A little more than a year ago, on April 2, 2010, my big sister Kay lay down to sleep, closed her eyes and passed over into God's arms.
Although we were born 13 years apart, we shared a few common interests, including reading, horseback riding, cooking and baking.
The latter two were nurtured by our father, who during our childhoods, operated restaurants.
As children, we often woke to the fragrance of freshly-baked bread and rolls made by my father. Sunday morning meant homemade crullers or cinnamon rolls. An early riser, our father loved to bake. He typically had the kitchen to himself; our dear mother's many talents did not, alas, include culinary skills.
Because we grew up with home baking, we were often taken aback, and looked with pity, on our friends whose bread came in plastic bags and whose cinnamon rolls adhered to tinfoil trays.
As we became adults, the skills we learned our father began to teach us as soon as we were able to handle a spoon stayed with us; we both made all our own baked goods without a second thought. When times were tough, we fell back on those skills, baking bread and rolls to sell.
Kay's scones, soda bread and English muffin loaves were the stuff of legend. We often tweaked our father's recipes, adding raisins here, substituting flours or sweeteners there. But the basics stayed the same, the foundation on which we built our own recipes, tailored to our own families' preferences.
To this day, Sunday mornings in our house mean that bread, often made from long-memorized recipes, will be rising in the kitchen, the finished loaves or rolls to be served warm at our family dinner. Forget the bread machine; taking the time to craft a fine loaf by hand is good for the soul.
Now that both Kay and our father are turning out angel biscuits for the Heavenly hosts, I thought the time was right to share one of his favorite recipes.
Dave's best bread:
Melt a stick of unsalted butter and let cool. While it's cooling, stir a packet of yeast into cup of warm water into which you've stirred half a teaspoon of honey. While waiting for the yeast to bloom, whisk three medium room-temperature eggs in a Pyrex measuring cup. Add enough just-warm whole milk to bring the mixture to the two-cup level.
Whisk the egg/milk mixture, cooled butter, yeast/water together with 1/2 cup minus two tablespoons of sugar in a large bowl. Whisk in 1 cup each of whole wheat flour and white bread flour. When thoroughly blended, use a large wooden spoon to stir in another cup of whole wheat flour, then enough white bread flour to make a soft dough. Depending on the humidity, it could take up to a total of six cups of flour.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and let it rest for about 5 minutes. Gently knead the dough for 10 minutes, then put it into a buttered bowl, turning the dough so it becomes coated with a thin film of butter. Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until it doubles in size. Punch the dough down.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
For rolls, take an egg-sized pinch of dough and roll it into a rope about the diameter of your finger. Bring the ends together, "tying" the rope into a knot. Tuck the ends under. Place on a greased baking sheet. Let rise for about a half-hour or 45 minutes, or until almost doubled in size. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Brush the tops with melted butter.
For a loaf of bread, roll the dough flat, then gently roll up into a loaf shape, tucking the ends under. Put the dough into a well-greased loaf pan and let rise until almost doubled. Bake at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until the loaf is browned and sounds hollow when you tap it with your knuckles. Let the loaf cool on a rack for 20 minutes, then turn it out of the pan and let it cool, on its side, on the rack. Brush the top with melted butter.