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The Staff of Life

Breads
by John Raven, Ph. B.

What is a meal without bread? Without bread what do you use to sop up your gravy? Where do you put your butter? How do you make a sandwich?

It is an accepted fact that grains are good for you. The little food charts you see on everything say you should eat more grains than anything else. But I'm not sure they are talking about that enriched, gummy stuff that you see on the supermarket shelves that contains more chemicals than a high school chemistry lab and has a shelf life of about a quarter century.

If you are serious about nutrition and just plain good food you need to learn to bake bread. It's not that hard to do. It takes a lot of time, but little actual labor.

I'll share a couple of bread recipes that work for me.

Basic White Bread

  • 1-¼ cup very warm water (120F)
  • 1 packet dried yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Unbleached flour (amount will vary)
In a large mixing bowl, combine the water, yeast, salt and sugar. Mix very well. Add about a half cup flour. Mix very well with whisk or electric mixer. Add another half cup flour and mix very well. Keep adding the flour in small amounts and mixing until you get a rather stiff dough that comes away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead it until it becomes elastic and loses it's stickiness. Form it into a ball. Place the ball of dough in a bowl that has been well lubricated with vegetable oil. Turn the dough so it gets greased on all sides. Cover with a cloth or clear wrap.

Set the dough in a warm place to rise. Rising time will vary according to the temperature. I sit mine in a sunny window. In an hour or so, your dough will have doubled in volume.

Turn the dough out on the floured surface again and knead it slightly. Form the dough into a loaf and place in well greased bread pan. (I use Pyrex so I can see how the sides are browning.) Put the dough back in the warm area and let it double in bulk again. Place in center of a 350F to 375F oven and bake about a half hour.

You can tell when it's done by tapping on the top. If it sounds hollow, it's done.

Turn the loaf out of the pan and brush on all sides with vegetable oil or melted shortening. Let it cool. Notice that the only fat you get in this recipe is the small amount from greasing the bowls and what you brush on after it's done. If you need to, you can leave out the salt.

You can also use the above recipe to make a pretty fair dinner roll. After the dough has risen the first time, divide it into about six equal pieces and form into balls and put into a muffin pan to rise. Then bake as you did, except it won't take quite as long to bake.

Raven's Basic Biscuits

  • 2 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1/3 cup shortening
Combine the dry ingredients. Cut the shortening in with a pastry cutter. Add lukewarm water, a little at a time, mixing well. (Here is where you have to decide if you want "drop" biscuits or "rolled" biscuits). If you are in a hurry, add enough water to make a rather thin dough, not watery, but a dough that will fall from your spoon. Drop the biscuits onto a greased or non-stick cookie sheet in the amount of about three tablespoons each. Then bake in a 400F pre-heated oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown.

If you want the traditional rolled biscuits, add just enough water to make a stiff dough. Turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead until smooth. Flatten the dough to about one-half inch in thickness. Cut with your biscuit cutter and place on greased or non-stick cookie sheet. Bake at 400F until golden brown.

If you like butter on your biscuits but don't need the extra fat, use butter flavored shortening in the recipe.

To "fancy up" your rolled biscuits, after you have them on the baking sheet, make a depression in the center of each with your thumb. Into the depression put a dab of butter and a dab of your favorite jelly, sprinkle with just a little sugar and cinnamon.

Raven's Flour Tortillas

Use the above biscuit recipe, leaving out the sugar and baking powder. Make a stiff dough, divide into egg-size portions and roll very thin. Cook on a lightly greased griddle until done. If you like your tortillas puffy, put in about a half teaspoon of baking powder.

Raven's Cornbread

Use the recipe on any pack of yellow stone-ground cornmeal. Cornbread that is white just doesn't taste right. I like to bake my cornbread in a cast iron skillet. Put the skillet in the oven while it is preheating and you're mixing your batter. It should be very hot by the time you are ready for it.

Grease the skillet liberally with shortening, pour in your batter and return it to the oven. While you have the oven hot, make a batch of corn muffins, too. Recipe's on the pack.

There is some difference of opinion as to whether cornbread should have sugar in it. My personal preference is: when I'm having just beans and cornbread, I don't want any sugar in it. For all other uses I want the sugar. You decide what you like.

When the weather cools some, I'm going to work up a recipe for whole wheat bread. When it's perfected I'll share it with you.

At this point in time I've never had anything that was made in a bread machine. I won't have anything to say on that subject until I've been there and done that. Enjoy.

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