Otherwise Known as Mom’s Kukietka Bread
For we mortals, food is one of those things that can speak to our soul. We all have those certain smells that loft us over precious moments and teleport us to times when life truly was idyllic. Nothing brings back the magic of childhood and the wonderful memories of Easter for me than the smell of Mom’s Polish Egg Bread baking in the oven, unless it’s Dad whipping up his Easter borsch that I was forced to eat in disgust as a kid but now look forward to.
If you too have a soul moving moment when you smell homemade bread in the oven and if you want to follow your bliss to ecstasy, then after this bread comes out of the oven, slice it while still warm and lay down a light base of butter schmeared with fruit preserve. For me it’s gotta be strawberry, but raspberry will do in a pinch. Then, and this is the crucial step, cut the bread into equal quarters and let the huge internal struggle begin regarding which square should be eaten first.
Post Easter Bliss: An equally good way to appreciate Mom’s homemade bread, is with a cold ham and mustard sandwich. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, substitute the mustard for horseradish sauce and garnish with a Polish gherkin.
Ingredients for Mom’s Homemade Bread
- 500 g (2 cups) lukewarm whole milk
- 110 g (1/2) cup sugar
- 14 g (2 tsp) salt
- 17 g (4.5 tsp) dry yeast or 2 cakes of fresh yeast (
- 2 eggs
- 95 g (1/2 cup) shortening – softened
- 1,065 g (7.5 cups) flour – sifted
- 1 cup raisins (optional)
- Mix warm milk, sugar and salt together. Stir in yeast until dissolved. Try not to over stir, you’re going to ask a lot from these microbes so shouldn’t abuse them right out of the gate. Besides contributing to taste, the sugar is to kick start the yeast and the salt is to ensure the yeasts doesn’t get too Rambo on you – in the era of COVID, we’d call the salt a mitigation measure. Cover this mixture with a towel and set aside to allow the yeast to reproduce in private. Despite what your husband says, you don’t need to wait a half an hour, ten minutes will be sufficient.
- Make a decision already: While the yeast is doing its thing, you have to make the most critical decision in our journey. If you want to be old school on account of we’re recreating a fond childhood memory, then you’ll mix ingredients by hand like Mom did. FYI: its fun to get your hands all full of flour and sticky dough so get the kids to help out. If you’re content to be more modern you can use that overpriced Kitchenaid whose purchase needs to be justified. So you know though, using the mixture will make the bread’s final texture more dense. If you use your mixer, use the dough hook at speed 1 until all the ingredients are mixed together, then ramp up to speed 4, for five minutes to knead. Below is the old school method
- Pour yeast mixture into a large bowl.
- Stir in eggs and shortening.
- Add flour in two parts, first with a large spoon stirring between each addition. When the dough becomes too thick to stir, use your hands to mix. It’s a good idea to tell one of your kids to put their electronics down long enough to help you add flour cause your hands are too sticky.
- Knead: Kneading is a crucial part of bread making, not only does it help insure consistent texture, it helps the flour gluten develop a smooth elasticity. Scrap the dough from the bowl onto a floured table and summon your inner Babushka to work your magic. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. I know you never paid attention to your Mom slaving away in the kitchen, but kneading needs a good 5-10 minutes depending on your upper body strength.
- First proof: Place dough in a greased bowl after it’s sufficiently kneaded. Now you need (no pun intended) to let it rest. Place the dough into a greased bowl flipping it over as you go. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until it doubles, which should be about two hours. If you have a proofing oven, you need to admit you’re spoiled. If you aren’t using your oven, put the dough there. If the oven’s busy, find a nondrafty place and put a cloth over the bowl to block out light.
- Second proof: After first proofing, punch down the bread. You don’t want to be too aggressive, just push out the gas that’s built up. That means try not thinking about how that snippety store clerk reacted when you had to audacity to ask for fresh cake yeast. After you punch down the dough, flip it over in the bowl and let rise another hour covered with film and a towel. The reason for the film is so you don’t contaminate your dough with wild yeast.
- Raisin time: If you’re going to add raisins, which I never do, divide the dough into three equal portions, add raisins, then let rise. Before the third proof, you’ll roll each portion into ropes and braid them together.
- Third proof: Divide dough into portions to match your baking pans. Grease the pans with butter, put dough in the pans, and let rise one hour. I usually double this recipe and use 4-5 pans so I guess two pans per recipe is about right.
- Preheat: Twenty minutes before the final proof is done, preheat your oven to 350 deg. F. Mom’s kitchen never had fancy gizmos like convection fans so we are baking on conventional oven.
- Bake bread 40 to 50 minutes until golden brown on top. Your dough will rise beyond the top of your pan a good three to four inches, so make sure your oven racks have proper clearance.
- Cool: Let loaves rest on cooling rack while you contemplate which loaf will be scarified for the aforementioned warm bread and jam extravaganza.
If you got this far and it’s before 2am on Easter morning, you’re doing better than the rest of us. And, now your oven’s free to start the Lamb Cake.