I’ve heard it said that the human olfactory memory is stronger than that of any other sense. In other words, a smell can evoke much stronger and more vivid memories than an image or a sound. In my experience, this is absolutely true. When my mom cooks a standing rib roast at Christmas, it brings back memories of my grandmother cooking the same for special occasions. Same for beef stew, chocolate chip cookies…you get the picture. This bread is one of my strongest scent memories. It reminds me of spending Saturday mornings at my great-grandmother’s house, watching cartoons and drinking Country Time lemonade from the pastel-colored aluminum cups she kept in her glass-front cabinet. This was bread that she baked for my grandmother and for my dad, and I remember the stories about my dad and his sister arguing over who would get the end piece. I knew I got it from somewhere (Philip and I actually have to cut the end piece in half).
When my grandmother passed away, I was fourteen and too young to realize that I should ask my grandfather for some of her recipes. When he passed away seven years later, I was a little older and wiser and had started cooking for my then-boyfriend, whom I knew I would be marrying before too long. I found a book of magazine clippings and handwritten recipes, some written on steno pad paper and some scribbled on the back of envelopes, all yellowed with age and many falling apart at the creases. Many of the recipes I don’t recognize, but some are unmistakeable. This is one of those, a recipe that I often make my dad as a gift. The original recipe calls for shortening but I’ve replaced it with butter, and I’ve replaced the white flour with white whole wheat. Oh, and sucanat instead of sugar (you could also use honey).
Start by dissolving 2 1/4 teaspoons (one envelope) of yeast in 1 1/4 cups warm water in the bowl of your mixer (if you don’t have an electric mixer, you can do all of this with a wooden spoon and a large mixing bowl).
Add two tablespoons of softened butter. I diced my butter up before I softened it. Add two tablespoons of sugar, honey, or sucanat, two teaspoons of salt, and 1 1/2 cups of flour (all-purpose or white whole wheat). Beat for two minutes at medium speed or blend 300 strokes by hand. This will result in a smooth batter. Beat in another cup and a half of flour with a wooden spoon. Since I was using whole wheat flour, I used a little less than the full three cups.
At this point, the dough will look like what bread dough “should” look like. Cover it with a kitchen towel and place in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes. Stir down with a wooden spoon then spread in a greased 9x5x3 loaf pan. The batter will be sticky, so you may need to flour your hand to press the dough into the corners. Cover with the cloth again and let it rise until the batter reaches about 1/4 inch from the top of the pan, about 40 minutes.
Bake the bread at 375 degrees for 45-50 minutes or until golden brown. The bread will sound hollow when you give it a good thump at the top. You can brush it with melted butter if you like (my grandmother’s recipe says “melted butter or shortening”. Yikesies!). Allow the bread to cool completely before you cut it.
This bread is simply amazing any way you slice it (no pun intended). I love it plain or spread with butter, but I also love it with jam or apple butter, and today I had it with cheese for my lunch. It’s so easy, and the nostalgia-evoking power of the scent of this bread baking is unbelievable.