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Grandma's Homemade Bread

I'm about to give you one of my favorite childhood memories: my Grandma Ruth's homemade bread.  (You know you knew her if you're smelling it right now, hahahaha.)  Her bread was such a big deal that it was something craved and requested by pretty much every member of her very large family (and I'm seriously talking HUGE here....and that is before you get into all the grandkids, great-grandkids, and so on).  In fact, it is still something that is so strongly a part of our memories that when someone says "I think I found a bread that tastes like Grandma's" we all tend to sneak our way over to find it and try it...and try it....and try it...lol.  With such a heritage as that, I could hardly turn away from the opportunity to be able to give that same exquisite staple to my own repertoire.

The catch?  No matter how many times I tried, and how many times I double checked to make sure I was using her same recipe, I could NOT get it to turn out the same.  Come to find out (and yes, this was my "Well, Duh!" moment) it really was all about the technique and it actually didn't matter as much as I was stressing out about it.  So I'm going to do my best to explain to you not just the recipe but HOW to make it though if yours isn't the same as Grandma Ruth's....well, don't give up.  Hahaha  The beauty of this recipe is: Yours doesn't have to be the same as my grandma's.  It is just plain that good, regardless....and that easy, too. If you can get through how long this blog post is anyway, hahaha.

Even better?  (Yes, it does get better.)  This is the same bread recipe my family uses as a base for just about every bread-based dish we made.  Pizza, rolls, bread sticks, braided and sculpted bread, stuffed rolls, bread-filled casseroles, etc. they have all grown from this one recipe.  Our 11 year old is now learning this one, so I'm fairly certain most any beginner could do it...the trick is to pay attention to the steps and just enjoy yourselves. (If you don't believe me, imagine you're 5 and playing with the flour glue or mud pies again.  The thrill of getting to mix things together just to see how they turn out and how much squishy fun you can thrill your fingers with....yep, that image!  Hold on to that one, you know you want to! Hahaha)

1 cup lukewarm water
4 Tablespoons yeast
4 cups scalded milk
2/3 cup honey (you can use plain white sugar instead, but it will change the flavor ever so slightly)
2/3 cup oil (I prefer olive oil, personally, but just about any cooking oil should do)
3 eggs
2 Tablespoons salt
14-15 cups flour (I usually use generic white, though I've also used a half/half mix of white and wheat....it really is up to you and your preferences here, it mostly changes the end flavor.....grandma Ruth used wheat a LOT of the time, lol)

Directions (If you're already savvy in a kitchen, feel free to go with what you know...otherwise, strap in and prepare for a lengthy description including pictures.  It is worth it, though, if I do say so myself.  Just remember to bake at 350 degree for about 30 minutes or until the loaves tap with some resonance when you pull them out of the pans for those of you who don't want to work through the novel.)

Ok, step one: you're going to scald your milk then let it cool to lukewarm.  It takes just a little bit of time, but it is totally worth it....otherwise it will kill your yeast or worse yet cook your eggs before they incorporate properly.  Basically, you heat your milk in a saucepan until just before it boils then let it cool.  If you've scalded it properly, as it cools you'll see a film or skin show up on the top.  This is GOOD (it means the proteins in the milk are all kinds of happy to play in your bread dough).  The skin will look something like this:
Looks yummy huh? :D
Ok, now set that to cool (I'll either plan to wait about 30 minutes...or put it in the fridge or cover it and put it outside, depending on how little patience I have and whether or not the neighbor kids will let me get away with it, teehee).  In the meantime, pull out all your other ingredients and equipment (including a large bowl open mixing bowl (maybe 6-8 qts or more?), a tea/butter plate, a fork, measuring cups and spoons, a clean dish towel, a cereal bowl, and oil-sprayed bread pans).

See the foam and bubbles yet?
As soon as the milk has cooled down enough, start by measuring the lukewarm water, yeast, and a pinch of sugar or dollop of honey into the cereal bowl.  Quickly mix, then set aside while you let the yeast activate.  Be prepared: if you are using active yeast, it will hyper respond so skip the extra sugar.  When it is all kinds of foamy and bubbly, you'll be ready to mix it in the following blend.

In the big, open mixing bowl thoroughly stir together the oil, honey, and eggs....beat them until fully incorporated (the fork does nicely for this as well....when you need to put it down for something, use your plate to keep your surface clean).  Add the milk, mixing that in fully as you go (again, be careful that the milk isn't too hot or it will cook the eggs prematurely) then dump in 6 cups of flour and the salt (I always literally just dump the flour on top of the liquid in a pile, then put the salt on top of that THEN start mixing in by using my fork to gently sift it into the flour then out to the liquid).  When you've worked all that together, add the yeast mix (make sure it is foamy and bubbling like in the picture for best results) and incorporate everything fully.

Ok, now you get to work in the rest of the flour.  You can either add it in 1 cup at a time, or do like I do and dump another 6 cups in.  Either way, mix it all in completely then continue adding flour if you need to (there's usually another 1-2 cups or so added at this point.)  Also, this is a grand time for that "squishy fun" I mentioned earlier....for you or your kids.  :)  Ah, doesn't that bring back memories?  When you get done working all that flour in, it will be holding shape and turning a bit elastic.  This is a point where a LOT of people over-work their dough or under-work their dough because they're looking for a gorgeous ball shape like you see on Food Network....don't bother.  Basically, you want the dough to stretch but still hold to itself.  Mine looks kinda like this (I know, the pictures aren't very good but...):

Now you want to lay a damp, clean dish towel over it and set it in a warm spot out of reach of those eager little fingers who enjoy the "squishy".  Let it rise until doubled, punch it down, and then repeat. (Sorry, I can't give you a timeIt entirely depends on your house, your drafts, and what time of day or season it is.)  When it is doubled, punch it back down again, the separate into about 6-8 different equal amounts.  Shape your dough into "proper" loaf shape, then lay out in the bread pans.  Some people will tell you to let them rise again....it is up to you.  My family prefers a thicker bread, so I will generally just let it rest long enough for the oven to preheat.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, then pull out and let rest about 10 or 15 minutes in the pans (be sure to coat the tops of the bread loaves with butter to keep them from drying out at this point).  Dump them out, tops down, on that clean dish towel and allow to cool completely before putting them in bags to store (this helps keep them from getting mushy from condensation).  That is assuming, of course, that you and your helpers don't consume it all before it gets cool enough to store. (Make sure you hide the honey, butter, and jams before you get this far or, if your family is anything like mine, it is a wasted effort, hahahaha.)

And that is pretty much it.  You can cut this batch size in half, just be sure you use 2 eggs, though around here we love eating the bread enough that a full size batch will still only last us about a week or less.  I'll be sharing fun ways to use this recipe for other things but until then....Happy Munching!  Unless, of course, you'd care to share with us your favorite things to do with Homemade Bread?

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