Monday, March 2, 2009

An Ode to Bread and Butter

Today, I'm walking up to the pretty pool of bloggy collaborations and connections, and I'm dipping in my toes. On this snowy day when March is definitely coming in like a lion in New York State, Sarah McColl of Pink of Perfection and I are sitting inside, singing the praises of warm bread and homemade butter. What better way to spend the day?


The Only Bread I've Ever Made
by Sarah McColl of Pink of Perfection

In the 1970’s, my Aunt Margie gave my mom a spiral bound cookbook. For the next decade, I think the recipes in that book (along with a sheet of notebook paper with a brainstorm of about eleven different ways to serve hot dogs) sustained my family through lean times. My mom’s copy of the More-with-Less Cookbook is stained, the pages crowded with check marks next to recipes she intended to try, stars next to successes, and some pretty entertaining marginalia (the white bean and scallion salad is, in case you were wondering, “gross.”) This cookbook is a really helpful, if somewhat outdated, repository of how to economize in the kitchen. Flipping through the book at home a few months ago, I rejected most of the recipes, telling my mom they were a little too close to the bone. A few months later and a job lost, they sound pretty good.

I have only ever made one bread recipe in my life, and it’s the one in this cookbook. When I first moved off-campus in college — into a poorly insulated purple bedroom with no closet in an apartment with one girl I knew and one girl I didn’t — my mom sat me down and gave me a crash course in home ec. Lessons included how to bake bread, roast a chicken, and make all the pieces of a grocery list fit together into a tight puzzle where no item is leftover or left out.

Every Sunday, I roasted a chicken and baked two loaves of bread. I stuffed the chicken with any leftover bread from the week before. After a warm Sunday dinner, I used the leftover chicken and bread to make sandwiches the rest of the week. It was a simple way for me to eat then, and a real source of pride that I knew how to provide for myself. Once a Girl Scout, always a Girl Scout, I guess.

I never begrudged the hours involved in baking the bread. In fact, I really loved it. While the bread rose, I read at the sunny kitchen table. Built-up aggressions from my romantic life were worked out during the kneading and punching-down process. Amidst the melodrama of being a boy-crazy twenty-year-old and the intensity of studying literature at a small, snowy college, the Sunday baking routine was the time in which I sunk into something slow and steady, a process that yielded real results: springing yeast into action, mixing flour, and putting my hands to work making something to sustain me.

Even now, though the interpersonal drama in my life is far less heady, the simple act of baking bread still holds the same elemental appeal. From practically nothing, comes something. And something, might I add, that’s really good.

Multi-Grain Bread
adapted from the More-with-Less Cookbook
makes 2 9×5 loaves

2 packages dry yeast in
1/2 cup warm water with
1 teaspoon sugar

Warm in a saucepan (but do not boil):
1 cup water
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon salt

Pour heated milk mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add:
activated yeast mixture
1/3 cup buckwheat flour
3 tablespoons wheat germ
3 tablespoons milled flax seed
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups white flour

Beat at medium speed for 3 minutes. By hand stir in:
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour

Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes using:
1 additional cup white flour

Let rise until doubled. Punch down and knead briefly. Let rest 10 minutes. Divide dough and place in two 9×5″ greased loaf pans. Let rise again until almost doubled in volume. Bake at 375 degrees F for 35 minutes.

Like Buttah
by Kristina Strain, of Sweetfern Handmade

Call me an appliance whore. I have a waffle iron, a panini press, an electric teakettle, for crying out loud. My coleslaw takes three minutes in the food processor, my homemade bread takes all the effort of measuring out ingredients and dumping them into the machine. In addition to all this flummery, I also own this, the star culinary workhorse, the venerable KitchenAid stand mixer.

Cakes and Christmas cookies are a snap, a breeze. Meringue is a matter of course, a ho-hum affair. Plug, dump, and turn it on. Wait while the glorious beater works its wonderful magic. I am no stranger to singing the praises of this member of my kitchen team.

Before last month, however, I hadn’t considered it part of the perpetual Appalachian-farmer’s-wife fantasy I’m always pretending at, making my own bread and cheese and canning enough tomatoes to choke a hog. But, behold: now I get it. For that mixer is more than just a whipper of egg whites, a mascerater of pie dough. What that appliance is, friends, is a perfectly serviceable, modern-day butter churn.

Butter making. It’s really this simple: heavy cream, stand mixer, patience. I was so eager to try it out, to experience the beauty of fresh butter, to escape from the drudgery of stoic, indentical, individually-wrapped fat sticks to the world of mellow, halcyon, oleic bliss.

So, here’s what I did. I bought a quart of heavy cream at the grocery store. I brought it home. I plugged in my mixer, dumped in the cream, and turned it on. I kept it on a low setting, since I didn’t relish the thought of wiping thousands of little globby butter-blobs off my kitchen walls. Then, I let the mixer work its aforementioned magic. I washed a whole sinkful of dishes, swept, mopped, and cleared the crumbs out of the toaster before the cream began to coalesce into butter.

Be warned: the cream will begin to thicken. It will get thicker and thicker before your eyes. Triumph and success will be at hand. If you’re me, you might even dance around and shout, “hell yeah!”, scaring the dog. Then, as quickly as the coagulation began, it will dwindle away. The cream will get thin and watery again. You will be downtrodden; you might even say, oh, shit. Perservere, for you are close to the promised land, the splendid moment where the cream suddenly releases its buttermilk, casts off its old life as a liquid, and becomes butter.

Drain off as much buttermilk as you can (squeezing the butter helps), and transfer the solid butter to a big bowl of cold water. Save the buttermilk for pancakes tomorrow morning. Wash the butter in the cold water, squeezing some more. It’ll give up a little additional buttermilk, making the water cloudy. Dump it and rinse the butter in fresh water. You’re done.

The fun part, for me, was adding flavorings. My quart of cream yielded 12 oz (three sticks) of butter, so I made three different flavors.

Lemon Honey Butter

4 oz butter, softened
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp lemon zest
1 tbsp honey

Sundried Tomato Butter

1 cup boiling water
1/3 cup sundried tomatoes
4 oz butter, softened
¼ tsp salt

First, let the tomatoes soak in the water for ten minutes. Squeeze them out, mince them, and add to the other ingredients.

Garlic-Herb Butter

4 oz butter, softened
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 tbsp fresh basil, minced
1 tsp fresh oregano, minced
½ tsp fresh thyme, minced
¼ tsp salt


Brenda Leyland said...

That's fine looking loaf of homemade bread. My mouth waters as I imagine you slathering a generous slice with some of the yummy flavoured butter (I'd go for the garlic-y one right now).

Thanks for sharing the picture and the recipe!

Kristina said...

The garlicky butter was my favorite of the ones I made-- really potent but so pretty with all the herbs in it.

Thanks for stopping by!

Pink of Perfection said...

Mmm, that garlic herb butter sounds like it would be my favorite, too! Thanks again, Kristina!

karenjane said...

yum, looks so good, i love home made bread! ive awarded you a tree of happiness award on my blog:)

Kristina said...

Thanks so much Karen!

lilmuy said...

omg -- my own butter! i want to try! a question for you -- do you add any salt to it while it's mixing? or does that mess with the chemistry of it?

Kristina said...

Lilmuy-- I added my salt after the buttermilk was already drained off. That way, I made sure the salt wound up in the butter, and not in the buttermilk. To get the same effect of regular salted butter, use a 1/4 tsp salt per half-cup of butter you get. Thanks for your question!

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