My Newfoundland mom's bread recipe is beyond measure. Really.
Measure with your hands and 'the glass mug Dad likes'
"The following conversation is no word of a lie." When we read Newfoundlander Krista's hilarious tweet storm about trying to extract the family bread recipe from her mother, we thought of all bakers (The Great Canadian Baking Show and otherwise) baking from instinct and memory when lack of instructions (hello, technical challenge!) leave you to fill in the blanks. Enjoy her story below!
Like most Newfoundlanders, homemade bread was a childhood staple for me. Huge slices of bread that didn't fit the toaster properly, smothered in Mom's raspberry jam. Crunchy crust. Fluffy inside. Buttery aftertaste. Stick-to-your-ribs sensation. Bakery bread could never compete.
Well into her eighties, Mom can't bake bread anymore. I worry about losing such an important part of my childhood, and I've been trying to hammer down Mom's recipe since the early '00s. An old church cookbook has my scribbled notes from when I watched her bake it years ago. Desperate for a taste of home, I decided to get to the bottom of the bread.
Mom: You needs a bag of flour. The big bag. Not the big, big bag. But the big one.
I later learned this means a 7-lb bag; a size that doesn't exist in my Edmonton grocery store, or as Mom calls it, "that place up there."
When I asked about how much sugar and salt to use, she recommended her tried-and-true method.
Mom: You needs more than double the sugar than the salt.
Me: How much?
Mom: Just pour it in your hand
Me: How much of your hand?
Mom: Just in your hand, maid.
Yes, my mother calls me "maid." As do most of the older women back home.
And now for the yeast. How much?
Mom: You needs a pack.
Me: One pack?
Mom: One three pack, yes.
Me: Okay, so 3 packs?
Mom:You don't want to put in that much yeast!
Me: Okay. What else?
Mom: You gotsta heat up the milk. I puts in 6 mugs.
Mom: The glass mug Dad likes.
I had some confusions about milk or water, mostly because she was telling me how others make bread. That explains the question mark on my old scribbles, at least.
I clarified shortening and melted butter amounts. Shortening in the dough "if I wanted" or just to grease the buns while they rose.
Granted, I was probably eight or 10 before we got our first electric range. But I remember our old wood stove having an oven temperature gauge. (An aside, 200 degrees is perfect for warming cold kid toes.)
Me: What do you bake it on?
Mom: You puts in the pans, maid.
Me: I mean, temperature.
Mom: Not too hot.
Temperature cleared away, the last obvious question remained: how long do I bake it?
Mom: Until it's baked.
Me: How long does that take?
The recipe for now (because it will change)
With the help of my sister-in-law and her late mother's recipe book, I got a starting point. The bread still has problems — a bit too dense, the crust too flaky—but it's getting there. I'm embarrassed to share the working recipe (you'll see why), but here it is:
2 tbsp yeast (?)
½ tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
3+ cups water
8+ cups flour
¼ cup shortening, melted (too much?)
Butter (not enough?)
- Add yeast, sugar, and 1 cup of warm water together. Mix the yeast sponge with some flour. Add shortening, and alternate flour and water until it forms a ball.
- Use the STIR setting on the mixer (sorry, Mom). Add water and flour as needed. (Measure?)
- Rise for a time. Punch down. Form into three buns per greased pan. Smear with warm butter or maybe the shortening. Cover and rise again.
- Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until done. Coat with more butter. Cut off a piece for yourself to make sure it's okay. Let cool for everyone else.
- Maybe baking without an actual recipe is a genetic thing...
- The result!
The one on the paper plate is a Touton. You fry up (in butter) the leftover dough that doesn't fit while the bread is baking and smother it in more butter and molasses (or jam...or both, if you're my Dad).
Does your family have a traditional recipe that you've never been able to nail down? Be sure to read the rest of the thread as other aspiring bakers share their own stories of desperately trying to capture their own secret family recipe.
Krista D. Ball is a transplanted Newfoundlander living in Edmonton. She is the author of 19 books, including "What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank: A Fantasy Lover's Food Guide." She once covered her corgi in lard for a cooking experiment, much to the delight of said corgi.