I have wanted Meyer lemons for years. Mainly because, when I couldn’t find them, there were recipes everywhere with Meyer lemon this and Meyer lemon that, and, well, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Of course, just like most things we want because we can’t have, as soon as I bought them, I couldn’t find any of those taunting recipes, and then I had to go looking for ideas.
I made a cake: a Meyer lemon cake, with Meyer lemon glaze and candied Meyer lemons on top. But it wasn’t that good, and I only kind of liked it, and it took all my Meyer lemons but gave me little in return, just something mildly edible to snack on for the next week, before I would throw the remaining half in the garbage (the garbage!).
And somewhere in the midst of this, I decided that the whole thing is symbolic, and not just of the fact that I always want what I can’t have, from people to places to ice cream sundaes late at night. Truth is, sometimes things just don’t go how you want them to in life. Maybe the bad Meyer lemon cake while Meyer lemon glaze and candied Meyer lemons on top, especially as it was followed by a disgusting Italian casserole and a ho-hum chocolate bread pudding a few days later, should remind me of something greater. I will not always get my way. That is an important lesson, indeed. And another point: usually, there’s a silver lining to things, if you have eyes to see it.
In my case, that silver lining has been fresh bread. I discovered a happy truth about fresh bread, and it is this: no matter what happens on your crummiest of days, you’ll feel a lot better when you have fresh bread to nibble. It’s true. The first time I made this recipe, which, if you must know, was the time I didn’t knead it correctly and the bread was strangely formed but still tasty, especially with butter and honey on top, Chicago had insane rainstorms and our house had flooding, and everything was madness. But, you know, I had fresh bread.
The second time I made it, which was the time I did everything right and saw the dough turn all elastic and soft, right there in the mixer before my eyes, the loaf molding into a perfect (perfect!) shape and texture while it baked, I took it in my lunch, sliced and buttered. And that day, wouldn’t you know but I had a hole in my shirt (a HOLE IN MY SHIRT!), and someone did something very nasty, and, on top of all that, I was late to the office because the roads around here are full of potholes and the tollway people are fixing them in the midst of morning rush hours.
But, at lunch time, the world seemed quite a bit brighter while I held my fresh bread.
There are lots of things I could tell you about this bread recipe: that it’s from one of my Christmas-gift cookbooks, the Art and Soul of Baking, which I’m starting to really love; that it gives you the best kind of triumphant feeling when you see the yeasty dough double in size like it’s supposed to, transforming into a white, rounded loaf before your eyes; that its smell is probably one of the most wonderful scents to hit your kitchen, ever.
But, mainly, I’m just going to tell you this one thing, advice really: bake some hot, fresh bread, and brace yourself. Not everything turns out as wonderfully as it does, so, some say, it’s a good idea to have some in hand.
Old-Fashioned White Loaf
Adapted from the Art & Soul of Baking, by Cindy Mushet
A few quick comments on the ingredients: 1) Don’t substitute anything strange, say like evaporated milk mixed with water, for the regular milk called for. I know it’s a pain to run to the store when you’re out of it, but I learned it matters. 2) Sometimes impurities in tap water can affect your bread’s rising. I don’t trust ours, so I used bottled water that I heated up.
A few quick comments on the directions: If you have a stand mixer, this is your lucky day. Put your dough hook to work and find out that making bread requires you to do very little but follow steps in order. You will not have to knead the dough by hand AT ALL. In fact, it’s very exciting—maybe even thrilling when you’re very tired—to watch the stand mixer turn ingredients into elastic dough. I highly recommend it.
1/4 cup (2 ounces) warm water – between 110 and 115 degrees F
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup (8 ounces) warm whole milk – between 110 and 115 degrees F
2 Tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, melted
3 cups (15 ounces) bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
MIX, REST & KNEAD THE DOUGH:
Place the water, sugar and yeast in a small bowl and whisk to blend. Allow the mixture to sit for 10 minutes or until the yeast is activated and foamy or bubbling. In the medium bowl, whisk together the warm milk and melted butter.
Place the flour and salt in the bowl of the stand mixer. Mix for a minute on medium speed to blend. Add the yeast mixture and milk mixture and mix on medium speed just until the dough comes together, 2 to 3 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp, lint-free cotton towel and let the dough rest for 20 minutes to allow it to fully hydrate before further kneading. Turn the speed to medium-low and continue to knead until the dough is firm, elastic and smooth, 3 to 6 minutes. (NOTE: To mix by hand, combine the flour and the salt in a large bowl, add the yeast and milk mixtures and mix until a dough forms. Turn out onto a work surface and knead until firm, elastic and smooth, about 8 to 10 minutes.)
RISE THE DOUGH (FIRST RISE):
LIghtly oil the tub or bowl, scrape the dough into the tub and lightly coat the surface of the dough with a little oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cotton towel, and let it rest until doubled in size, about 45 to 60 minutes. (TIP: If you use an upright, clear container, you can mark where the dough is, with marker or tape, on the outside and will be able to easily tell later if the dough has doubled.)
PUNCH DOWN THE DOUGH AND SHAPE INTO A LOAF:
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Press down on the dough firmly to expel some of the air bubbles, but don’t knead the dough again, or it will be too springy and difficult to shape (if this happens, simply cover the dough with plastic or a damp lint-free towel and let it rest 10 to 15 minutes to give it time to relax). Shape the dough into a loaf the size of your pan. Lightly coat the loaf pan with melted butter or a high-heat canola spray. Place the dough, seam side down, into the pan.
PROOF THE DOUGH (SECOND RISE):
Lightly oil the top of the dough to keep it moist. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cotton towel and allow it to rise again until its top is 1/2 to 1 inch above the rim of the pan, about 45 to 60 minutes.
GLAZE AND BAKE THE BREAD:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush the top of the loaf with a thin film of beaten egg. Bake on a middle oven rack for 35 to 40 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.