Back to basics. I know of no cooking experience so basic, or quite so satisfying, as the baking of bread. Maybe because it deeply involves each of the five senses.
The sense of touch, for example. The cook is up to his elbows in bread dough, as closely involved with his work as a sculptor. Smell: No perfume from the blossoms of Araby can match the simple aroma of baking bread. Sight: Name any vision more enticing than the picture of butter melting on hot-from-the-oven bread. Taste, to be sure. And where, you ask, does the sense of sound come in? Well, if you don't hear cheers tonight, you never will.
This recipe came from my grandmother, Libby Robinson, and it has been handed down through the generations the way more affluent - but not richer - families might pass along brooches.
The Staples: Make sure these are all on hand: salt, pepper, brown sugar (or honey), eggs, butter, olive oil, wine vinegar, flour, hot pepper sauce, cinnamon. Also: bread pans, a wooden spoon, a large mixing bowl, a rolling pin.
The Shopping List: One pound of bacon; whole wheat flour (5 pounds); yeast (3 cakes or 3 envelopes); 5 large Bermuda onions; 2 cans consomme; grated cheeses (gruyere and parmesan); roquefort cheese; (4 ounces); one box raisins: lettuce.
Prepare in Advance: The bread. (Allow a whole afternoon for the backing.)
Begin with the bacon, frying it in a large skillet over medium heat. Allow the cooked bacon to drain on paper towels and set aside the bacon fact.
Put 1 cup of warm water - it should feel pleasantly warm to you wrist - in a small bowl and add 1 heaping teaspoon of sugar (or honey) and the yeast.
Begin the batter in a large mixing bowl. We'll start with 1/2 cup of bacon fat. Purists may shudder at this and I must admit I've never seen another bread recipe that called for bacon fat. However, I've never tasted a bread this good. Perhaps there's a connection.
To the bacon fat, my grandmother would add 2 cups of raw or brown sugar - but honey is an acceptable substitute. And 1 tablespoon of salt. Then, 1 quart of very warm water.
And now the flour. Add the whole wheat flour 1 cup at a time, beating each cupful into the batter with a wooden spoon. It would be nice to give accurate flour measurements, but my grandmother never bothered too much with measuring. You'll probably use 12 or 13 cups in all. But now keeping adding until the dough stiffens. About 19 cups.
In a small mixing bowl, beat 2 eggs for just a couple of seconds and add them to the batter. And now add the original yeast mixture. You'll need more flour. Add just enough flour so the dough becomes a large ball that you can remove to a bread board, about 3 cups. (caution! Be sure to dust your working surface with plenty of flour.)
Now the kneading. Allow at least 15 minutes for kneading the bread. Do not tear the dough but fold it over onto itself, using the heels of your hands to apply most of the pressure. Add more flour as long as the dough adheres to the table or board. When the dough can be handled without the addition of more flour, it's close to ready.
Carefully oil the inside of your largest mixing bowl and put the ball of dough inside this. Cover it with a dampened dish towel and set it in a warm spot, perhaps near a radiator. The dough should rise to double its size in about an hour. Punch the dough back down to its original size and let it rise again, about 50 minutes.
When it has doubled its size, slice the dough into 4 equal parts. Oil the inside of the bread pans. Roll the dough balls into log shapes and press 3 of them into the bread pans.
Now for the cinnamon rolls.Using a rolling pin, roll the fourth dough ball into a thin sheet. Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon lightly over the entire surface. Then dot it with little pices of butter and raisins. Roll this into a log and, using a sharp knife, cut off 1-inch-wide slices. Place the slices on a greased cookie sheet.
As the dough rises a third time, about 30 for 40 minutes, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the bread for 50 minutes then test - if bread is done it will make a hollow thumping sound when you rap against it. The cinnamon buns will be done in less time, about 30 minutes.
Also Prepare in Advance: The soup. Peel the onions and slice them thin. Melt 1/2 stick of butter in a large pan over medium heat and add the onion rings. Cook them until they become transparent, then add 2 teaspoons of white flour. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring, and then add the 2 cans of consomme and 2 cans of water.
Add salt and pepper to taste and simmer for at least 30 minutes. Just before serving, top with the grated cheeses.
Finally, the salad: Rinse, dry and break up a head of lettuce. Add the bacon, broken in to pieces. And the Delmonico dressing - 1/2 cup of olive oil, 3 tablespoons of wine vinegar, the crumbled roquefort cheese, salt, pepper and a shot of hot pepper sauce. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption