Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Nose Knows

When I was a baby, my mother said that I used to put my face close to my plate and sniff my food, before deciding whether or not I would eat it. Truth be told, I would probably still do the same if it wasn't impolite. Many of my friends and I have a running joke because whenever I enter their homes I ask, what's that smell? Whether it's vanilla room freshener, baking cookies, rotting trash, or cleaning chemicals, the old saying rings true; the nose knows.

The sense of smell is so powerful that mothers can smell the difference between their own newborns and someone else's when blindfolded. The sense of smell can save us from eating rancid food, or warn us of a house fire. Smells can bring back powerful memories, remind us of old lovers, vacations, or holidays past. I think that it is interesting to note that the senses of smell and taste are intertwined, such that a person who can no longer smell, can no longer taste his food. How tragic that would be!

One of the most nostalgic and mouth-watering smells is that of freshly baked bread. We all know it, though we rarely get to experience it anymore. It smells of grandma's kitchen, of times past, when life was simple and pure (or at least it seems that way to us). People had time to bake from scratch, after all there was no Internet to waste hours on, no convenience stores to run down to, no extra money to spend on the luxury of bakery bread. We are simply too busy to bake bread from scratch....right? It takes hours, it is complicated, the children wouldn't eat it....

So many excuses. I know because I've made them myself. But baking bread isn't really all that hard, or time consuming for that matter. It is necessary to mix and knead the dough, but then you can leave it alone to rise in peace while you do whatever it is that you do that makes you so busy. Then the dough gets dumped out and shaped into loaf pans, and you can leave it alone again...and you could be busy some more. When you get back, just pop the loaves into the oven, and in less than an hour your home could be smelling like grandma's kitchen too. You wouldn't even have to light a fragrance candle today! Imagine that.

Honey Whole Wheat Bread
makes 2 loaves
recipe adapted from Betty Crocker's Breads (1977)

2 packages of active dry yeast (or 4 1/2 t)
1/2 C warm water (105°-115°)
1/3 C honey
1 T salt
1/4 C shortening (with NO trans-fats)
1 3/4 C warm water
3 C whole wheat flour (I like King Arthur White Whole Wheat)
3-4 C all purpose flour (unbleached)
butter, softened

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 C warm water in a large mixing bowl. Stir in honey, salt, shortening, 1 3/4 C warm water, and whole wheat flour. Whisk until smooth. Stir in enough of the AP flour until easy to handle.

Turn out dough onto lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl and flip over so greased side of dough is up. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough and divide in half. Roll each half out to a 18x9 inch rectangle. Fold into thirds then roll dough tightly towards you, beginning at one of the open ends. Pinch edges firmly to seal, then place loaves seam side down into greased loaf pans. Brush lightly with butter and sprinkle with wheat germ or oats if desired. Let rest, covered, until doubled in bulk again, about 1 hour.

Heat oven to 375°. Place loaves on low rack, so that their tops will be in the center of the oven. Bake for about 40-45 minutes, or until deep golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Remove from pans and cool on wire rack.

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