Grandma’s Homemade Bread

There were several years when my grandmother lived with us for months at a time when I was a kid. During those years, she made 6 loaves of bread every week, using this recipe. (I think my mom tried to keep it up even when Grandma wasn’t in town).

Now that I’m paying attention to the difference between “artisanal” flour vs. the manufactured junk food offered at the grocery store these days, I’m curious what my grandmother’s own thoughts may have been on the matter. After all, she was a young bride and mother during the war and I’m sure she baked bread throughout those years. What kind of flour did she use? Where did she get it? Did she notice a difference in her bread, as the flour that was available started to change in the post-war period of agricultural industrialization? I’ll never get the chance to ask her now…

Anyway, Tanis has a version of the recipe adapted for a bread machine in the Feasting Loves Company cookbook; and Mom wrote out the ingredients (but no directions!) on a recipe card in her recipe box, which Laura now has. For my version, I’m doing 1/3 whole wheat flour (a true whole wheat bread would be half whole wheat flour) and using coconut oil as the shortening! Note that when I developed this recipe, I was still using store-bought whole wheat flour.

This quantity makes 3 full-sized loaves.

Each loaf is 1600 calories

3 c hot water
1/2 c sugar (if you’re making whole wheat, use brown sugar & a little molasses instead of white sugar)
3 T coconut oil (or crisco or margarine)
1T salt
1 c powdered milk
1 pkg active dry yeast
3 c whole wheat bread flour
5 – 6 c white bread flour (better than all-purpose flour, which has less protein)

Combine everything but the yeast and flour in the bowl of your Mixmaster and stir to melt the shortening and dissolve everything else.

When a thermometer says the mixture is 115 – 125°, add the yeast and let it rest for about 5 minutes.

Start adding your flour a cup at a time with the mixer on low. Scrape it down periodically with a spatula to help incorporate the flour. You should be able to get 6 or 7 cups mixed in before it starts to pull away from the sides and crawl up onto the stirring mechanism.

Pour a cup of flour out onto your work surface and empty the bread dough out onto it to start kneading. It will take 5-10 minutes to fully incorporate the rest of your flour. You want to work in at least enough to bring your total to 8-1/2 cups.

Grease a large ceramic bowl with a bit of butter and put your dough into it. Cover it with a towel and set in a warm place to rise for 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

As a kid, that “warm place” was always on top of the oven. I kind of didn’t get it, since the oven generally wasn’t actually warm, but hey – when you’re a kid, you don’t question your grandmother’s cooking instructions.
Fast forward 40 years and for the first time in my life, I’m living in an apartment with a stove that has a pilot light. And guess what – that pilot light means it’s always warm!!!! I laughed with recognition that yeah, back in my grandmother’s day, the oven was always a warm place, because everybody’s oven had a pilot light. So even though my mom’s oven was electric (no pilot light), I guess old habits died hard. Or maybe she did actually turn it on low heat or something and I just missed it. Anyway – mystery solved!!

Your bread dough is done when it’s doubled in size and you can stick two fingers in the middle and leave the impressions behind. Punch the dough down and shape into 3 loaves. If you don’t want to bake them all right away, this is a good point to freeze them. Just wrap them tightly in plastic and put straight into the freezer, to stop them from rising again.

With the loaves you are going to bake, let them rise inside the loaf pan for another 1 to 1-1/2 hours, until they’re again doubled in size.

Bake in a 375° oven for 40-45 minutes (in my toaster oven, 350° is better).

For a softer crust, baste with butter or an egg wash before cooking.

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