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My Big Beautiful Buns

To be completely honest, the main reason I wanted to do this entry was so that I could use that title. But there is a story to go with it.

I have been, like Rose in Louisa May Alcott's "Eight Cousins," in search of making that "perfect brown loaf of bread" for quite some time. When I was 18 in my freshman year of college, fed up with Zoology lab and not caring about the life cycle of the fern, I called home saying that I wanted to quit and become domestic and learn to sew and bake bread. That is literally what I said. Instead, my father wisely convinced me to switch to an English major and away from all those sciences, but I've still had those domestic ambitions ever since. I did learn to sew (and even quilt, I might add), but that "perfect brown loaf" has continued to elude me.

My oldest sister Helen makes beautiful bread. Perfect, delicious loaves every week come out of her kitchen. I once called to ask her how she does it, and she told me, "Well, it seems some people can make bread, and others can make biscuits." This was something less than helpful, but since I do make a mean biscuit, I figured I must just be of that latter category.

But I was stubborn. Every once in a while, I'd try again. I'd mix the dough and knead it until my arms were sore and my heart was pounding, but every time, I couldn't get it to do the second rising right. I was pretty sure this was because I needed to knead it more, but how much more could I do? My bread would come out tasting not half bad, but being dense and thinnish and no good after they were just hot out of the oven. The next day they were like rocks.

Then, my husband bought me a bread maker. Not wanting to cheat completely, I have only used it for its kneading capabilities. I mix the stuff up, and then put it in the machine to knead it, and then take it out again to finish for the second rising. I thought this would be the answer to all my problems.

I've mostly used said bread maker to make pizza dough and a couple batches of cinnamon rolls, however, until St. Patrick's Day. Seized by a sudden and inexplicable desire to do something St. Patrick's-ish for dinner, I decided to make Irish beef stew and fresh rolls for dinner. (In a side story, this endeavor also included a trip to the local beer distributor in an attempt to buy a single bottle of Guiness for the stew, and being laughed at. But I got it.)

The rolls actually turned out pretty good ( the stew was EXCELLENT. I highly recommend using lager in stew!) They weren't dense, but they did turn out kind of hard and crunchy on the bottom. TIm liked them that way, though, so I attempted it again a couple days later. This time I used a bit more flour, though, since the others had seemed to flatten a little during rising, the dough being soft. Well, this second batch was also pretty good, but kind of dry.

Despite these mixed results, I decided to try to make fresh rolls for Easter dinner, and had them all ready to go, using something inbetween the amounts of flour for the first two attempts. I don't know how they might have been had they not been rising on the hot stove that was cooking the ham, but the extreme heat made them rise too quickly and too much, and they crashed into a flat tray of dough before I could get them in the oven. Not wanting to admit complete defeat, I cooked them any way. They were - interesting. Kind of cracker-like. They were edible hot - but completely good for nothing a couple hours later.

But did I give up? Certainly not! Last night I made ham and lentil soup and knew that fresh rolls would just set the soup off perfectly, so, once again, I tried. And this is the result:

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Aren't they GORGEOUS! They were huge and fluffy and perfectly browned, and absolutely delicious. I sent one in Emily's lunch today filled with leftover ham. (she was very excited.)

So, at last, I have my "perfect brown loaf," or perhaps "mini-loaves" if you will. I just hope I can do it again....

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