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“Bread is the king of the table and all else is merely the court that surrounds the king.” – Louis Bromfield, American novelist (1896-1956)

“With a piece of bread in your hand you’ll find paradise under a pine tree.” – Russian Proverb

Wednesday I had the day off from school. And since it was ASH WEDNESDAY, I observed the Catholic rules of fasting. But since I had the time, I wanted to practice my cooking skills and try something new to go with our big meal of the day. I decided I was going to try my hand at baking bread.

I’d been browsing bread recipes after watching Lorraine Pascale make Crackle Top Bread on her BBC cooking show. Her bread looked delicious and she made the process of kneading and rising seem do-able and fun. You can watch the video clip here:BBC – Food – Recipes : Crackle top bread.

So I had the sachets of yeast in the pantry, all I needed was the perfect bread recipe. The Crackle Top Bread calls for rice flour and castor sugar, so it was out. Most of the so called “beginner breads” that I found online, such as sourdough and French bread weren’t very inspiring even though I do enjoy them; I wanted something with a little more pizzazz. A Williams-Sonoma recipe for “No-Knead” Rosemary Lemon Bread was enticing, but because there’s no kneading, the dough has to rise for 12-18 hours. I’ll take 10 minutes of kneading, thanks. Besides, as I found out, it’s the BEST part!

“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.” – M.F.K. Fischer

So I turned to my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and found it: Pepper-Cheese Bread! As in bread with the flavor of cracked pepper and parmesan cheese. YES! Prep time 40 minutes, rise time 1 and 1/2 hours, bake time 35 minutes – YES! And YES, it is as good as it sounds and no, you don’t need a hardcover BHG cookbook, the exact recipe is also available on their website: Pepper-Cheese Bread. However, the cookbook has a few handy tips, which I will share with you.

On the first rise, keep the bread away from drafts by letting it rise
on the top rack of a cool oven and place a bowl of warm water beneath it.

To knead, fold dough over and push down with the heel of your hand.
Turn, fold and push down again, Repeat process until smooth and elastic.

Punch down the dough (once) by pushing your fist down into its center.
Next, use your fingers to pull edges of the dough to the center.

My personal tip is: don’t worry if it seems like your bread hasn’t doubled in size. Mind did NOT look like it had risen enough. But I just went by the timing in the directions; I didn’t test the dough by pressing down with two fingers, etc. And my bread turned out PERFECTLY! Beautiful and delicious.

I love my bird S&P shakers, but my bread is more beautiful!

I love my bird S&P shakers, but my bread is more beautiful!

Beginner’s luck? Maybe. But I feel like maybe perfect bread is related to the elasticity of the dough, so I also recommend that you make sure you beat the flour and yeast mixture on HIGH speed for the recommended time and make sure you knead the dough for ten minutes. The ONLY thing I might do differently next time is add more parmesan cheese. The bread had a very delicate pepper flavor (which is good) but I did expect it to be more cheesy.

“A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou.” – Omar Khayyam

If you’ve never baked bread before, I hope you’ll try it. Or try it again if yours didn’t turn out great the first time. There’s something so satisfying about rolling the plump, yeasty dough in your hands and shaping that soft, pillowy bundle. And then the excitement when you pull that gorgeous brown loaf out of the oven and realize that you did it! You baked bread – the symbol of hearth and home and nourishment for thousands of years. It just feels good.

“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” – Ecclesiastes 9:7

“Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.” – Matthew 14:19

"Peasants breaking bread". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Peasants breaking bread”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons