Edna from Highland sent me a letter last week. She's a breadbaker, but wondered why the white bread sold in stores is so soft and fluffy and lasts so long. She also wanted to know how to get her bread that way.
There are some easy answers, Edna, but I'm going to digress briefly.
There used to be a time when we either made bread at home or bought it from a neighborhood bakery. It was bread with texture and crust and chew and flavor. It was substantial bread that held up to a meaty sandwich or a good sopping of gravy.
Somewhere along the line, Americans' love for bread (but not wanting to make it themselves) caused manufacturers to experiment with how to put loaves on supermarket shelves that could survive not only the shipping, but the sitting until they are bought. Tastes changed somewhat, too, and a softer loaf became popular.
The only way to do all of the above was to add ingredients not naturally found in bread. (Remember, all it takes to make a loaf of bread is flour, yeast, water and salt.)
Read the wrapper on a loaf of bread from the store and you will find many words you don't recognize; basically, they are chemicals and some natural products. These typically include dough conditioners (for softness), extra gluten (fluffiness), added sugars (for a sweeter flavor), artificial flavorings or coloring and preservatives to retard spoilage.
You can't duplicate at home, in a natural way, that gluey, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth consistency found in store white bread. (Yes, that is my prejudice showing.)
If your loaves are tough or dry, it means overbaking. If they are dense and not rising a lot, the yeast may not be activating properly, may be old or your water temperature may be too hot and killing the yeast. These might be things to consider when making your next batch. For a softer crust, I brush melted butter on the top of the dough before putting it in the oven.
If anyone has tips or a good recipe for Edna that makes a soft loaf of white bread minus all those chemical and additives found in the store-bought variety, feel free to call or email me.
We all scream ... I'm in need of advice: I'm considering buying my first ice cream maker. If you have a favorite brand that has worked well for you over the years, let me know. Please, no hand-crank varieties!
I am a big fan of sweet and hot food. At the same time. I came across this recipe from Judy Hevrdejs of the Chicago Tribune; it was part of a fried chicken recipe. Because I don't make fried foods, I swiped the glaze for other uses. I think it will be spectacular over pork tenderloin off the grill or as a topping for pulled chicken. I think you can invent all kinds of ways to use this glaze.
Judy got this recipe from "Smokin' in the Boys' Room: Southern Recipes from the Winningest Woman in Barbecue" by Melissa Cookston (Andrews McMeel Publishing).
Red hot maple glaze
6 tablespoons maple syrup
4 tablespoons hot sauce (such as Frank's RedHot)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Heat ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat until the butter melts and the glaze is reduced to a syrupy consistency. Makes 1/2 cup.
I've been eating some out-of-state corn on the cob recently and it's been pretty good. But, I'm really looking forward to the local crop sold at roadside stands.
Here's an easy way to add a little extra flavor to one of summer's favorite foods.
GRILLED CORN IN THE HUSK
4 ears sweet corn in the husk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons fajita seasoning
Pull back the corn husk slightly and remove the silk. Replace the husk and soak the corn in cold water for 20 minutes. This will help steam the corn as it cooks.
Prepare a medium-hot grill. In a small bowl, mix the butter, cilantro, and lime juice. Remove the corn from the water and shake off excess. Pull the husks back (don't remove), brush the corn with the butter mixture, and season lightly with the fajita seasoning. Fold the husks back over the corn.
Place the corn on the grill and cook for about 10 minutes, turning occasionally. As the husk burns away, you will be able to see the outline of the kernels. That is a sign that that side is done. Remove the corn, remove the husks and enjoy. Serves 4.
Here's how to reach me: Phone, 239-2664; e-mail, email@example.com; or write, Suzanne Boyle, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.