Last week's weather warnings of the approach of cold weather and an impending winter storm sent shoppers to stores scrambling for grocery staples: bread, milk and eggs.
In the event of losing electricity during a storm, a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter become important rations.
But what we so often forget is how fortunate we are to be able to dash to the nearest store to buy today's grocery staples.
Depending on your age, our grandmothers and great-grandmothers likely started their day baking bread and churning butter. As I've written previously in this column, my Grandma Potempa baked large round loaves of her "morning chore bread" to feed hard-working Grandpa Potempa and their hungry large Polish farm family of nine children, the youngest being my father Chester. (Her bread recipe was the first recipe I ever published in this column and I featured this special family bread recipe in my original "From the Farm" cookbook in 2004).
Everyone should bake at least one loaf of "from scratch" homemade bread to understand the importance of this gift of grains.
When I used to host a monthly cooking and craft event at Barnes & Noble Booksellers on U.S. 30 in Hobart a decade ago, I recall baking loaves of honey walnut bread (also featured in that first cookbook edition) to serve with whipped butter to guests.
The long and cold winter months are a great time to tackle the kitchen craft of baking bread.
Reader Becky Stankowski of Lowell contacted me to share her experience of the recent bread baking class she enrolled in at Zingerman's Bakehouse in Ann Arbor, Mich.
"We made the recipe for Zingerman's Country Wheat Bread, but I don't know if one needs permission to publish their recipes since you pay for the class to get hands-on experience and recipes," Becky explained.
"So instead, I will send you another bread recipe option, with a wonderful family story associated with it, to share with your readers. My husband Jim grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, the oldest of 12 children. As he was growing up, his mother baked bread three or four times a week, six loaves at a time. When we got married, almost 26 years ago now, he asked me: 'Where's the homemade bread?' (He disagrees with this version of events, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it). So I went up to the farm shortly after our wedding and spent an afternoon with my new mother-in-law, learning how to make bread from her. Since then, I have made many, many loaves of bread, and have expanded into whole wheat, sourdough, ciabatta, challah, semolina cheese and others. But this basic white bread is still his favorite. So I have to give my mother-in-law, Lucille Stankowski from Mosinee, Wisconsin, credit for this great bread recipe. This bread is pretty fool-proof, easy to make and quick to rise. And tasty! My husband especially enjoys it warm, with peanut butter."
1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups room temperature milk (about 9-10 ounce, and note, use the lesser amount in summer or humid climates and the greater amount in winter or drier climates)
1 heaping tablespoon honey (about 1 1/8 ounces)
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast (Rapid Rise or other instant yeast; one packet equals 2 1/4 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons soft butter (1 ounce)
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (17 to 18 ounces)
DIRECTIONS: Mix all of the ingredients in the order listed, and mix and knead by hand, or using a stand mixer with a dough hook, to make a smoother dough. It won't be particularly soft nor stiff. It should be smooth and feel bouncy and elastic under your hands. If sticky, use the greater amount of flour. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, or large (8-cup) measuring cup. Cover it, and let it rise for 60 to 90 minutes, till it becomes quite puffy, though not necessarily doubled in size. Gently deflate the dough, and shape it into a fat 9-inch log. Place it in a lightly greased 9-inch x 5-inch loaf pan. Cover the pan, and let the dough rise for 60 to 90 minutes, till it's crowned 1-inch to 1 1/2-inch over the rim of the pan. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the bread for 20 minutes. Tent it lightly with aluminum foil, and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, till it's golden brown. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center will read 195-degrees to 200-degrees. Remove the bread from the oven, and turn it out onto a rack to cool. When completely cool, wrap in plastic, and store at room temperature. Makes 1 large loaf serving 12-14 slices.