Bread Made Easy: Homemade with a Guyanese Twist
I'm a bread lover. Though it's probably more accurate to say that I'm a carb-lover or an 'anything that tastes way too good' lover if I'm going to be honest. Breads just happen to fall in all of the above categories. Unfortunately, this most likely translates to I'm the 'enjoying this is bad for me' kind of eater. That being said, I'm sure many of you understand this and some may have even suffered the unsightly weight gain that goes along with loving the naughty foods that we ought to avoid. But how do you fix the cravings, especially if bread is your guilty pleasure? It goes so well with everything - literally. A delicious piece of bread can enhance a sauce with one dip, make soup even more scrumptious, and by itself you know it's better with butter. This still leaves you loving bread, craving the taste, and probably thinking of your favorite sandwich as you read this.
Recently I took a trip home to my native Guyana and realized that my love for this delectable delight started when I was young and growing up there. Somehow I still managed to be fifteen pounds under my healthy average weight while eating at least eight slices of bread for supper. I was completely appalled that I could gain thirty pounds in America while I lost six pounds within one week of arriving in Guyana with the same eating habits and love of bread. How could this be? Then the ah-ha moment... Every bakery in the land had fresh, organic,homemade bread. And, when Guyanese homes did not want to buy 'shop bread' they all knew how to bake their own right at home (sometimes rivaling the master bakers). This was the bloody secret these perfect size seven, hourglass shaped women had been keeping all these years while I felt guilty about loving my breads. They knew how to bake and did not hesitate to do so, controlling every single ingredient in the loaf so that maximum nutrition and optimal health was maintained without a drop of buttery guilt. How could I have missed this? Well, no more. I was going to claim my Guyanese heritage and get down to business. It was time to get busy and get baking some traditional home-style Guyanese Bread.
metal mixing bowl
Well, having a crazy Guyanese mother comes with some advantages. Especially when she's a star quality chef and is probably the reason I'm always on the hunt for good food. My mother grew up in Hopetown, a small village in Berbice. Unlike my Georgetown life in the city, Hopetown is considered a country village with the strictest of Guyanese traditional upbringings. Where little girls are supposed to be as sweet as sugar and spice - this involves needlework and 'picking rice'...ensuring that my mother would learn from age 8 years old to cook everything nice. So who better to accost than mommy dearest for a homemade bread recipe that would get me back to basics. I was right. The outcome was amazing and resulted in a new appreciation for healthy baking that saved me hundreds of dollars when I gave up buying bread to make my own.
...it's not a secret after all?
So how do you repeat this magic? Easy. And, did you know it wasn't that big a secret at all (once I realized just how easy it actually was). At first I thought I needed a really expensive breadmaker. Being the lazy bum I am, it never occured to me that along with hormone-free, organic bread these beautiful women also had arms that looked like Michele Obama. Wouldn't you know it? That's right...it was from mixing the bread. So you get a healthy meal and a workout all in the same effort. Well why not save the money on the breadmaker, too. I got down to business reproducing my mother's recipe.
best gift I ever got for my kitchen
The Tools: a large metal bowl, a whisk, a large wooden spoon, & a wooden cutting board (used only for bread & never for meat, as wood is pourous).
· 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet )
· ½ cup warm water
· ¼ cup brown sugar
· ¾ teaspoon sea salt (this is a personal preference, regular salt will do )
· 2 tablespoons melted butter or oil (olive oil is best here )
· 3 cups unbleached flour
This list will produce one large loaf of bread that yeilds about 12 servings or slices. It's a great way to test the recipe and start out small just in case you're not too sure about what's what.
1. Pour the yeast into the large metal bowl and add ¼ cup of the warm water. Put about 1 tablespoon of the sugar into the mix, stir in well and then cover with a kitchen towel. Leave this for about 15 minutes. The yeast will activate and become white foam.
2. Using a whisk, add the salt and oil/melted butter into the mix. Add the rest of the water and the milk, still whisking. If you are not a vegetarian, this is an excellent place to add in 1 egg. It adds a very rich taste to the bread in the end. Slowly whisk in the first cup of flour, then the second. By this time the mixture will begin to thicken so add the third cup with the wooden spoon and stir. The mixture will become thick enough to start sticking to the spoon. Stir the mix into a nice soft ball. Though I prefer to keep it to the spoon (that whole lazy bum factor and my pretty nails, and all) my mother will then trade in the wooden spoon for a traditional hand roll at this point. After achieving a nice soft mix of all the ingredients just cover with kitchen towel again. Leave mix to rise until doubled. This takes about an hour, leaving you some time to clean up the mess you’ve made.
3. Now you also have a bit of time to prepare your baking pan. Though my mother keeps it traditional with the glass loaf pan or Pyrexmetal bread pans, I have discovered a neat little trick to guarantee a smooth golden-brown loaf every time. It’s your standard foil pan. That’s right…just the $2 foil pan. It really is a smart piece of science. The heat is perfectly distributed and provides a non-stick surface, ensuring your bread slides right onto the cutting board for immediate slicing while steaming hot. Just get a piece of paper towel, evenly spread butter at the bottom and sides, then sprinkle and dust with flour. Set aside and leave for when your loaf is oven-ready. End result = no washing when you’re done. What could be better than that? I don’t know about you, but it makes the bread taste that much sweeter knowing I didn’t have to deal with another round of dishes.
4. When the dough has risen, mix one more time. This time you’ll have to get your hands dirty to punch it down country style. Knead for a few minutes. You’re now ready to shape your loaf. Spread some flour on the wooden cutting board and place your dough to shape the loaf to your liking. Place it in the pan and let rise a little longer before baking.
5. Place into the oven and bake at 350° degrees Fahrenheit (175° Celsius) for 20 – 30 minutes. I’d say watch the bread and start checking after 15 minutes to gauge the strength of your oven. When the top is a nice golden-brown, remove from oven and dig right in. I enjoy rubbing a little butter on the top to keep it nice and soft.
...ok, what's next?
Next?! There is no next. That's it... Lather, rinse, repeat. It's that simple. No breadmaker, no mess in the end, and a tasty treat that you can enjoy guilt-free without sacrificing your health. If high blood pressure is your issue then definitely go with the sea salt. If diabetes is the problem, this works well with Splenda or substitutes. So you're a vegetarian...ignore the optional egg. Okay - you're lactose intolerant. Use soy milk. Otherwise the organic whole milk will do just as well. Oh wait...you have high cholesterol. Pay good attention to that section that says use the olive oil (first cold pressed, extra virgin) instead of the melted butter. Perhaps you want to go completely organic and hormone-free. You may then have noticed that every ingredient on the list comes in that variety. You can even substitute the unbleached flour for flour. The only way to not enjoy this would be if you were whole wheatallergic to wheat. Otherwise, happy baking and let me know how you liked it. Authentic home-style baking can't get easier than this.
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© 2011 Guyana Masala