A year ago, I made plans with Grandma Parke to make her yeast bread this summer. Her “famous” bread is so fluffy and sweet, every time she would make it I would ask her to show me. Finally this past Monday I remembered to ask her during our Monday night dinner. Lucky for me she was able to show me how to do it.
When I got to her house, all the ingredients were lined up: active yeast, flour, sugar, salt, and shortening. More importantly, a weathered hand written index card with Great-Grandma Parke’s recipe.
I have to say, the first thing that jumped at me was the lard listed on the ingredient list. It brought back memories of my trips to the grocery store with my grandmother.
First step was to prepare the yeast. We simply followed the instructions on the yeast package. Make sure the water is not too hot; otherwise you’ll kill the yeast. While the yeast is dissolving, mix 8 cups of flour, heaping ½ cup of sugar, a generous teaspoon of salt and about 1/3 cup of shortening. These measurements were a bit unnerving to me. I’m so used to measuring everything. Yes, it might be the Virgo in me, but I do like to make exact measurements. I’ve always been told you need exact measurements especially when baking. Oh well…not today.
This is where the fun begins. Start mixing all the dry ingredients; then make a “funnel” in the middle to pour the activated yeast. Mix all the ingredients with a spoon until it dries out, then get your hands dirty by turning the dough around and around in the bowl. If the dough starts getting a bit dry, add a splash of room temperature water. Once the dough is of a consistent texture, it is time to start kneading.
This was my first time kneading dough. Growing up in Puerto Rico we would go to the local bakery daily to pick up our bread and pastries for dessert. Baking of any kind was unknown at our household!
Once the bread is kneaded for a while, its time to let it sit in a greased bowl. Make sure to check the dough for sponginess. You should be able to make a slight indentation when pushing with the tip of your fingers. It should slowly rise back up.
Let the dough rise for about 3 hours. Knead some more and let it sit for another 1.5 hours. Knead some more and cut pieces for the baking pans. Make sure to grease your baking pans. Our dough filled 2 loaf pans, but it could have been stretched some more. Then with a fork pierce the top a few times deeply into the dough. Let the dough sit in the baking pans for another hour or so. Put in a pre-heated oven at 400 degrees for a good 30 minutes. Or as Great Grandma Parke would say, “till its done”.
This was all done yesterday while I ran from the market and back to Grandma Parke’s house to tend to the dough. Fortunately, her house is only about 5 minutes from the market. I must admit on my first trip to her house I almost missed her house, because I was on auto pilot going straight for the girls’ school. At the end of the day, I had to pick up the girls from school and take them to swimming lessons. Grandma told me she’d leave the dough ready for me to put in the oven. No big deal, I thought to myself. I could come in after the girls’ swimming class and once more tend to the dough. To my surprise, as soon as I open her door I could smell the sweetness in the air coming from her kitchen. Oh my! She went ahead and baked it for me. To top it off, my daughter’s expression when I told her we made the bread was priceless. I’ll never forget the look in her eyes. She was so proud of me, and I have Grandma Parke to thank for that. Thank you for an amazing lesson.