WHENEVER THE LATE food writer Anne Crutcher entertained in her home, she served a loaf of her whole-grain bread. She started her bread by reaching into the bins for grains that she ground in her small electric flour mill. For Crutcher, bread making became a ritual of relaxation. For her guests, the crunchy bread slathered with her own version of creamy boursin or homemade pa te' became a ritual welcome.
Crutcher may have been a loaf-a-day baker, but for many of the same reasons, others in Washington bake six, seven, even a baker's dozen loaves of bread each week for their own entertainment and for that of their family and guests.
Edna Rostow, coeditor of the Atlantic Community Quarterly here, has been baking bread each week for 35 years. In her home on the grounds of the National Defense University, where her husband, Eugene V. Rostow, is a visiting professor, there is always a loaf of homemade bread set out on a board with a round of cheese nearby. "There are so many reasons for making bread besides the taste," said Rostow. "It is nice to come into a house and smell bread baking. And it is a good form of occupational therapy."
Another dedicated bread baker, Gerald Donaldson, "wanted to be creative and use my hands, but being an artist was too frivolous. I had to create something useful." Donaldson is the director of Highway Safety for the Center for Auto Safety. "Despite the hundreds of loaves I have made," he said, "I still get excited each time I take a loaf out of the oven. Maybe it was my blue-collar upbringing."
For Donaldson, a vegetarian and proponent of the slow-rise method, bread is a centerpiece, not a sidelight, when he entertains in his home. While his family and guests might add butter to the bread, he prefers eating the bread plain, often accompanied by two or three kinds of vegetables. "The bread gets eaten instantly. We eat enormous amounts in our family."
Rostow's bread accompanies the main course. "The other night, some people came over for dinner . . . I baked nine loaves of bread, made a squid salad, and we had a lovely meal."
For Donaldson, bread baking began in the counterculture of the '60s, but for Rostow it stemmed from her childhood love of fresh European bread delivered to her parents' home in New Haven. "I hated American-bought bread except for the original Pepperidge Farm bread. In the early '50s we were all experimenting with gourmet cooking and I read about a nonfat bread made at Cornell University. That is how I got started."
Now a grandmother of four, Rostow has passed on her tradition to her daughter Jessica, who bakes the same six-grain bread. Edna Rostow's Bread Makes 4 to 5 loaves
4 tablespoons yeast
9 to 10 cups warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup honey
4 teaspoons salt
1 5-pound bag unbleached all-purpose flour
4 cups whole-wheat flour
2 cups quick oatmeal
1 1/2 to 2 cups toasted wheat germ
1 cup bran flakes
1 cup soy flakes Combine the yeast with 2 cups of the water and the sugar. Proof and then combine with the remaining ingredients.
Knead well and let rest until it doubles in bulk in a warm place. Weigh and divide into 2-pound loaves.
Let rise until the dough curves over the top of pan, about 2 hours. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 10 minutes and reduce to 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes.