Comfort food! What's the first thing that pops in your mind? I think piping hot Italian bread straight from the oven!!
The scent of the bread perfumes the air with a wonderful aroma. It teases the senses long before you can finally sink your teeth into a generous slice. Comfort food is like tradition. It is something you carry forward and hand down generation to generation. In Italian culture food and eating is as much a celebration and rite as Baptism, First Holy Communion, Marriage, and the Last Rites and Funeral. It is about life not always about the dolce vita but enjoying the simple things . . .basic. . .bread.
While growing up our kids loved coming home to freshly baked Italian bread just as I did. It wasn't just the taste of the bread that brought them comfort, it was the cozy, homey, scent of it as well.
I remember one Sunday I had made three loaves of braided bread topped with poppy seed. The bread sat cooling on the wire racks and we had 45 minutes before we could pick up our six year old daughter at church. She was there with the first grade class practicing for their First Holy Communion. The class included the first graders from the Catholic school and those who attended public school who took CCD. We needed a few items for Sunday dinner so we decided to run to the store first. We knew we had enough time because Kroger was only five minutes away. We completed our errand in record time and was at the church 15 minutes early.
We all walked up to the church . . .but it was empty. . . quiet as a tomb. We knew that the schedule we were given said that it was at the church and the pick up time was 11:30. We proceeded over to the school . . . the doors were locked. No one was around. . . where was she. . .
. . .PANIC!!!
She was not allowed to cross streets on her own and to get to our house she had to cross three of the busiest streets in town. We rushed home. . .
. . .ran into the house calling her name . . .
. . . SILENCE!!!
We had to figure out some kind of plan . . . the plan ended up that my hubby would go to the sister's residence, try to find our little girl's teacher, while I would stay home in case she showed up at our house. It wasn't long before my hubby returned without our little princess. I could tell he was very upset and I soon found out why. The nun had dismissed the class early. She said that she had made the announcement on Friday afternoon before school let out. That was all well and good my husband said but the children who went to the public school did not get the notice. Well, said the nun, it wasn't her fault. No apology! No concern for the welfare of our daughter! No regard for her safety! It is here that I have to say that she did not approve of the students who attended the public school. . . the sister believed that they should be attending and supporting the Catholic school. Her attitude toward the students that didn't go to the Catholic school was not very Christian -- and that's putting it mildly.
The nun's haughty reply and attitude is what made a usually calm daddy turn into a man who combined words and phrases that the sister had never heard before. In his outrage he could see her face pale and her fingers start running over her rosary beads. He told her he couldn't believe that a person of God whose life work was teaching children could be so callous! As he was telling me what transpired the telephone rang . . .it was my mother-in-law who lived three blocks away. She asked, "Are you missing a little girl?"
We rushed over there as fast as we could. The minute we entered the house we were all hugging and laughing relieved that our princess was all right. We returned to our house and once we were in the kitchen I noticed one of the loaves of bread . . . a chunk was missing and it appeared to have been sawed off.
Our darling daughter explained that even though she was upset, afraid and crying once she got home, she was hungry. Grandma Antonia always made her feel better with her homemade bread so . . .she fixed herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Oh!. . .she did further explain that she used a butter knife because she was not allowed to use sharp one and that she scraped the poppy seeds off of her bread because she didn't like them. She told us that while she ate her sandwich she thought . . . and thought . . .
. . . she knew she wasn't supposed to be by herself . . .
. . .so she decided to walk to grandma's house.
She knew that grandma would help her find us. That's our daughter. . . always a planner and a doer. Bread not only comforted her but it also helped her to think and take action.
Antonia's Old World Braided Italian Bread
- 1 ½ cups milk -- scalded
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 ½ cups warm water
- 2 pkg yeast or 3 teaspoon Instant yeast
- 9 cups all-purpose flour approx. 40.5 oz.
- Mix the milk, sugar, butter, salt in a mixing bowl. Make sure the milk mixture is at room temperature.
- Add the water and yeast to the milk mixture.
- With the beater attachment to the mixture stir in about one half of the flour. Beat until smooth. Gradually stir in more flour and at this time switch to the dough hook. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). The dough should pull away from the sides but not be too dry. You may also knead by hand once most of the flour is mixed into the liquid. It may not need all of the flour.
- Place the dough into a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise about an hour.
- Pour the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into thirds, then each third into thirds again.
- Form into thick braids then brush each braid with a beaten whole egg--sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds.
- Let rise 45 minutes.
- Bake at 350 F for 25 minutes and cool on wire rack.
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