(by Tori Romano)
The smell of bread baking is, hands down, one of my favorites. Of course it’s the promise of something delicious, but it also transports me back to my teenage years, living at home with my mother and grandmother, bread-making regulars. I had a wonderful upbringing up on a farm with my grandparents and my mom. It was Mom’s decision to take residence on the family farm in British Columbia, Canada, to help with our cherry and blueberry business, as well as the gardens and horses.
My mom and grandma are both very strong women. Much of my work ethic is a direct result of doing chores on the farm with them, which often involved brainstorming on potential approaches to accomplishing various tasks, and the subsequent execution of the "best" way. When it came to the kitchen, their strong wills did not subside. There is an unspoken and on-going competition between them over who makes the best Christmas dinner, lasagna, and Yorkshire pudding. I have never voiced my opinion, but am always happy to be a test subject.
On any given spring weekend morning during my childhood, the countertops of our kitchen were covered in flour, and eggshells were stacked near the sink, saved for compost. The family dog would linger underfoot, eagerly awaiting any morsels of dough that dropped to the ground. And I’d hear the question: “Tori, do you want to learn how to make bread?”
I wasn’t really a rebellious teenager, but when it came to activities with family, angst would get the better of me. Hums and haws and mumblings of plans with friends took the place of my outright rejection. On my more sassy days, I would respond, “Why would I ever need to learn to make bread?” Both my mother and grandmother would smile and continue kneading, dropping helpful hints while they prepped in ways that didn’t feel like they were directly including me in the process. I loved them for this strategy, as it allowed me to stew in my coolness at a distance, while also being in their presence. I would lean against the countertop, drinking coffee and keeping their company until the bread came out of the oven.
I don’t often hold onto regrets unless they serve as a lesson or reminder of something I’d like to change in the future. Not baking bread with my family was something I’ve held onto. It was a personal hurdle to admit that I wanted to learn something deemed “lame” by my teenage self.
Fast forward to 2020. While everyone is inside and searching for things to do and learn during this global pandemic, my mom texted me a question out of the blue: “Do you want to learn how to make bread?” I smiled and graciously accepted. We made a plan for the following Thursday. Mom decided to make raisin bread, and I would make buns. There is something wonderful about checking off something on your life to-do list, and I knew this would be one of them.
On Thursday, as we connected on a FaceTime call, I noticed the option to dial in another person. I dialed my grandma, who was eager to jump in on the fun. Although tech issues didn’t allow her video to work, she stayed on audio and dropped helpful hints throughout the process. We started with the yeast, chatted while it set, shared some wisdom while kneading, and I received warm applause as I pulled my warm buns from the oven.
It took many years and a pandemic, but the tradition continues.
We weren't able to find my grandma's recipe, so we opted for online recipes, paired with the watchful digital supervision of my grandma.
Mom's recipe: Cinnamon Raisin Bread
(adapted from allrecipes.com)
2 1/4 t. yeast
1 c. milk, at room temperature
3 T. butter, softened
3 T. honey
1 T. brown sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
1 t. salt
1 t. ground cinnamon
3 c. bread flour
1 c. raisins
Proof yeast in a small amount of water to cover for 10 minutes.
Combine in a large bowl with milk, butter, honey, brown sugar, egg, salt, and cinnamon.
Mix in the flour, then transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead until it’s smooth and no longer sticky when poked with a finger, kneading in the raisins toward the end.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Place dough in a lightly oiled 9 x 5 loaf pan and bake for 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
My recipe: Classic Dinner Rolls
(adapted from allrecipes.com)
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 envelope Fleischmann's RapidRise Yeast
2 T. sugar
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. milk
1/4 c. water
2 T. butter
Combine 3/4 cup flour, undissolved yeast, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.
Heat milk, water and butter until very warm (120 - 130 F.).
Add to flour mixture.
Beat 2 minutes with electric mixer at medium speed, scraping bowl occasionally.
Add 1/4 cup flour, and beat 2 minutes at high speed.
Stir in enough remaining flour to make soft dough.
Knead on lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 8 -10 minutes. Cover and let rest 10 minutes.
Divide dough into 12 equal pieces, and shape into balls.
Place in greased 8-inch round pan or a muffin tin.
Cover, and let rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Bake for 20 minutes.
Remove from pan, and brush with additional melted butter, if desired.