The blizzard of 1967 hit Chicago and the surrounding area on January 26th with a record setting 23 inches of snow followed by high winds and drifting. To this day, it remains the worst winter storm in Chicago history. My small Mayberry-esque suburb of Blue Island, Illinois was in its path and, for a boy of 8 years old, it became a magical dream world. School was called off, snow forts were built and there was endless television on all THREE channels. However, for my parents, there was serious concern for the safety of family and friends. Just returning from work was a challenge for Dad and with little warning of the storm, Mom found grocery store shelves quickly emptied of bread, milk and daily staples.
This was when Mom taught me about bread being the staff of life. Interestingly, she always kept yeast in the house and we had plenty of flour and sugar left from the holiday baking season. Mom pulled me into her emergency mode and shared with me the art of bread baking. She dug out the vintage crock-like Bauer Bowl (which I cherish and still use today) and my Great Grandmother Rose Schade’s bread recipe.
I quickly learned from a master the techniques of working with yeast, kneading dough, letting it rise and punching it down to rise once again. Loaf after loaf of glorious bread went into the oven and was shared with family, friends and neighbors. All of that bread with its warm and comforting aroma, as well as that iconic ’67 snow storm, will remain with me forever.
Yields 4 Loaves
2 packages of dry active yeast
4 cups of warm milk (at 100 to 110 degrees)
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ cup melted unsalted butter
2 tablespoons salt
10-12 cups of all-purpose flour (additional flour for kneading)
2 egg whites beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
6 tablespoons of butter to finish the crust
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Use extra butter to grease the bread tins well.
Add the yeast to 1 cup of the warmed milk and the sugar. Stir well until the yeast starts to work or foams.
Place the remaining milk, melted butter, and salt in a bowl. Stir in the flour, one cup at a time with a wooden spoon. After the 5th cup add the yeast mixture. Keep on adding the rest of the flour cup by cup until a stiff dough forms.
After the flour is incorporated, remove the dough to a well-floured board, and knead for 5 minutes. You want the dough smooth, supple and no longer tacky. You might need to add a bit more flour to handle the dough. Butter the inside of a large crock-style bowl well. Place the dough in the bowl and flip it a few times to cover all sides with butter. Then cover the bowl with a towel, and allow rising in a warm, and draft free spot until the dough has doubled twice its size. Depending on the temperature of the kitchen it could take up to two hours. Note: A warmer draft free kitchen will help assist in the rise of the bread.
Remove the dough from the bowl, and punch down the dough three or four times. Return to the floured board, and knead for 5 more minutes. Divide into 4 equal portions, shape into loafs, and place into prepared bread pans. Cover the loaves again, and let rise again until doubled in size.
Using a sharp knife, score the center of each loaf slightly and brush with the beaten egg whites. Bake for 45 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped and nicely browned.
Remove bread from the pans and let cool on a rack. Using the additional butter, slather the tops of the warm bread to give a finish coat and a crispy crust.
Happy snow days!