Bread for the Holidays

By Bill Turner

In the wintertime, there’s nothing better than the aroma of bread baking in the oven. Well, maybe a glass of Opus One in front of a nice fire, but I digress. Bread — the staff of life — is really so easy to make and yet we’re often too lazy to do it. Not this winter! We are going to get off our duffs and get it done! Next time you are at the store pick up a five pound bag of bread flour and a jar of yeast. You will have everything else.

Forget the bread machine. You miss half the fun with that gadget. Make your dough by hand. It is a sensual experience. Even my friend, Bob, likes to make bread dough. I watch him kneading the dough as he stares blankly in the distance. Who knows what he is thinking.

You should start your bread-making career with some simple favorites that are perfect for the holidays: classic French bread, Parker House rolls and cinnamon rolls. Bread making is a great activity to do with kids. I always bake bread with my children and grandchildren during the holidays and they are always memorable events for everyone.

CLASSIC FRENCH BREAD

A French baguette is one of the most classic breads and is also one of the simplest to make — you will be surprised at how easy it is to turn out a few loaves. If you are having a dinner party, plan to have the bread come out of the oven as the guests are arriving. Slice the warm bread and serve with cheese or a basil pesto. The crowd will go wild. If there is any left over, have it for breakfast — pain perdu or French toast.

THE FRENCH FOOD POLICE

Although the French arguably have the best cuisine in the world, and most would say they are the best wine producers and the most prolific producer of fine cheeses, they also adhere to very strict and quirky rules when it comes to food and drink. For example, if you want to produce wine in the Burgundy area, you can only use Pinot Noir grapes for red wine and Chardonnay grapes for white wine. Champagne can only be produced in the Champagne region.

The everyday baguette, which we commonly call French bread, can’t escape these regulations either. Actually, “French national law dictates that ‘French’ bread should contain only combinations of flour, yeast, salt and water,” according to Foodimentary.com.

So, making classic French bread is really easy and takes so few ingredients you’ll be known as the family’s boulanger in no time.

 

CLASSIC FRENCH BREAD

INGREDIENTS

Dough:

  • 3 ½ cups of bread flour
  • 1 ¼ cup of hot water (110 degrees)
  • 1 Tbsp. yeast
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt

Glaze:

  • 2 Tbsp. hot water
  • 1 tsp. salt

DIRECTIONS

  1. Dissolve the yeast in the hot water and let sit for at least five minutes.
  2. Grease with butter the bottom and sides of a large mixing bowl and the baking pan.
  3. Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl.
  4. Add the water and yeast mixture to the dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon. As soon as the water is reasonably incorporated, get your hands in there and start kneading. A sticky dough ball will quickly form. You can continue to knead with the dough in the bowl, but it is much more enjoyable to take it out and walk around the room kneading and telling everyone about the primal nature of making your own bread. It is important to have an audience for this philosophical rant.
  5. Once the dough has gone from sticky to smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes), form into a ball and put into the greased mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel, sit in a warm spot and let the dough rise for one hour.
  6. When the dough has risen (it will be about double in size), take it out of the bowl, gently knead it a couple of times and divide it into two equal parts.
  7. Roll each piece out to about a 12 inch rounded square.
  8. Starting on one side, roll up the dough and pinch the end onto the main body of the loaf. Place the loaves on the greased baking pan, cover lightly with a kitchen towel and let rise for one hour.
  9. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  10. After the loaves have risen, use a bread knife to make 4-5 diagonal slits across the top. Use a pastry brush to liberally apply the water/salt glaze. You can also add poppy seeds or sesame seeds at this point if you wish.
  11. Bake loaves for 20-25 minutes until golden brown; allow to cool on a rack. 12. Enjoy.

 

PARKER HOUSE ROLLS

Parker House rolls are a great American tradition and wonderful for holiday dinners. According to the website bakinghistory.wordpress.com, these classic rolls were created at the Parker House Hotel in Boston in the 1870s. Some of their earliest and most famous patrons such as Offenbach, Dickens, Hawthorne and Longfellow appreciated their buttery, slightly sweet, crusty on the outside, fluffy on the inside characteristics. (The website of The Parker House, now a luxury hotel in the heart of Boston’s financial district, still brags about their famous rolls.)

This recipe will make 32 rolls, which is ideal for a dinner for 16 people or a snack for four teenagers.

INGREDIENTS (FOR 32 ROLLS)

  • 1 pkg. active dry yeast (Red Star)
  • 4 Tbsp. hot water (110 degrees)
  •  4 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 8 Tbsp. unsalted butter (one stick)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  •  1 cup whole milk warmed to about 110 degrees

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat the milk on low heat and test with your finger. If it feels like hot water, you are at about 110 degrees.
  2. Stir the yeast into the warm milk and let sit for at least 5 minutes.
  3. Grease with butter the bowl you’ll use to let the dough rise.
  4. Melt 6 Tbsp. of butter on low heat.
  5. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, sugar and salt) in a large mixing bowl.
  1. Make a well in the middle and add the egg, milk, butter and yeast. Stir with a wooden spoon to incorporate all of the flour.
  2. With a rubber spatula, scrape the dough into one heap and grab with your hands. Knead the dough while walking around the room philosophizing about the importance of finding your roots. Your family will love this stuff.
  3. After ten minutes, the gooey mess will become soft and pliant and will no longer stick to your fingers. You are finished.
  4. Put the dough in the bowl, cover with a dish towel and set in a warm place — ideally about 72-78 degrees — and let rise for one hour. The dough will double in size.
  5. Grease two baking sheets with butter. Melt the remaining 2 Tbsp. of butter and get out your basting brush.
  6. After rising, punch the dough down, knead lightly for about 30 seconds and then begin dividing the dough into 32 pieces. Roll each piece between your hands to make a nice ball and place onto a lightly floured cutting board.
  7. Flatten each ball with a rolling pin, leaving the edges thick and the center thin. Brush the top with butter and fold over. Save some of the butter.
  8. Transfer to the baking sheets and cover with a dish towel and let rise for about one hour.
  9. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  10. Brush tops with butter and bake for 12 minutes. If not nicely browned, continue for another 3 minutes. These burn easily, so be careful!

 

CINNAMON ROLLS

Cinnamon rolls are easy to make at home and kids love to help with the process, because they want to get their hands on the finished product. You can choose to make the traditional recipe that calls for brown sugar and cinnamon as the filling or you can opt for healthy filling alternatives like raisins, nuts and even fruit. There is plenty of room for experimentation.

INGREDIENTS

Dough:  

  • 4 cups of bread flour
  • 1 Tbsp. of yeast, or one packet
  • 1 cup whole milk warmed to about 110 degrees
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 4 Tbsp. melted butter
  • 1 tsp. salt

Filling:

  • 4 Tbsp. melted butter
  • ¼ cup ground cinnamon (If you have cinnamon sticks, you can grind them in a coffee grinder.)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 cup of raisins, pecans, walnuts, sliced peaches or whatever suits you.

Glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 4 Tbsp. melted butter
  • ¼ cup of warm water
  • 2 Tbsp. vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

  1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk and let sit for 5 minutes.
  2. Melt the butter for the dough and the filling — total 8 Tbsp. or one stick.
  3. Mix flour, salt and sugar together and then stir in the milk, yeast, eggs and one-half of the melted butter.
  4. Knead the dough by hand until smooth and elastic — about 5-7 minutes.
  5. Put the dough in a greased bowl, cover and let rise for one and one-half hours, or until doubled in size.
  6. On a floured board, roll the dough into a rectangle about 12″ x 18″.
  7. Mix the sugar and cinnamon for the filling.
  8. With a pastry brush, paint the dough with the other half of the melted butter. Sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon mixture evenly over the top. Add any other ingredients — nuts, raisins, etc. — at this time.
  9. Roll up the dough starting with the long side. Pinch the dough together when you finish so it won’t come apart. Push the ends towards the middle so you have a nice cylinder.
  10. Cut the roll in one inch slices and place them, face up, in a greased rectangular glass baking dish.
  11. Cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise for 45 minutes. The rolls should get nicely crowded together.
  12. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  13. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.
  14. Mix all of the ingredients together for the glaze and spread over the hot rolls.
  15. Allow to cool and serve.

With all of the time required to let the dough rise, it is hard to have these ready for breakfast. It seems to work best as an afternoon snack. For breakfast the following day, warm them in the regular oven (350 degrees for 10 minutes) or in a toaster oven.

Send us pictures of you making bread with your family.

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