Grandma’s Bread Recipe
Prep time: 3 hours
Cook time: 30 minutes
Enjoyment time: Lifetime
Before giant supermarkets and ready-made foods, families grew their own vegetables, slaughtered their own meat, and made their own bread. Food was real; it was pure; and there is no doubt in my mind that it tasted better. It is from this era that I share a recipe that is dear to my heart.
As a kid, I remember going to grandma’s house, where her and grandpa followed these pure-food traditions on their little farm. There I would eat fresh baked bread, often with store-bought bologna and Best Foods Sandwich Spread. My cousins and I would normally eat this tasty treat out on the back porch, throwing the crusts to the chickens (whose eggs we would be gathering later), and then discussing how awesome grandma’s bread was compared to the store-bought bread we had at home.
These memories have stayed with me throughout the years, and I’ve often wished that I knew how to make grandma Lamoreaux’s bread. But then a few months ago, as I was visiting with my aunt, I discovered that her sister had sat down with grandma years ago to write down the measurements and process of her unique bread recipe. Grandma only ever measured things with her hands, eyes, and bowls, so this was a bit of an undertaking. But she had grandma make it a few times to get the recipe written down just right. I was so excited to hear that this wonderful recipe had survived my grandmother’s death. It is my favorite bread. Each time I eat it I am taken back to that humble little farm with grandpa playing solitaire in the breakfast nook, grandma yelling that too many cookies had been eaten out of the cookie jar, and those delicious bologna sandwiches being shared with my cousins.
Bread Sponge Starter
A critical step in grandma’s recipe is the Sponge. A Sponge is a mixture of flour, sugar, water, and yeast that is set in a warm place for at least an hour to activate the yeast and get things going. You will find it being called for in a large percentage of old traditional bread recipes. I’m sure it originated out of the need to verify that the yeast was active and good, but it doubly served to add flavor to the finished bread. It really does make a difference, so do not skip this step.
- 2 cups flour
- 2 tablespoons yeast
- 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
- 2 cups lukewarm water
Place ingredients in a large bowl, mix together, cover bowl with a damp cloth, and set in a warm place for an hour. If your oven has a bread proof setting, use it, as it is at the optimal 100˚ temperature for the yeast activation. After an hour, the sponge should be easily doubled in size and very bubbly. It will look alive and have a smell that is intoxicating.
Making Bread Dough
- 2 cups of lukewarm water
- 7 cups of flour
- 1 ½ tablespoons salt
Pour the water into the sponge, “washing” the sides of the bowl with it. Add the flour and salt, and mix together.
Kneading Bread Dough
Then begin kneading the dough, either in the bowl or by turning it out onto a floured surface. Kneading works the gluten in the flour and is critical to good bread. Knead by pushing the dough forward with the palm of your hand, then folding the dough in onto itself to repeat the process, each time turning the dough a little so that you knead the entire ball. Whether you choose to knead in the bowl or out on a surface, you will need roughly an additional 1 cup of flour. How much of the flour you use will be based on factors such as how much moisture is in the air. The dough will likely be very sticky when you first start kneading it, so you will have to add little bits of the flour as you knead to get to the right texture. You’re going for slightly tacky, but not sticky.
When you first start kneading the dough, you will feel that it is very resistant and hard to knead. But about 7-10 minutes in, you will feel it begin to soften greatly. At a certain point, you will feel it “break” under your pressure, meaning it suddenly becomes very soft and malleable. I like to knead mine for a couple minutes after this point, as the kneading greatly affects the end texture of the bread. To test if the gluten is ready, pull a pinch of dough up slowly with your fingers. It should be elastic and almost stringy and pull away for about 2 inches before it breaks free.
Let Dough Rise: 1st Rise
Flip the dough over in the bowl so that the smooth side of the ball is facing up, and then remove it from the bowl. Oil the bowl with butter, vegetable oil, or olive oil, then put the dough back in it, smooth side up. I like to rub some of the oil over the dough as well, but this is not necessary.
Cover with the damp dish towel and place back in a warm place. Let rise until doubled in size, approximately 1 hour.
Oil 3 loaf pans and set aside. Punch the dough down, literally by punching it softly with your hand (this deflates the dough so you can more easily judge the divisions), divide into 3 equal sizes, and roll into balls.
Making Bread Loaves
Take one ball of dough and start forming it into a rectangle by pushing the dough out with your hands.
Fold the dough over itself, tucking in the edges, to make a perfectly sized rectangle to fit your bread pan.
Squeeze the dough so that the edges fold under themselves to make a more even rectangle, paying particular attention to the ends.
If the ends seem to be much too uneven with the rest of the rectangle, fold the entire piece in half, joining the two ends, and start forming into a rectangle again by repeating the previous steps so that your finished result looks like this.
Place the dough into the bread pan and pat down with your hand to evenly fill the pan.
Let Dough Rise: 2nd Rise
Repeat with the other two balls of dough, cover the pans with a damp cloth, and return to a warm place to let rise for another hour. The dough should rise to the top of the pan or higher. You can brush melted butter or olive oil on the top of the loaves if you would like. This adds a darker color to the tops, but is not necessary at all. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.
Heat oven to 350˚ and carefully place pans into the oven. If you are not gentle, you run the risk of deflating the dough and having a flat loaf of bread. Bake for 30 minutes, and then empty out the loaves onto cooling racks. If you’re anything like me, you will eat an entire loaf while it’s still warm with some butter and homemade jam. The rest will keep in bread bags for up to a week, though it is at its best within the first 3 days.
If you find yourself not being able to eat all the bread before it loses its greatness, it makes the best croutons you’ve ever had! See crouton recipe for details.
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