Sweet Bread, Poetry and Singing

two loaves cooling on a rack.

Back in March, when the world went into lockdown, I went into baking mode. One of the first recipes I tried (and personalized) was a delicious recipe for cream cheese breakfast rolls. I actually made cranberry orange cream cheese rolls, creating my own orange-cranberry cream cheese. I did wish at the time I’d mixed in some craisins but there weren’t any in the house. If you’re considering using this dough for rolls (creating a log and cutting them each out) you could create your own flavored cream cheese and toppings. Why not? Go crazy with combinations:

  • Lemon ginger
  • Cinnamon hazelnut
  • Lingonberry and maple syrup
  • Pineapple and orange
Puffing up in the oven, but not quite browned yet!

You get the idea. The sky’s the limit as long as you have the right liquid and flavor boost in the house. 

I also loved how the bread itself came out; light, fluffy, and sweet. I knew someday I’d want to make just the bread part of the recipe. And today, that’s exactly what I did! 

Fresh bread and singing

I’m an a cappella singer. My wife and I sing with a competitive barbershop quartet, Fever Pitch (yes, there is such a thing as competitive singing!). We’re affiliated with Sweet Adelines International, and I’ve been singing with that organization since way back in 1988! It’s a way of life.

Fever Pitch singing in red sequined jackets
Fever Pitch at our Holiday Show last year.

Unfortunately, that way of life that has sustained me for over 30 years, has faded into the dark recesses during the current pandemic. But I still do warm-up exercises and participate in vocal zoom meetings. It’s not much fun with my microphone on mute, and just listening to recordings, but we make it work. I also do a bit of vocal exercising here at home to keep my voice in shape. And making bread is one of our exercises. 

Wait, what?? Well, not really, but one of the ways we practice taking snuff breaths, and truly expanding our resonators is to pretend we are smelling fresh bread. Can you think about that smell? Your nostrils flare, your cheeks rise up, and even my ears lift a bit. That sweet, yeasty smell of warm bread cooking just lifts everything, and makes you want to breathe in way more than breathe out! Today’s recipe is a sweet egg bread. As it cooked, our house smelled like breakfast in a cozy home settled in a little field somewhere off the beaten path. Certainly not reality, which is a cozy enough home, but a couple houses from a major highway. If I closed my eyes I could imagine my favorite childhood memories, favorite B&B, Christmas morning. It’s all rolled up into that one fully inhaled breath of bread!

a rustic cottage
A cozy cottage nothing like my house!

So where’s the poetry?

My father used to say home-baked bread was pure poetry. Just slather a little butter on top, maybe a drizzle of honey and there’s nothing better. When I told my sister I was doing this blog, she shared that she’d been playing around with writing senryu, another form of haiku. Wikipedia identifies senryu as “a Japanese form of short poetry similar to haiku in construction: three lines with 17 syllables.” It also goes on to say that senryu “tend to be about human foibles while haiku tend to be about nature, and senryū are often cynical or darkly humorous while haiku are more serious.” In reading my sister’s pieces I don’t see the foibles or the dark side, but I do see a shared memory of bread. My sister and I used to spend hours in our room when we were teenagers, writing poetry, writing short stories and collecting rejection slips from so many publishers. It was a contest to see who could get any response at all! But I’m glad to say that with this blog I’ve found a way to publish some of her work! Thanks for the contribution, Lorraine.

Bread

Warm from the oven;

Yeast smell greets me after school.

Slice of happiness.

by Lorraine Colon

I noticed that when I first made this recipe and used it for rolls, it raised impressively. I took pictures because it was so beautiful. It was a cold winter day and our heat was most definitely on! 

risen dough
So it’s bigger, but not as big as expected

Today was a warm day and our air conditioners were keeping the house cool. For the first half-hour of the rise, I kept the dough covered and in my pantry far away from fans and cold air. But it didn’t raise as much as I’d expected. The second half-hour it sat in a box on my deck in the full sun. It did raise a bit more, but still not as much as I expected. After I formed the loaves, I covered it again and left it out on the deck rising on the cookie sheets. I kept a watchful eye out for birds! It seemed to get a bit bigger, but maybe not double. 

braided loaves on the pan
They expanded a bit, but not enough to tighten the braiding

I know you can actually raise bread in the refrigerator but it takes a lot longer, so if you don’t notice your dough doubling, give it some extra time. The temperature and humidity can change the process a bit. Thankfully, these loaves did their thing once they got into the oven, and came out beautiful (and they tasted amazing too!)

Sweet Breakfast Bread

Ingredients:

  • 4 ½ tsp active dry yeasts
  • ¾ cup warm water (you can substitute fruit juice if you want a fruity flavor. I’ve used cranberry cocktail in the past)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 TB melted butter
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 6 – 8 cups all-purpose flour
  • Extra butter for coating the finished loaves

Instructions:

I use a Kitchenaid mixer and just start in the mixer bowl, but any bowl will do:

  • In a large bowl, pour the yeast in the warm water. Stir with a whisk until dissolved. Add milk, sugar, eggs, butter, salt, and 5 cups of flour and continue to mix. I do this step with the dough hook of my mixer.
  • Once well mixed, start adding more flour until you get a firm dough you can handle easily
bread dough
It takes a bit of kneading to get it smooth and elastic. Usually 7 – 8 minutes.
  • Turn dough onto a floured workspace; knead until smooth and elastic. It usually takes me 7 – 8 minutes or more. It depends on how “into it” you get. I also find that working with the bread on a surface that is just below waist height is best and allows you to really put your whole body into it. Seriously, you might want to do a few stretches beforehand to avoid stiff stomach muscles later!
  • Put the dough ball into a greased bowl, turning to cover all sides, then cover with a warm damp towel and let rise in a warm place. The dough should double in size in an hour or so.
  • Once doubled, remove the dough and divide it into two halves. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Divide each half into three even pieces, and stretch/roll them out into three long pieces. Braid the pieces together, tucking under the ends and place on a greased cookie sheet. You will end up with two braided loaves.
  • Bake the loaves for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Set on a rack to cool.
I couldn’t wait to cut a slice for a taste!

These loaves are solid, but not tough, and have a lovely sweetness that is great on its own but also wonderful with butter and jam, honey, or your favorite spread!

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