Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Bread

White Bread (to be used for stuffing tomorrow!)

In a previous post I told you about my favorite bread of all time... Imperial Rye Bread.  Unfortunately, I will never get to taste it again as the company, its bakers, ovens, and recipes are long gone.

But bread has been around a lot longer than the Imperial Baking Company.  There is evidence of starches on stones from around 30,000 B.C.E. and it is quite possible that starches from plants such as cattails and ferns were cooked on the stones after they were heated in a fire.  As agriculture developed by around 10,000 B.C.E., grains became the starches of choice.  Yeast, the leavening agent, was present in both the air and on the cereals themselves.  If you let a mixture of flour and water rest long enough, it will eventually leaven.  Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet, has observed that both wine and bread are gifts from God because the yeast that creates them are present and active by no action of our own.  The unleavened bread so symbolic of the Flight of the Hebrews from Egypt is significant because there was no time to allow the leavening to occur.  Their journey into the desert was precipitous.

Blue Cornmeal Cornbread (Also to be used for stuffing!)

Pliny the Elder, a Roman author and naturalist alive at the time of Christ, oberved that the Gauls produced a finer quality bread than most peoples by using the foam taken from brewing beer to leaven the dough.  Cultures that were wine oriented used a paste made from wine and flour as a leavening agent.  However, the most common form of leavening in antiquity was the use of a previous batch of bread's uncooked dough to start the process in a new batch... good old sourdough.  While most often dough is baked in an oven, some cultures steam, fry, or cook the dough on an unoiled skillet.

Grains, in the form of bread, are a staple food and have developed cultural significance in Western, Near and Middle East cultures.  (Rice is the equivalent in the Far East.)  For instance, the founder of the Western world's largest religion, Christ, has been called the "Bread of Life" and bread is one of the two elements of the Eucharistic meal celebrating his sacrifice.  The Lord's Prayer contains the phrase, "Give us this day our daily bread", reminding us of our reliance on God and His/Her goodness.  More recently, the Bolsheviks promised "Peace, Land, and Bread".  In India, the staples of life are "Bread, Cloth, and House".  During the Beatnik era in the 1950s, bread became a euphimism for money.  In London's East End, a particular form of rhyme called "Rhyming Cockney Slang" substitutes money for the word honey in the phrase "bread and honey", identifying bread with money.  Today, in almost all English speaking areas the words dough and bread are synonomous with money.

Dark Rye Roll

In 1868, two brothers, Max and Charles Fleischmann, noted the general poor quality of the homemade yeast starters in the United States and longed for the consistency of the yeasts that were in use in Europe at the time.  They developed a relationship with James Gaff and built a factory which produced a compressed yeast cake.  In 1876, at the Philadelphia Exposition celebrating the first century of the American enterprise, they introduced its 10 million visitors to the smell of fresh baked "Vienna Bread", using those yeast cakes.  By the end of the Exposition, Fleischmann had become a fixture on the American scene.  By World War II, Fleishmann's laboratories had developed "Active Dry Yeast" which did not require refrigeration and was activated by warm water.  It also gave GIs a tasted of home cooked bread far afield.  In 1984, a finer grained and more active yeast was developed and marketed as "Rapid Rise".

This Thanksgiving Day, in the year 2010, I am thankful for many things.  One of them is most certainly bread.  Today, I made four kinds in preparation for our family's celebration of Thanksgiving tomorrow.  I trust they will enjoy them.

Buttermilk Bread Roll

Here is a recipe for Buttermilk Bread:

2 packages active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup warm water (100 to 115 degrees F.)
4 cups unbleached bread flour
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 to 1 1/2 cups buttermilk.

1.  Dissolve the sugar into the water, add the yeast and proof.
2.  Add 2 cups of flour to a KitchenAid mixer bowl and add the salt, melted butter and buttermilk.  Use the beater attachement to blend into a batter like consistency.
3.  Change to the dough hook and gradually add the rest of the flour.  Knead for about ten minutes until you get a smooth, satiny feel to the dough.
4.  Place the dough in a buttered bowl, turn to coat, and then cover with saran wrap.  Allow to double in bulk.
5.  Punch down the dough and then hand knead for about two minutes. 
6.  Form into a 9x5 loaf and put in buttered loaf pan.  Cover with saran wrap and allow to rise to double its bulk.
7.  Place in 375 degree F. oven for about 40 minutes.  It is done when browned and sounds hollow to thumping.


  1. Lovely post! BTW, have you ever noticed anyone quoting Pliny the Younger?

  2. You know I am such a nerd. I looked up Pliny the Younger. He actually was a well known man and there are numerous letters extant which have helped historians fill out information from that era. The Elder was his uncle and he was formative in the Younger's education. They both watched Vesuvius erupt. Fun times.