Crunchy, Fluffy Bread

St. Patrick's Day must have been a big deal for Eleanor. We've already discussed how incredibly superstitious she was, so I guess things like shamrocks and pot-o-gold-rainbows were probably something she had a great affinity for, at least judging by her jewelry collection. My mom and I still have much of Eleanor's jewelry (though not all of it-- she dripped with jewels, so I think a lot has been lost to the years), and every time I look at it I am in awe again of the amount of four leaf clovers and related lucky charms in her collection. Since I posted a bad luck recipe for Friday the 13th, I knew I needed a good luck recipe today to balance it out, or Eleanor would not be happy.

...But I tried and tried to find a St. Patrick's Day recipe in the box, I really did. Something Irish, or with corned beef in it. Maybe some cookies spiked with Jameson, or even something dyed green in honour of the holiday, but alas, I came up empty. I suspect this is because Eleanor's bestie, my Aunt Margie Green, was the most Irish person I've ever met (and I've been to Dublin). Don't believe me? Read that name again: Margaret Elizabeth Green? Yeah. I told you. Margie probably had Irish food on lock, so there was no reason for Eleanor to worry about it.

 The RBP Kitchen recently acquired a scale (finally) and it has improved the quality of my life by 17% and the quality of my cooking by 43%.

The RBP Kitchen recently acquired a scale (finally) and it has improved the quality of my life by 17% and the quality of my cooking by 43%.

Anyway, I finally settled on soda bread to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, but I couldn't even find a recipe for that, so instead we're making a regular bread recipe that comes from my Aunt June, as Eleanor noted on the recipe card. If you're reading this Stateside, pretend it's a recipe for Irish Soda Bread that's just low on the soda. If you're reading this from here in the UK, you can ignore all of the above since St. Patrick's Day is practically non-existent here.

This recipe is amazing. It's easy enough (though not three-ingredient easy), and the results are spectacular. As written on the recipe card, it makes three loaves, but I knew we'd never be able to go through all that, so I cut the recipe in half and got one normal sandwich-sized loaf and one wee loaf perfect for toasting with butter and honey for breakfast. It does take a bit of time to make homemade bread-- this recipe has to rise twice (once in a cool place and once in a warm place), and then it cooks for an hour, so you definitely have to plan ahead. But the results are so worth it. Crunchy, toasty crust with a soft, fluffy but still moist and dense interior that practically begs to be doused in melted butter. So far we've had this as toast with breakfast, but we've also made pimento cheese sandwiches out of it, and it holds up well either way. The texture is just so much better than store bread, and if you've never made a real loaf of bread, I'd encourage you to give this one a chance. If I can handle it in my drafty Scottish kitchen, I bet you can, too.

Notes: As mentioned, I cut this recipe in half, but since there are three eggs in it, that required halving one of them. To halve an egg, crack it onto a kitchen scale, check the weight, scramble it lightly to make sure you remove an even amount of white and yolk, and then scoop out half of the weight. If you don't have a kitchen scale, I've eyeballed this and never had a huge problem with it. Alternately, you can make the whole recipe and share with friends. Trust me, no one who eats wheat has ever complained about a gift of homemade bread.

Also, the oven in our flat is a convection oven, so our bread cooked in half the time listed on the recipe card. I've listed both times below, but your best bet is to set a timer conservatively and keep a close eye on it. Loaves are done when they are a deep brown and sound hollow when tapped firmly.

The Verdict: 

4 spoons out of five. The texture and flavour of this bread is perfect, and it's fluffy enough that you can easily make sandwiches out of it. I'm only knocking off a spoon because it was definitely best the first two days, but that's not enough time to eat three loaves of bread.

The Recipe:

Crunchy, Fluffy Bread

The Ingredients:

1 ½ c milk
½ c shortening or Stork
¼ c sugar
2 tbsp salt
1 ½ c cool water
6 ¾ tsp yeast (3 pkgs)
3 eggs
9 cups flour

THE DIRECTIONS:

Scald the milk: bring it just to a simmer so small bubbles are forming and popping around the edge of the pot.
In a large bowl, mix together scalded milk, shortening or Stork, sugar, and salt.
Add the water to cool the mixture to lukewarm.
Stir in the yeast.
Mix in eggs.
Add flour, one cup at a time. Mixture will turn from runny liquid to stiff dough, just keep stirring until all floury bits are incorporated.
Place dough in a large greased bowl and cover with a towel.
Let rise in a cool place for 2 hours.
Grease three 9-inch or two 10-inch loaf pans.
Divide dough into thirds and shape into loaves.
Place in prepared pans and cover.
Let rise in a warm place (85F/29C) until double in bulk, approximately one hour.
Preheat oven to 375F/190C and bake loaves for 30 mins in a convection oven, or up to one hour in a standard oven.
Loaves are done when they are deep brown and make a hollow thumping sound when tapped.

Yields two or three sandwich-sized loaves, depending on the size of the pans.