Fresh bread soothes my weary soul like no other comfort. The rising steam as it bakes wraps around me. The smell invades every room of the house with warmth and delight. It's rich and fluffy. It's a staple of my childhood and each buttery slice contains a plethora of memories from making it a million times.
Every weekend, I would crowd into the kitchen with my father and drag my stool over the counter. When baking bread first started for me, the stool was such a tall thing, Dad would have to scoop me up with his hands under my armpits and set me atop it. It was the only time he let me stand on the stool, so I could peer down into the mixing bowl as we dumped in flour until the right texture formed.
Eventually, I got big enough to scramble up the stool's rungs with great effort, my face usually scrunched, until I was securely seated. About this time, Dad let me add the flour on my own. I knew to add it slowly enough so that the mixture did not send a puff of it into our faces. We kept a large container of flour with a scoop in it at all times. Every time the lid was snapped off, a puff of white would swirl about in the light.
Baking was a particularly cherished hobby of Dad's. He had a small cook book dedicated exclusively to bread making. He took care never to soil the pages and spent years tweaking and combining recipes until he had created his own perfected bread recipe long before I was born. With simple modifications to it, he would use it to make fry bread, pizza, stuffed loaves, or raisin bread. That recipe, or a version of it, was the recipe we made every weekend.
Sometimes I had too much energy to help with more than taste testing. He would call me in from outside play and offer me the dough hook once he was done with the mixer or bring me a sample glob to scarf down. You can tell how a loaf is going to turn out by the taste of the dough. Perhaps it has a more tangy taste and the loaf will have a sour edge to it. If the dough is dense and chewy with a low yeast profile, the loaf won't rise well. You want a balanced taste, with an edge of sweetness, in a fluffy dough with a good hint of yeast for the best results. I still like the dough more than the bread.
Once I was big enough to easily hop onto the stool, I was strong enough to help shape the dough. With tiny fists, I would punch it down and scrape it out of the bowl onto the floured counter. Dad had to hold the bowl up for me because it was too heavy. I would start pushing and squishing it into the round shape it needed. The loaf would be crude so Dad would finish it up. Then we would cover it with a tea towel to rest before we scooped it into pans to bake. Streaks of flour would mark my hair as I constantly pushed my short bob behind my ears. And, somehow, flour always ended up on my cheeks and nose. It would sprinkle the floor like a soft powder of snow. Dad always swept it up for me.
Suddenly, I reached a point where the stool was no longer required, though I still had to stand on tip toes to peer into the bowel. It was around then that I mastered measuring out the ingredients without the aid of measuring spoons or cups. Dad pointed out how the dough clung to the hook and pulled away from the sides of the bowel. When it pulled away clean, we had reached the right amount of flour. Eyeing the oil and salt took me the longest to master. A couple of our final loaves tasted a bit bitter from too much Olive Oil. Another time, I dumped in far too much flour.
"No worry, we can add more water," Dad said. Bread was a forgiving recipe. Naturally, he then added too much water and it took a while to balance the dough again with flour so that it was not a sticky mess. We both laughed. I learned to stick to air on the side of caution when adding ingredients, then taste testing. After all, you can't take something out if you add too much.
At last, I could navigate the counters without needing to inflate my height to see. Dad gave me a red apron I would sport to protect my clothes. The tea towel we used to cover the bread when it was rising was always kept slung over my shoulder or in the front pocket of the apron. By then, I baked with little guidance from Dad. He would often leave me alone and return to see how things were going. The first time I placed a loaf into the oven on my own I asked him, "How long should I set a timer for?"
"Eh, about 45 minutes, but you'll be able to smell when it's done." I burned a few loaves and undercooked a few others before that statement was true. But, we never set a timer. Dad would alert me if I left it too long and he noticed. "Your bread smells done," or "Smells like you burned it Laura Kate."
At some point I mastered baking bread, and Dad no longer joined me. With ease I rolled out the dough and shaped it into twists and knots that I would garnish with basil and cheese. I liked the basil so much, Dad helped me grow my own. I made my tweaks and modifications to his recipe, and tried different ones in his book. Eagerly, we sampled each creation and I would wait for his approval. He was always polite, but I knew if he went back for seconds, he had truly enjoyed it.
As I had grown, so had Dad. Sometimes he would be too tired and would suggest, "You should make some bread." I would. Together, we would eat the first warm slices when it was out of the oven. He always offered feedback on how it came out and I would mentally note it for next time, thinking about what I needed to adjust.
The time for moving out to college came, and dad gave me his bread book and a mixer of my own to take with me. They accompanied me through many moves. During long nights of homework I made fresh snacks for my roommates and me. I brought baked treats to friend's houses or work. I was known for my homemade bread.
Now, as an adult deep in my career, I still make a fresh loaf for meals with friends or on chilly days when I want the house to smell of home. My most recent variation is an easy jalapeño cheese loaf that is soft and spicy. I choose more adventurous and ambitious recipes from the book now. On occasion, I still mess up. The other day, I overcooked a flatbread by just a minute.
My dad and I do not talk anymore, not for years now. Mother says he still bakes bread, and on one visit he actually made two stuffed loaves for a picnic I was having with my mother, siblings, and husband at the lake. It was for someone's birthday, I think mine. It was delicious. Many of my happiest memories are marked with the taste of bread. It will always remind me of my childhood and the pleasant memories of my father.
2 tbsp of yeast
2 tbsp of sugar
2 cups of warm water
4-6 cups of flour
Water should be so warm it's almost hot. Too hot and you will kill the yeast. Typically 30 seconds in the microwave does the trick. Stir in the yeast and sugar. Let them sit for five minutes or until the yeast froths up. Add to mixing bowel with 3 cups of your flour and mix in more flour until the dough pulls away from the sides. Cover with a tea towel and let it rise till doubled in size. Punch down and add:
2 tbsp of oil of your choice (olive oil for taste, canola for no taste, butter for richness)
1 tsp of salt
Mix again, add more flour if needed. Dump onto a floured countertop and shape into two loaves and let rest covered till risen. Then place in a pan and paint with an egg wash. This can be made with one egg whisked together with a touch of cold water. Bake at 375 for about 45 minutes or until golden brown. You'll be able to smell when it's done.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I was really intrigued by the prompt for the Nourish Challenge, but did not find the energy to tackle it at the time. And, I really did not want to stick to one memory of comfort, but instead walk through what has been the most important recipe to me through my life. If you decide to give making this bread a try, I would love to hear how it goes! If you did tackle the Nourish Challenge, link your work below and I would love to check out what recipe calls to you.
About the Creator
I am an author from deep East Texas with a passion for horror and fantasy, often heavily mixed together. In my spare time, when I am not writing, I draw and paint landscape and fantasy pieces. I now reside in Alaska where adventures await.