The cookbooks of the world must hold a million recipes for bread, and each can be changed, added to, dressed up or left alone. Flours vary so much that even the same bread, baked twice, may well be different each time.
And because bread dough is such a smooth medium, like clay, the shaping of breads can easily become art. Dough can be rolled like jelly rolls, braided, twisted, slashed like French bread or shaped into designs.
You can add raisins or fruits, or even shape it like Italian bread Easter baskets and bake it with hard-boiled eggs braided right into the design. Bread will go as far as you want to take it. And, with the holidays beginning, it's a good time to start baking it.
The first recipe is simple, a standard whole-wheat French bread. Its unique, chewy texture is caused by the fact that it contains no fat. It comes out crispy, pretty and utterly delicious. WHOLE-WHEAT FRENCH BREAD -- Dissolve one cake or package of yeast in 1 1/4 cup warm water. Add 1/2 tsp. sugar and 1 Tbs. salt. Stir in 2 cups unbleached white flour. Turn it out to a floured surface and knead until it's smooth and firm. Put it into a large bowl, and put that someplace warm until the dough doubles in size. Punch it down and knead it again. Shape it into French loaves by rolling it out like long sausages. You should get two regular-size or three small. Lay them on a cookie sheet that has been greased and dusted with cornmeal, and slash each one diagonally a few times. Put the loaves someplace warm till they double. Then brush with water for a crisp crust and bake at 350 degrees until they're golden, and sound hollow if you knock on them. Like all French breads, this gets hard fast, because it has no fat to keep it soft. If you make more than you can use in two days, freeze the rest for later. SWEET BREAD -- Dissolve one package or cake of yeast in 1 1/2 cups warm water, and add 1/4 cup honey, 1 1/2 tsp. salt, 3 Tbsp. melted butter or oil. Stir in 2 cups of whole-wheat and 2 of unbleached flour. The dough will be sticky. Cover it and keep it warm until it doubles in size. Then stir it down. This is the time to add flavoring, raisins or whatever. A half-teaspoon of crushed cardamom gives the bread a Scandinavian flavor. Use cinnamon, grated citrus rind or whatever appeals to you. Stir in 1/2 cup wheat germ, and another cup of whole-wheat flour, and turn the dough onto a well-floured surface. It will probably take another cup of unbleached flour in kneading. Knead it well, until smooth, and shape it into loaves. If you roll it flat, sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar, and roll it like a jelly roll, sealing the ends, it will make into delightful cinnamon bread. If you make it into long sausages, and braid three together, it makes a really pretty loaf. Brush the top with egg yolk, and they'll make it dark brown, and shiny. Let the loaves rise, someplace warm, until they've doubled, and then bake at 350 degrees until done. ANADAMA BREAD -- For this New England specialty, stir 1/2 cup cornmeal into 2 cups boiling water, mix and cook until it thickens. Add 2 Tbs. butter, 2 tsp. salt and 1/2 cup molasses. Dissolve a pack or cake of yeast in 1/4 cup warm water and add it to the cooled mixture and mix well. Add 5 1/2 cups flour, knead until smooth, put it into a large buttered bowl, and let it rise until it doubles. Punch it down, shape it into two loaves, put them into buttered bread pans and butter the tops. Let rise to double, then bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.