The Pillsbury Bake-Off, At-Home Dad Style

bread photo

Miss Janet's "Easy Real French Bread"

It was like the Pillsbury Bake-Off at my house the other week, and I was out to win the At-Home Dad category.

It started when I saw an article in Real Simple magazine titled something like “Yes, You Can Make Your Own Pie Crust.” Whenever I’ve tried before, it just didn’t turn out. And when I buy ready-made pie crust at the store, I end up with one extra that sits in the freezer for a year and a half until it’s useless. Or I fail to read the instructions until 5:30, and it says to let it warm to room temperature for an hour.

And last year, I sort-of made a New Year’s resolution to learn to work with yeast. I never know if my lukewarm water is hot enough to kill the yeast, too cold for it to do its yeasty thing or just right. (I know there’s no yeast in pie crust, but it’s in the same department. Prior to this, all I baked from scratch was biscuits. Love ‘em, but they’re boring after a while.)

Still daunted by the Real Simple recipe, I opted for the French bread recipe my mother made a lot when I was growing up. It only has five ingredients, so how could I go wrong? Really, it was just a matter of planning ahead to allow enough time (several hours) for it to rise. So as soon as I got my preschooler down for her afternoon nap, I hurried to the kitchen to mix it up. Then during afternoon snack time – after picking up my first-grader from elementary school – I punched the dough down to the kids’ delight: “Wham! Wham! Bad bread! Do you need a spanking? Smack! Smack!” It rose again until about 5, when it was getting dark and time to come in, it went into the oven.

Out it came, fresh-baked perfection!

The kids loved it. My wife loved it. The neighbors with the new baby who got the second loaf loved it.

Emboldened, I took on the Real Simple pie crust.

Miraculously, it turned out just fine. You make it a food processor, then plop it onto plastic wrap, shape it into a giant puck and chill it in the fridge. In previous attempts, the dough would stick to the counter. But doing it on plastic wrap made it easy to get into a nice shape. It ended making delicious pie crust that I made into a quiche. My children have been iffy on quiche in the past, but I tried to sell it as a ham omelet in a crust. They didn’t buy it. Ingrates.

I could have just stopped there, but I’m never one to leave well enough alone. Next, I made Parker House rolls. Previously, I wouldn’t know a Parker House roll from a biscuit in a can. I picked the Joy of Cooking recipe, which wasn’t complicated but was lengthy. But like the French bread recipe, it was a matter of planning for rise time.

The recipe made a batch of 18, which was about a dozen too many for the four of us at supper. The kids and wife loved them, but now my Lovely Bride is complaining that if the Pillsbury Bake-Off doesn’t end, she’s going to need bigger pants.

And in case I sound like a braggart with all of this, I share this only as means of encouragement. You, too, can bake! And your family will love it.

And to close, in honor of our family friend Miss Janet King, here’s the bread recipe, which originally appeared in 1983 in “Favorite Recipes Vol. 3” by the Women’s Club of King George, Va.

Janet’s Easy Real French Bread

1 pkg. (1 Tbsp.) dry yeast

2 c. lukewarm water

4 c. sifted all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp sugar

2 tsps. Salt

Dissolve yeast in 1 cup lukewarm water.

While yeast softens, sift flour, sugar and salt together in large bowl. Stir in yeast.

Add just enough of the second cup of water to hold dough together. Mix until you have a soft, rather sticky dough. Cover with a clean cloth and let rise until double (about 2 hours).

When high and spongy, punch down with your fist and give it a good sound beating with your hand.

Divide into two parts and place each in a greased 6-inch baking dish.

Cover again with cloth and let rise until it reaches top of casserole (about 1 hour).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Brush top with melted butter, and bake 30 to 40 minutes or until done.

Fine flavor and quite crusty.

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3 responses to “The Pillsbury Bake-Off, At-Home Dad Style

  1. Will- I never know how long I’ve had my yeast, so you can “proof it” by adding sugar to it before adding it to you recipe. If the yeast starts to do its stuff and is “faunching and roaring” in the measuring cup, you can be confident that it will work in your recipe. The only problem is I can’t tell you how much sugar to use – get back to you on that one. Also, to get stuff to rise with some consistency. I heat my oven on low – like 200, for a few minutes, turn it off and then put the bread (covered) in to rise. Works like a charm!!!

    Happy baking….

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  3. Hi Will,
    Sounds like you are off to a good start. I was on a pie making kick this summer — probably because my mother keeps her old Gourmet magazine collection at the family lake house and I always look at those enticing pictures and feel inspired. One thing I learned the hard way is that there are two different kinds of flours, bread flour and pastry flour!

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