There was only one bread cookbook my mom used and that was her worn copy of Betty Crocker’s Breads. When we made bread, bagels, English muffins, bread sticks and so forth, the recipes always came from that book.
I inherited my mom’s copy and it holds a special place for me – flipping through the pages I can remember where I was the first time she and I made a recipe for the first time. Her copy is from the first printing of 1974 – it didn’t have an ISBN number on it, so who knows when and where she got it from. She probably picked it up around that time though. My mom always had a soft spot for ‘hippie food’ when we were young.
The book is what made bread easy to make for me (why do so many books try to have bread making seem so mysterious? It isn’t!). I went to college with some of the recipes written down on scraps of paper. In college I was the only one in my group who knew even how to bake (much less cook….it seemed most women I knew didn’t have moms who had taught them to cook). Being able to not only make bread but to produce water bagels for friends? Lets say I was a foodie before I knew what a foodie was……(and this of course was well before the concept of “artisan breads” came into vogue…..)
The point is the cookbook is a simple and easy to use bible of bread making. It doesn’t try to be overly fancy or pretentious – it came out in a time when the ‘back to nature’ movement was running high. The recipes are natural and full of good ingredients, yet all are items that one can find in any grocery store, even in the middle of the Nebraska……Yes, shocking, it calls often for gasp all-purpose flour. (Said tongue in cheek as most modern bread books wouldn’t lower themselves to using plain old flour, when there is nothing wrong with it!).
On page 13 is this “No perfume can surpass the fragrance of a perfect loaf.” How true is that. There is little that compares to fresh-baked bread just pulled out of the oven…particularly spread with butter on it. When I was my son’s age, my payment for helping my mom was that I got the ends of the bread, slathered in butter, right out of the oven. It made doing the kneading worth it.
Of course this book was written years before the concept of a consumer bread machine came to be. Still, a bread machine is great with this book, I use it to knead and raise the dough, then I bake it in the oven.
So here is to one of my favorite recipes in the book:
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water (105 to 115°)
- 2 Tbsp white sugar
- 1½ tsp kosher or sea salt
- 2¾ cups all-purpose flour
Dissolve yeast in the water in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar, salt and 1¼ cups flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in remaining flour.
Turn dough onto lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place in lightly greased (vegetable oil) bowl; turn greased side up. Cover; let rise in warm place until double, about 15 minutes. (Dough is ready if an indentation remains when touched.)
Punch dough down; divide into 8 equal parts. Roll each part into a rope 6″ long; moisten ends with water and pinch to form a bagel. Let rise 20 minutes. Heat oven to 375°.
Heat 2 quarts water to boiling in large kettle. Reduce beat; add 4 bagels. Simmer 7 minutes, turning once. Drain on clean kitchen towel. Repeat with remaining bagels, simmering four at a time.
Bake on a lightly oiled baking sheet (cookie sheet), or line with parchment paper, until bagels are golden brown. 30 to 35 minutes; cool.
Makes 8 bagels.
-To which I’ll add that the bagels are chewy, not soft, the way bagels should be. Bagels have become mini loaves of bread in the past decade, more a roll than anything else. These take one back to bagels in a deli, 20-30 years ago.