in the early 1900’s and they carried their traditions with them into this new world. One of the most important traditions of any Greek household is the tradition of hospitality. My hubby’s grandmother loved teaching me the family’s “secret” recipes so that one day I too could be a typical “Greek” housewife.
I will never forget learning how to make bread with Grandma. To begin, she made a huge mound of flour in the middle of the table. Then with her hands, pressed a small well in the center of the mound, added some salt and crumbled a cake of yeast into the well. Slowly she started pouring hot, not just hot water but almost boiling hot water into the well all the while stirring the well with her bare hand. Once she had it moist enough, the kneading began. Grandma kneaded the dough for at least a half hour but when she was finished that dough was as “smooth as a baby’s bottom”…Grandma’s definition of perfect dough. It was left to rise covered in her bread bowl. Once double in size she punched down the dough, let it rest about 5 minutes, then shaped into loaves, let it rise a second time then baked it in her 1930’s Chambers oven.
Grandma taught me her time honored way of testing the finished loaves also. Once the bread looked done and had baked for an appropriate amount of time, she removed the largest loaf, tipped it out of the pan and gently tapped the bottom of the loaf with her finger nail. If it sounded hollow, it was done. Amazingly, she never missed. Her bread was always perfect!
Grandma never made fewer than 4 loaves at a time. She knew the first loaf would be consumed by those lucky enough to be in the kitchen when it came out of the oven. The taste of that bread still remains in my memory; slathered with softened butter, thickly sliced, piping hot, fresh from the oven. Whenever I smell bread baking, I think of Grandma and that mound of flour, the mixing, the kneading and the amazingly yeasty fragrance of the dough rising then baking.
Just as Grandma taught me to make bread, I now include my grandsons in the bread making process. Being boys, they love the physicality of it; even though a Kitchen Aid mixer will knead the dough quite well, we still knead some of the dough by hand. They do not have to be in on the entire process but it is a completely tactile type therapeutic activity for the boys to knead dough, punch it down, shape it into their own loaf, watch it rise and when baked and warm from the oven, slather it with butter and experience the joy of something so mundane as bread – tasting so absolutely fantastic.
The look on their little faces is priceless when it comes out of the oven smelling so fragrant. They are so proud of their work. Even if all they did was punch the dough down and form a loaf, it is their bread, they made it, and they are proud of that accomplishment. Teach your children to make bread.
Honey White Bread
Makes one standard loaf
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 1 package rapid rise yeast
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup milk, room temperature
- 1/3 cup water, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons honey
- In the bowl of an electric stand mixer combine flour, yeast and salt.
- In another bowl combine milk, water, melted butter and honey stirring until honey is dissolved.
- Using dough hook on lowest speed, slowly add wet ingredients to dry ingredients.
- Continue mixing until dough comes together and forms a cohesive ball on dough hook.
- Increase speed to medium low and continue to knead dough until smooth about 8-10 minutes.
- While dough is kneading, grease a large bowl with olive oil or vegetable oil and set aside.
- Once dough is “smooth as a baby’s behind” remove the dough from the mixer and knead for about 30 seconds on a flat surface forming it into a smooth ball.
- Place the ball smooth side down in the bowl to grease it with a slight film of oil then turn it over so the seam side is down.
- Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a tea towel and place in a warm, draft free place to rise for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
- Once double in bulk punch down the dough and let rest for about 10 minutes.
- While dough is resting, grease a loaf pan (8 x 4 inch) and set aside.
- Dump dough onto lightly floured countertop and lightly knead.
- Stretch dough into a rectangle about 8 x 6 inches and place longest side toward you.
- Beginning with the longest side (8”) roll dough away from your body forming a tight roll to fit pan.
- Place dough roll into the prepared pan seam side down.
- Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm, draft free area for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or till dough is about 1 inch above the rim of loaf pan.
- Adjust oven racks to lower half of oven. Heat oven to 350F.
- Spritz loaf with water and bake loaf in 350F oven for 35 to 40 minutes rotating loaf halfway through baking time.
- Remove from oven when loaf reaches 205F to 210F or when loaf sounds hollow when tapping on the bottom of loaf.
- Loaf should be nicely browned and glossy.
- Cool in pans for about 10 minutes then remove to wire rack to completely cool about 2 to 3 hours if you can keep the kiddos away from the warm bread.