Fall brings us delightful things, doesn’t it? The rain, molting (egg hiding) chickens, dormant gardens, fender benders because my beloved Oregonians forget not only that oil builds up on the roads, but when it rains, it makes it twice as slick. Heaven forbid we put down our super skinny, no foam soy latte with an extra shot and stop texting to actually drive. This is still the United States and we’ll text while we drive till they pry our I-Phones out of our cold…
Fall also brings us good things from the kitchen and even Mrs. Knightly can’t wake up cranky and judgmental every day! Some days she feels like getting the 50 pound blue bowl down from the highest shelf to commence baking bread.
Oh. There isn’t one. You see, I learned to bake bread from my Grandma Inda, and she didn’t use a recipe. Even the first time I did it alone at 17 in my first apartment, I just did it. Here is an approximation and a warning. This bread does not keep. It has a shelf life of maybe three days, and even that third day can be a disappointment.
6 cups of warm, but not hot tap water. If the water is too hot to comfortably touch, then it’s going to taste too yeasty. I don’t know why, but I’m sure Science has an explanation.
5 tablespoons of sugar. I use evaporated cane juice now, but white refined was good enough for Inda.
2 Packages of Red Star Quick Rise Yeast.
Stop – Now, disolve your sugar in the warm water, then sprinkle the 2 packages of yeast over that and give it a twirl with a wisk. Then, wisk in 1 cup of unbleached flour. What you’ve just done is two things, you’re proofing your yeast to make sure it’s still good (if it doesn’t start bubbling, go buy new yeast) and you’re also making a sponge, which will make it easier to incorporate the next round of flour. Let it sit, covered with a clean dishcloth for about 10 minutes, when you peek, it should be foamy.
Add another cup of flour and wisk it smooth
Add a cup of vegetable oil and wisk it smooth, Not Olive Oil, this bread is from Arkansas, not Italy and it doesn’t cotton to the fancy foreign stuff (Read: It makes it taste funny)
Add a heaping tablespoon of Mortons salt. Do not add the salt before this time, or you will kill the yeast, and that would be bad.
Begin wisking in cups of flour, beating it smooth between each. When you can’t wisk it any further, get the largest spatula (scraper) you have and continue adding the flour, scraping the sides as you go.
When you can’t easily incorporate flour into the dough, it’s time to sprinkle the counter in a radius of about 16″, be pretty liberal in the sprinkle because dough is no fun to scrape off counters.
Turn your dough out onto the counter and dust the top with some more flour. Then you begin to knead. With the heels of your hands, push the dough away from you, then scoop the ends up with the tips of your fingers, then turn and push away, scoop, pull back, turn. I’m not going to lie, this is going to take you at least ten minutes and if the dough is too sticky, you will keep sprinkling flour over it, incorporating it in. What you want to end up with is an elastic, smooth, rounded heap of dough. The texture should not be lumpy, if it is, you’ve got more work to do, and this is really important to the final texture. (Note: I have a Kitchen Aid with a dough hook, I consider that cheating and so would Inda)
Your bowl should be fairly clean already, but if you haven’t been tidy, you will want to wash it out. Then pour about 1/4 cup of vegetable oil into the bottom and use your hand (Or I suppose, one of those sissy silicon pastry brushes) to coat the sides of the bowl all the way to the top. Transfer your heap of dough into the bowl and turn it to make sure it is fully coated as well. If you don’t, you’ll have ugly, cracked spots when it starts to rise, and nobody wants to see that. Now, cover your bread with the dishtowel and have a nice glass of Merlot and do something else for a while. Check your dough once in a while, you want it to double in size, don’t rush this part either, this is what is making the light, fluffy texture. When it doubles, punch it down and do it again, if it seems a bit dry, rub some more vegetable oil on it.
When your dough is done with the second rising, punch it down again and make it into a smooth ball. Then using your thumb and forefinger, snap off about 1/3 of it. This bit is hard to explain, but you want to do is kind of fold the rough edges underneath and then pop a roll about 2″ in diameter up between your thumb and forefinger, then squeeze it till it separates from what’s left in your hand. Lay it on either a lightly oiled cookie sheet, or my favorite, is a large jelly roll pan. Keep doing this leaving about 2″ between the rolls. Remember, they still have one more rising!
Once your pan is full, get your fancy schmancy silicon pastry brush out and rub them with some melted butter (or vegetable oil) because it’s not too late to develop unsightly cracks! Cover with a dishcloth and let rise double. About halfway there, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. You will bake them for approximately 20 minutes, until they are golden and they sound hollow when you tap the tops lightly with your fingertips. Remove from oven and use your FSSPB to give them a nice coat of butter (not vegetable oil). Note: The real way to do this is actually get a paper towel and hold one end of the butter in it while you rub the stick over the top of each roll. I’ve gotten so wacky in my later years, that I don’t trust the chemicals the paper companies use to be food safe.
Garlic Knots — Using the same delicious dough, roll a piece of dough into a 6″ snake, it should be as big around as your middle finger, unless you have Tiny Tippy Tappy hands, then use your thumb as a guide. Knot and lay on lightly oiled baking sheet, about 2″ apart, then use your FSSPB to slather them generously with garlic infused butter, let raise to double then bake at 350 degrees 15 minutes to start. Remove and FSSPB them with the garlic butter again.