Bread and Butter
Home made bread (of course) and–less predictably–homemade butter. Tuxedo Boy took it into his head that his life would not be complete without making butter, and so we got out the mason jar, the marble, and the cream. If you’ve never tried this classic Girl Scout activity, you really should. Make sure your cream is very cold, your mason jar has a tightly fitting lid, and you’ve got a nice clean marble. Pour the cream in the jar, drop in the marble, put on the lid, and start shaking. About 2 hours of constant shaking later, you’ll have clumps of butter floating in a sea of watery buttermilk.
Or, following the time-honored tradition in our home, after about 40 minutes of shaking, pour the whole mess (sans marble) into the Kitchen Aid and give it about 4 minutes at Mark 2, to achieve the same result.
Drain the buttermilk–you can save it for baking, if you’re a pancake or biscuit fan–and drop the butter in a bowl of cold water. Squish it around until you’re pretty sure you’ve washed all the buttermilk out of it; you’ll have to change the water several times. Drain the water and drop your butter on a wooden cutting board over the sink. Tilt it and slap the butter around with a wooden spoon to get the water out of it. Gather it up and put it in a bowl, where you can add a little salt, if you like your butter salted. Voila! Homemade butter.
It’s messy, it’s time consuming, it’s really not better than the commercial product (especially if you make it out of regular supermarket cream). Consequently it’s perfect as a way of occupying kids.
Of course, homemade butter requires homemade bread, just as a matter of symmetry. My bread recipe, which I genuinely believe to be the best in the entire world of white bread, is no joke. It takes pretty much all day; it’s a fiddly process with lots of steps and ingredients; it cannot be tampered with at all. But it’s worth it, because you will have loaves that look like this:
The Only Bread Recipe You Really Need (adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Bread Bible.)
Makes 2 loaves.
2 1/4 cups + 2 1/2 tablespoons unbleached flour
3/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 3/4 cups warm water
2 1/2 tablespoon honey
In your KitchenAid, whisk together the flour and instant yeast. In a bowl, dissolve the honey in the warm water. Pour over the flour mixture and whisk at Mark 3 until very smooth. While the mixer is doing its job, get out another small bowl and in it combine:
2 cups plus 3 tablespoons unbleached flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1/2 cup powdered milk
When the batter is smooth, scrape down the sides of the bowl and then cover the sponge with the flour, yeast and milk mixture, smoothing it carefully over the entire surface. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow it to rise for 3-4 hours. It will bubble up over the flour, giving you an excellent opportunity to demonstrate basic principles of plate tectonics and vulcanology to your interested partner or children.
Add one stick of softened butter to the bowl and mix with the dough hook on Mark 2 until it makes a rough and ragged dough. Scrape down the bowl, cover with plastic wrap again, and let it rest for 20 minutes.
Sprinkle on one teaspoon salt and knead on Mark 4 for 10 minutes. It will be shiny, smooth, and just the least bit sticky. Put it in a lightly buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rise till doubled (about an hour and a half). Punch it down, turn it over, and cover again. Let rise till doubled, another hour and a half.
Grease two loaf pans. Divide the dough in two pieces and shape into loaves. Put in the pans, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until just over the top of the pans.
Put one rack at the very lowest position, and put an empty cast iron skillet on that rack. Put the other rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350 F. When the loaves are ready to go in the oven, get 1 cup of ice ready first. Slide the bread onto the top racks, and then quickly drop the ice through that top rack into the skillet. Close the oven door very quickly and bake the bread for about 50 minutes–until it’s a beautiful golden brown. Take it out, immediately unmold it and put it on a wire rack to cool completely.
Don’t try to cut it while it’s hot.