He once had to spend more than a month in a Skilled Nursing Unit at the hospital after having a hip replacement. They had an activities director who did things with the patients to keep their spirits up and to get them socializing. One day she brought a bread machine in and made fresh bread for everyone.
Dad saw what a profound effect a simple thing like fresh baked bread could have on the spirits of the patients that he vowed to bake for them every week when he got out. Of course, he did it the old fashioned way, not with a lowly bread machine. "You can't get the love worked into the loaf if you're not kneading it by hand", he would say.
That was 10 years before he passed away, and for 10 years everyone looked forward to his weekly, sometimes twice weekly, visits bearing gifts of bread, still warm from the oven.
Faculty would flock from all over the hospital for a crumb of his loaves. And the patients would break out in smiles at the site of him coming in the door with his big brown grocery bags.
He never asked for a thing in return. He paid for it all out of his own pocket. His reward was the satisfaction in seeing so many people smile.
They loved him.
After he died, I visited the SNU and brought a gift of my own brown bag full of loaves made from his recipes. The staff embraced me and cried with me as they let me know how much my father had brightened their lives and touched their hearts with his simple homemade gift.
I wanted so badly to carry on the tradition but it hurt too much to try. So I only bake bread for family on special occasions.
I now live in his home and every day I use the counters, stove, oven and sink where all those loaves were made. I think about it often.
I found his bread book the other day and, although he's been gone for 10 years now, I cried when I saw all his handwritten notes.
This Oreganato was my mother's favorite of all his bread recipes, so I surprised her the other night when I baked two loaves for her.
She had mentioned in passing that she had to start eating store bought bagels after Dad died because she didn't have any homemade bread any more. I'm not making any promises out loud, but I think it's time I brought a little of Dad back to the kitchen and kept the bread making tradition going.
Makes 2 1.5lb loaves
A brightly spiced and herbed French-style bread (it contains no oil, milk or sweeteners), especially good when served with seafood or pasta dishes, Oreganato is seasoned with cracked black peppercorns, garlic, parsley and oregano and it sparkles with a golden glint of polenta nuggets. It's important to use polenta which is course, rather than cornmeal which is fine, because polenta retains its identity in the loaf.
8 cups high-gluten bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 C uncooked polenta
4 tsp. granulated garlic or 4 Tbsp. crushed fresh garlic
6 tsp. dried parsley flakes or 6 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
4 tsp. dried oregano or 4 Tbsp fresh, chopped oregano
2 tsp. coarsely cracked black pepper (this can be omitted or you can use reg. black pepper if you don't like it quite so hot)
2 Tbsp instant yeast or 2.5 tablespoons active dry yeast (proof active dry yeast first in 4Tbsp lukewarm water)
2 Tbsp sea salt
Approximately 2 3/4 - 3 cups water
Mixing and Kneading
Mix all of the dry ingredients including the yeast together in a bowl, then add the water, saving some for the final adjustments. Turn the mixture out onto a floured counter and knead for 10-15 min. or untilo the dough is elastic yet firm, tacky but not sticky. Enjoy the garlic and herb bouquet while you knead.
Proofing and Forming Loaves
Return the dough to a clean bowl, cover it with a damp towel or plastic wrap or slip the bowl into a plastic bag.
Allow it to rise for 1.5 hrs. at room temperature for the first rise.
Punch down and knead gently for 5 minutes.
If you are making pan loaves, form them into loaves and allow the loaves to rise in the pans for an additional hour.
If you are making free-standing French loaves, allow the dough to rise in the bowl once more for an hour, then follow the instructions below for forming loaves.
Forming French Loaves
Cut the dough into 4 pieces to make baguettes.
Roll out each piece of dough into a long rectangle.
Fold it into thirds, from top to bottom, and roll it out again, keeping the seam on the bottom.
Fold the rectangle of dough in thirds again, crimping the seam with your fingers so that it will not open up.
The goal is to create a firm surface tension that allows the bread to rise rather than spread out sideways. If the dough becomes too tough to roll out, allow it to rest, covered, for about 3-5 min. This lets the gluten relax and then the dough should be more compliant. If it begins to dry out, spray it with water.
Sprinkle a baking pan or French bread molds (curved metal cylinders) with polenta to prevent the dough from sticking and to give a nice crackle to the bottom of the loaf. Do not oil the pan as this will brown the bottom of the loaf prematurely.
Place the baguette seam side down on the pan.