Tuesday, April 8, 2008

down the rabbit hole

"Oh dear, oh dear. I shall be late!" So said the rabbit in the slightly psychedelic tale of Alice and Wonderland. Some things are best not attempted on days when we take a tumble down the rabbit hole, so to speak.

I am a confessed hurrier - not even sure if that is a word. I'll also speak for Alice (not the Wonderland Alice) in telling you that she is one of these as well. Most of the time this is quite handy. You can get lots of things done, and you become very adept at discovering shortcuts. I get a little tinge of satisfaction in speeding right along whether it be getting all the groceries in from the car in one load or disregarding guidelines in a recipe so it will be done sooner. You also get used to juggling various things at once, and most of the time things work out just fine, great even.

But there's a lesson I've learned in my life as a hurrier, sometimes you have to just slow down and take the time to let the bread dough rise. Now, you can take this literally or as a grand life metaphor. But for our purposes today, feel free to just take it literally. Plan ahead for a little time, heck, even knead the dough by hand (it's actually a pretty good arm workout!). Embrace the opportunity to not optimize your minutes and you might enjoy the process as much as the actual result.

Yes, we're bringing bread to the table today. This recipe has its origins in Switzerland, passed down through a friend's family. She speaks of how her grandmother looked forward to this bread because of the luxury of white flour. We tweaked the recipe in order to lower the fat content yet retain the moist weight of good homemade bread. Now, we know that whole grains are very important for better health. We also know that it's nice to have other options now and then. This one's a keeper.

Swiss White Bread

When we first had this bread it was baked in a French bread pan which helps the bread keep its form. If you don't have one of these pans, you can simply bake it on a good quality cookie sheet. The bread will expand outward to a greater degree when baked on a cookie sheet - both are just fine.

This bread is delectable in almost any form. It makes heavenly sandwiches, where the bread is actually a noticeable part of the sandwich. Make toast with this bread and you'll have a crusty exterior with a pleasing bite and a chewy, soft interior. We made French toast with it this morning and it keeps it's heft through the soaking and the grilling. Use leftovers that have been in the pantry for a couple days to make a healthier bread pudding using egg substitute and nonfat milk. You can even use the dough to make cinnamon rolls, going sparingly with any added fat (use butter substitute to reduce high cholesterol worries) before rolling up.

2 packages (4 ½ teaspoons) yeast
2 ½ cups lukewarm water
¾ cup nonfat dry milk
1/3 cup sugar
7-8 cups white flour
½ cup egg substitute
1 ½ tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons canola oil
½ c mashed potatoes (reconstituted potatoes work fine and are much less fuss)
1 egg white
1 tablespoon skim milk
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, optional

In a large mixer, mix the yeast, water, dry milk, and sugar. Mix in 1 ½ cups flour and let stand until spongy, about 7 to 8 minutes. Mix in the egg substitute, salt, oil, and mashed potatoes well incorporated. Gradually add the remaining flour (spooned into measuring cup and leveled with a knife), enough to make a soft, dough that will be just a tad sticky. Knead for 10 to 15 minutes until smooth and elastic. Let rise until doubled in size. Punch down and divide into 2 equal portions. Divide each portion into equal thirds, shaping each into a long rope. Place the ropes parallel to each other and pinch all three together at one end. Using the pinched end as a base, begin to braid the ropes together and finish by pinching the opposite ends of the three ropes together at the end of the braid. In a small mixing bowl whisk the egg white and milk together; brush on the loaves using a pastry brush. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using. Place on a sprayed baking sheet and let rise until double in bulk. Bake at 350F for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Makes two very large loaves, approximately 40 servings.

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