By MARY ANN LIENHART CROSS
Extension Educator Purdue Extension
I don’t know what the weather is like when you are reading this, but I know as I write this that it is cold and damp. Winter weather is the best for soup and bread making. There is just nothing like homemade soup, and my Belgian grandmother, Mary Van den Broecke, made the best beef vegetable soup. To me, soup not only tastes good, but it has a great aroma, and because it is hot, you have to slow down to eat it.
Freshly baked bread, whether homemade bread or frozen and home baked, is a natural that goes with soup. There is just nothing like the taste of warm bread with some homemade cheese spread. If you are a yeast bread baker, you know what I mean. If you are not, wintertime is a great time to try your hand at bread baking and is this is a wonderful family activity.
Bread is one of the few universal foods; it exists in one form or another in nearly every culture. The origins of the first yeast breads are uncertain, but folk tales link its beginnings to several cultures. The Swiss lake dwellers crushed their barley and wheat in crude mortars, while Ancient Egyptians were said to have kneaded bread with their feet. The ancient Chinese wrote that one of the arts of being a good wife included baking bread.
Here is some bread trivia that goes back a long time. Once upon a time when the English language was young and being developed, the word from which the modern English word “lady” sprang, meant “loaf-kneader” and the verb “to knead” has even prehistoric origins! So, bread making was one way housewives became ladies.
When it comes to nutritional value, breads and cereals are one of our basic food groups that should be eaten every day. Bread is important for its nutritional value including energy, fiber and protein. Four or more servings of whole grain enriched or restored breads or cereals are recommended for children and adults.
Enriched breads and cereals give us carbohydrates for energy, and protein for growth and repair of body tissues. The nutrients provided include iron, which helps build rich red blood cells; thiamin, which you need for normal appetite and digestion, a healthy nervous system, and to help change sugar and starches into energy; riboflavin (vitamin B2), which helps use oxygen and is important for healthy skin; and niacin, another B vitamin which we need to use the energy in food.
Because breads are so important for good nutrition, enriched breads and cereals should not be left out when we are trying to cut calories. A slice of white bread averages 75 calories while rye and whole wheat are each about 60 calories.
Now, to the ingredients. Each one has a special purpose and relates to all the other ingredients. The controlling ingredient is the yeast; it leavens the bread. Yeast makes the dough rise and gives it a light texture. Yeast is a living plant that thrives on sugars in the dough producing carbon dioxide gas which makes dough and batter rise. Yeast also gives breads a delicious flavor and aroma.
There are several types of yeast. Rapid Rise™ or Quick Rise™ yeasts are highly active, dry yeasts that make bread dough rise 50 percent faster than regular yeast. The particle sizes are fine and should be added to the dry ingredients before the liquid. Next is regular dry yeast which can be dissolved in liquid or mixed with a portion of the dry ingredients. You can buy it in packages or in bulk by weight. Both of these yeast products have a shelf life of about one year. The third kind of yeast is fresh, active yeast or household yeast, or compressed yeast. You find this yeast in the refrigerator section with the dairy products. Fresh yeast must be kept in the refrigerator for about two weeks but can also be kept in the freezer for two months; however, it must be defrosted at room temperature and used right away. Fresh yeast and/or active dry yeast can be used interchangeably. One package of dry yeast equals about one scant tablespoon or one 0.6 ounce cake.
If you are unsure about the freshness of your yeast, try this simple test. Add one tablespoon of sugar to water and yeast, let set 10 minutes. If it forms something that looks like a sponge, it is good.