Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Let's Bake -- Sally Lunn Bread

Sally Lunn is a very old type of bread, and, as most of you know, you can find many different recipes for it -- both for making from scratch and using a bread maker. In fact, my very favorite bread machine recipe is a Sally Lunn bread that calls for a number of eggs. Below, I've given my version of a Sally Lunn recipe for baking from scratch -- without the aid of a bread machine.

Sally Lunn is such an old bread that many different legends have grown up about how it got its name. Most of the legends try to identify just who Sally Lunn was, but one tale says that it's not named after a woman at all, but is a corruption of the French phrase sol et lune. Sol means sun and lune means bread. Here's an article about that if you are curious about the romantic history surrounding this bread. It also gives some extra recipes for Sally Lunn in case you'd like to try them, in addition to the one I'm giving.

Sally Lunn is a rich, sweet-tasting bread.

In making Sally Lunn, experienced bread makers will just have fun. Beginners will learn how to proof yeast and how to work with dough. You will need to set aside up to three hours for this bread to be finished, though you will be able to do other things while it is rising.

To get ready to make the bread, assemble three bowls. Two of the bowls can be smaller, but the third size needs to be large enough for bread dough. You will also need a small pan to heat some of the ingredients on the stove.

Grease a cookie sheet or spray it with a vegetable spray, such as PAM.

Make sure you have these ingredients on hand:

3 1/2 cups of flour (I recommend that this be all white bread flour, as this bread's unique flavor and texture depend on it being able to rise well. A whole grain flour might be too heavy for this bread.)
1 package or 1/4 ounce active dry yeast
1/2 cup melted shortening or melted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup milk -- more if needed
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
4 tablespoons warm water

Here are the directions:

Add water to the yeast in a bowl. Follow the directions on the package or jar for proofing the yeast.

Using the pan, heat the milk and shortening/butter to the temperature of a warm baby bottle.

Mix the flour, salt and sugar in a separate bowl. This bowl should be large enough for dough to rise in.

Mix the egg in yet another bowl.

Add the warm milk and melted shortening to the bowl of flour, salt, and sugar.

Add the eggs and the yeast and water.

Beat the entire mixture until it comes off the side of the bowl. Note, the ideal in bread making at this point would be for the dough to come away from the sides, leaving a "clean" bowl. However, because we are using two eggs instead of one, the dough may be very sticky at this point. Do not worry about that. It will become less sticky as it rises.

Cover, let rise in a warm place until double in size about 1 and a half hours.
When I cover bread, I use a bread cloth over the top of the bowl. Some people like to moisten and heat their bread cloth in a microwave, so that it provides moist heat as the dough rises. I have not tried that method. I have, however, turned the oven to 200 degrees for a bit, and then turned it off as soon as it was warm. Then, I have set the dough inside the oven or on top of the warm oven to rise. See the note below for tips on getting dough to rise.

Once the dough has risen, flour your hands. Pat the outside of the dough with flour if you need to in order to work with it. Knead the bread down in size and shape it into a round loaf. If you have never kneaded and shaped dough before, you're in for a treat. It's very relaxing, I think, and it always makes me think of the generations of women who made bread for their families. This dough does not take a lot of kneading, so don't overdo!

Place the round loaf on the cookie sheet and let it rise again to 1/2 again as big. This rising should take about 45 minutes.

(Note: rise times in bread recipes are approximate and rising depends on a number of variables. For example, your bread may not rise as well on a cold, damp day as it does on a warm, sunny day. Here's an article with some tips about getting bread to rise.)

When the bread is nearing the end of the second rising, pre-heat the oven. Bake it for thirty minutes. Then, baste the top of the bread with butter. Let it bake for another 15 minutes. Check to make sure it's done.

When it has finished baking, baste it with butter again.


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