Baking, breaking bread with family

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer
The bread tastes as good as when Mom Bauer made it. Well, maybe almost as good.

When my mother-in-law passed away 10 years ago, many memories centered around food. Family gatherings where cousins gathered elbow-to-elbow around the kitchen counter, not willing to give up their spot around the platter of taco dip grandma had made and set out. Or the taco salad that was present at many family gatherings. Or her chocolate chip cookies that were so addictive, they soon became known as nicotine cookies.

So when the family gathered recently to recognize 10 years since her passing, it seemed only fitting to celebrate her life with some of the foods that came to be her trademark. 

To me, nothing spoke more of my mother-in-law than her homemade bread - a recipe handed down from her mother-in-law. Maybe it's because my husband and son love bread (no low carb diets here). Maybe it's the sweet, yeasty smell that fills the house as the bread bakes. Maybe it's the ideal of sitting together as family, breaking bread. Mostly, it's the image of my mother-in-law leaning on the counter with freshly baked bread stacked in front of her, smiling each time her family gathered for a meal.

With my husband and son the biggest consumers of her homemade bread, I felt an obligation to carry on the bread tradition and asked my sister-in-law for the coveted bread recipe. However, it was like many handed down recipes — a list of ingredients with no instructions. 

I'm not sure what one-third "strong cup water" means. Is it strong water as opposed to weak, or strong as a measurement? Starting with three cups of flour and "add more while mixing" can be open to lots of interpretation, but best judgement in dough consistency is the best course to follow. 

Thanks to the internet, I was able to piece together instructions that worked. While I needed a couple of attempts to get close to the picture perfect loaves I remember her setting out at a family meal, I'm guessing it took my mother-in-law years to perfect those golden brown loaves. Each time we gather, we will always remember the pleasure of breaking bread as family, knowing it came from her favorite bread recipe. 

Ready to rise and yes there were a few air bubbles. Making bread is an art.

Mom Bauer White Bread

1½ cups milk

¾ cup water plus ⅓ strong cup water

3 tablespoons shortening

3 teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons sugar

3 cups flour (add more while mixing)

3 packages yeast

Heat milk and water until warm (100-110 degrees). Dissolve yeast in warm water with 1 tablespoon sugar. Let sit five minutes. Melt shortening in warm milk.

Pour yeast/water mixture and milk into flour in large mixing bowl. Add salt and rest of sugar. Mix in bowl, adding flour until sticky dough forms and begins pulling away from side of bowl. Continue to knead until a soft ball of dough forms.

Put the dough in a lightly greased bowl and turn until all the dough is coated. Cover and let rest until about double in size. 

Turn the dough out onto a clean, lightly floured surface. Cut the dough in half. Gently pat each half into a 9×12-inch rectangle. Roll up the rectangle, starting on the short end, into a very tight cylinder. Pinch to seal the seams and the ends, tuck the ends of the roll under the bread, and place into greased 9-inch loaf pans. Cover the loaves loosely and place in a draft-free area until doubled in size.

Bake in a 400 degree oven with rack at lowest level for 30 - 35 minutes until golden brown, rotating pans halfway through. 

Melted butter can be brushed on loaves before and after baking. 

Makes two loaves.