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On a recent visit to the Wilson County Public Library, granddaughter Sora and I spent quite a bit of time looking at kids’ cookbooks.
It was fun to flip through the pages, read the recipe names and admire the photos.
Some cookbooks were themed to toy or book characters, such as Barbie and American Girl. Others had familiar names, including Cooking Light and Time.
We even found a cookbook written by Mollie Katzen, author of the popular “Moosewood Cookbook.” Several recipes in her children’s book “Honest Pretzels” caught my eye, including spaghetti pie and easy pasta salad dressed with an apple cider vinaigrette.
But the cookbook that Sora and I kept going back to was “Baking Class,” by Deanna F. Cook.
I had told Sora to look through all of the cookbooks and come up with a recipe or two she’d like to try. I figured she’d choose a main dish with pasta, a meal with beef — her favorite — or maybe a new variety of cookie.
She surprised me when she chose a recipe for braided yeast bread. I hid my skepticism as well as my urge to cry and secretly thought maybe we should start with a basic loaf of yeast bread. I’m not really intimidated by yeast breads, I just wasn’t sure we could make this work.
Oh ye of little faith! As it turns out, there was no reason to worry. This recipe is simple to mix up, and the dough is easy to work with. This must be the reason why it was included in a children’s cookbook and why they named it easy-peasy bread dough.
The dough recipe is as simple as it gets: yeast, sugar, warm water, salt and flour, with olive oil to grease the rising bowl.
We decided to use my stand mixer to mix the dough, but Sora kneaded it by hand. At first, the dough was stiff and not too easy to work with, but she kept working it with her hands, kneading and turning and folding until it was smooth. She did most of the kneading, but I did help some, showing her how I do it and giving her hands a little rest.
We let the dough rise in the oven, using my rising trick. We boiled some water in my 2-cup glass measuring cup, carefully placed it in the cold oven then turned on the oven light. We placed the dough bowl in the oven, in a warm, moist atmosphere that is perfect for getting dough to rise.
While the yeast did it’s thing, Sora and I went next door and hung out with our neighbors for an hour or so. When we came back, the dough had risen just as promised.
Sora followed the step-by-step photos in the cookbook and punched down the risen dough with her fists. She liked that part!
The cookbook includes the basic recipe to make two sandwich loaves. Options follow for different uses of the dough to make braided loaves, cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls or an assortment of bread art animals. We decided to make two loaves of braided bread, although Sora suggested we make an octopus loaf with one of our dough balls. I suggested we perfect our braiding method!
The first step was dividing the dough into two dough balls. Then Sora divided one of the dough balls into three pieces. I reminded Sora how we used to make snakes with her Play-doh. She used that method of stretching and rolling the three pieces she needed to braid. The recipe said to roll the three pieces into 12- to 16-inch logs. She used a ruler to make sure her dough was long enough.
We didn’t have much luck braiding the dough from the middle, as suggested in the book. Instead, Sora placed the three ropes of dough side by side and used her fingers to press together one end. Then she braided the ropes, just as she would braid a ponytail, pinching the second end when she finished.
The braiding step was very simple. Once both loaves were braided, they went back into the oven to rise for another 30 minutes. Each loaf got an egg wash bath before baking.
After 25 minutes in the hot oven, the two braided loaves came out golden brown and gorgeous. We were so happy and felt so accomplished! We pulled out the butter and each had a slice before dinner. Oh my, it was so good and tasted, basically, like French bread.
One loaf of bread went into the freezer; the other loaf was enjoyed for days toasted or buttered and briefly warmed in the microwave. So good!
Sora and I both learned lessons from our baking session. Sora learned how to knead bread and handle dough; she already knew how to be bold and adventurous and ask to do a challenging recipe. I learned that she’s a big girl now — turns 11 in the fall — and is up to challenges. Apparently, her grandma is up to challenges too!
Lisa Boykin Batts and 10-year-old granddaughter Sora are cooking in the kitchen this summer and offering ideas on how families can help their children learn to cook.
Easy-Peasy Bread Dough
1 tablespoon (1 packet) active dry yeast
2 tablespoon sugar
2 cups warm water (it should feel like bath water)
1 tablespoon salt
6 cups white or whole-wheat flour or a combo (We used bread flour)
1 tablespoon olive oil
To make any kind of yeast bread, you need to “proof” the yeast to make sure it is active so the dough will rise. To do this, add the yeast and sugar to the warm water and whisk until dissolved.
Let is sit for about 5 minutes or until tiny bubbles appear on the surface. Whisk in the salt and then add the flour, 1 cup at time, mixing after each addition.
Switch to mixing with your (clean) hands until you can form the dough into a sticky ball.
Dust your hands and countertop with flour. Place the dough on the counter and knead until it is smooth and elastic. This can take up to 10 minutes.
Grease a clean bowl with the olive oil. Place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours or until doubled in size.*
Punch the dough down. Knead it again for just a few minutes to remove air bubbles. Now your dough is ready to shape.
Braid Away Bread
If you are making two loaves from a full batch of dough, cut the dough in half. Then divide each half into three equal pieces.
Roll each piece into a log 12 to 16 inches long.
Lay the logs side by side on an oiled baking sheet or a sheet lined with parchment paper.
Braid the logs from the center to one end. Then braid from the center to the other end. (See note.)
Pinch the three logs together at each end, and tuck the ends under. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the dough with egg wash. Sprinkle with sniped fresh herbs if you’d like.
Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned.
“Baking Class” by Deanna F. Cook
*NOTES: We let the dough rise in the oven, using my rising trick. We boiled some water in my 2-cup glass measuring cup, carefully placed it in the cold oven then turned on the oven light. (I do not cover with plastic wrap when I let dough rise this way.) We placed the dough bowl in the oven, in a warm, moist atmosphere that is perfect for getting dough to rise. (Make sure to remove unbaked loaves before preheating the oven.) We didn’t have much luck braiding the dough from the middle, as suggested in the book. Instead, Sora placed the three ropes of dough side by side and used her fingers to press together one end. Then she braided the ropes, just as she would braid a ponytail, pinching the second end when she finished. She braided the second loaf tighter than the first, making more braids.