3 October, 2018
Back to the old books we go, this time for a homemade bread recipe called “water bread.” It gets its name from the fact that it’s made with — you guessed it — water. If you’re easily amused like I am, this recipe is also a great opportunity for a time-lapse video or photo set of dough rising. It’s oddly satisfying to observe.
Anyway, this recipe is one that yields multiple loaves of bread (three, to be exact), and it is a bit of a project, as the bread needs to rise twice, each time for an hour or two. It’d be a great weekend project, and make sure you either have friends you can pawn loaves off on, or make sure you have ample freezer space for storage. It also helps if you have some open counter space to work with. You can knead the dough entirely in a bowl, but it’s much easier if you can move it to the counter towards the end. As for cooling the loaves of bread, the book suggests that, if you don’t have a wire rack, you can use an overturned bread pan and lean the loaves up against the sides, letting air pass underneath to let the steam out, as the book says. There are also a half page of other tips on flour storage, hard water treatment, and bread rising, but my favorite may be this bit of advice:
“Do not try setting bread overnight either in midsummer or midwinter. In cold weather bread is likely to be chilled, in summer it may sour. There is plenty of time to raise and bake bread in the daytime, when one can watch it and give the careful consideration it requires above any other cooking.”
Bearing that in mind, let’s bake bread!
4 1/2 cups Boiling water
4 tbsp Lard (I used shortening)
1 tbsp Sugar
1 1/2 tsp Salt
1 packet Rapid Rise Instant Yeast (modernization! It’ll save you several hours of rising)
12 cups Flour, sifted
Measure the lard, sugar, and salt out into a large bowl while you boil the water. Once the water has boiled, pour it into the bowl and then wait until it is lukewarm (no hotter than 120 degrees F, if you want to get particular). The next step is going to involve the yeast packet. Check the expiration date on the yeast. If your yeast is expired, it won’t rise. Yeast is a living thing, and expired yeast is dead yeast, and dead yeast makes for hard, unrisen bread. While you’re waiting for the water to cool is a great time to go grab fresh yeast if you have the last minute realization that your yeast is, in fact, deceased… Like I did.
Pour the yeast packet into the bowl of lukewarm water, followed by five of the cups of flour. Mix everything together and gradually add in the rest of the flour, about a cup at a time. About seven or eight cups in, you’ll likely find it easier to move the dough out of the bowl and onto a clean section of counter to knead it. Only work the dough as much as is absolutely necessary to combine the flour. Overworked dough won’t rise as well and will, again, leave you with hard bread.
Once the dough is kneaded, you get to take a break. Grease a bowl (you can pour a bit of olive oil on a piece of paper towel and run it around the inside of the bowl) and place the dough in it, covering with a damp towel and placing somewhere warm for 1-2 hours, until it has nearly doubled in size.
Grease three bread pans and line them with parchment paper. After you’ve let the bread rise, gently deflate it and separate it into logs large enough to halfway fill your bread pans, cover the dough in the pans with damp paper towels, and let it rise for another hour. When the bread is nearly done with the second rise, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the loaves for 30 to 35 minutes or until lightly golden on top. To test for doneness, take the pan out of the oven and thump the bottom of it. You should hear a hollow sound if it’s done (that’s way better than a toothpick test, right??). Cool your bread either on a wire rack or against another pan before you slice it. Store the bread in a plastic bag on the counter or in the fridge for a few days, in the freezer for longer, or simply gift it to friends, relatives, and neighbors to make it go away.
Protip: When it comes to slicing homemade bread, turn the loaf on its side and slice it that way, cutting through the crustiest parts evenly instead of top-down. The bread won’t crumble and fall apart as easily.
Now, enjoy your bread!