I have been planning on baking this bread for a long time. It has been one of my favorites since I was a little kid. My grandmother had a ritual: every Monday she would do laundry, and while the clothes were washing she would start a batch of six loaves of bread for family meals during the week. (Our family ate a lot of bread.) Grandma usually made white bread, but sometimes she would make bran bread, which I called white bread with brown specks. My mother was also a good baker, making family-famous breads, rolls, and sticky buns. I had one particularly bad year when I was around five or six years old. I was hospitalized five times, the last one for a tonsillectomy. When I awoke from the anesthesia, my mother and father were at my bedside. They asked if there was something that they could get for me. In my drowsiness I said that what I wanted most was some white bread with brown specks. That had to wait until after my rehabilitation with Jello, custard, and pudding. When I was able to eat more solid food, my mother baked the bread, this bran bread. From that time on, as a welcome gift, she always baked a couple of loaves whenever I returned home from college and even when my own family and I visited many years later.
The secret ingredient for this bread is All-Bran cereal. Probably my mother or grandmother got the original recipe from a cereal box. Another important ingredient, molasses, gives the loaf a slightly sweet, earthy taste. In any case, the recipe makes a delicious loaf with tight, flavorful crumb and a chewy, thick crust. For this bread, in particular, I have always wished that you could bake a loaf of nothing but ends (or heels as we always called them). The bread is perfect just slathered with butter, but it also goes well with cheddar cheese or fresh fruit preserves.
Ready for rising
Bread and butter
Grandma’s Bran Bread
- 3 cups lukewarm water
- 1 package dry yeast
- 1 cup All Bran cereal
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- 3 tablespoons melted butter + more for brushing tops of baked loaves
- 8 cups (about) unbleached all-purpose flour
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the warm water and yeast. Mix in the bran and allow to rest for a few minutes. Then add salt, sugar, molasses, and melted butter. Mix well.
- Add flour, a cup at a time. Stir thoroughly after each addition. You will be able to add about 6 cups of flour before the dough becomes too stiff to mix in the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a flat working surface covered with the remaining 2 cups of flour and knead until the flour is completely absorbed, and the dough has a springy consistency.
- Return the dough to the washed, dried, and lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel. Set in a warm place and allow to rise to double in volume. Punch down and let rise again until doubled.
- Deflate the dough and divide in half. Shape each half into a loaf, and place in two greased 9×5 inch bread pans. Let rise again until doubled. Bake in an oven preheated to 375°F for 1 hour or until the loaves test for doneness with a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.
- Transfer to a baking rack to cool completely before slicing.
Our son, Peter, is one of the bakers of the family. It was he who learned to make biscuits at his grandmother’s side. He also built a brick-lined oven in the kitchen stove, to the consternation of his wife, René. Peter and René and their two daughters visited for a few days from the Bay Area. The girls brought a candle, paperweight, and some art work that they had made. Peter brought a beautiful loaf of challah from a batch of twelve loaves that he had made as holiday gifts for friends and neighbors. It was a beautiful loaf, lightly golden and topped with sesame seeds. I use the term, “was” because it disappeared the first morning, toasted and buttered, along with a cup of tea or coffee. None was left for the excellent French toast it would make. René spent some of her time working on my pronunciation “challah”. Peter says his recipe came from Baking with Julia, Dorie Greenspan, William Morrow and Co., New York, 1996, p 93. The book is the companion of the television show of the same name. The TV baker and recipe author was Lauren Groveman, a cookbook author and life coach. This is my edited version of that recipe.
FOR THE BREAD
- 1½ tablespoons active dry yeast
- ½ cup tepid water
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup whole milk
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2½ teaspoons salt
- 4 large eggs
- 6½ cups all-purpose flour, measured and set aside
- melted butter
FOR THE GLAZE
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon water
- sesame seeds
- coarse salt
- In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the tepid water. Be sure the water is not so hot as to kill the yeast. Set aside for 5 minutes.
- In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the butter and milk. Stir occasionally until the butter is melted and the mixture is warm. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and add the sugar, honey, and salt. Stir with a large wooden spoon until completely mixed and the sugar and salt are dissolved. Cool if necessary until it is just warm to the touch. (No more than 110°F)
- Stir in the dissolved yeast and the eggs. Then add flour, ½ cup at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon to completely incorporate the flour before the next addition. When you have stirred in about 5 cups of flour and the dough is getting too stiff to stir, turn the dough out on a work surface covered with the remaining flour. Knead for at least 10 minutes until most of the flour is incorporated and the dough no longer sticks to your hands or work surface and is smooth and elastic.
- Wash, dry, and grease the mixing bowl. Shape the dough into a ball, brush with melted butter, and transfer to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place in the kitchen to rise until doubled, about 1½ to 2 hours. When the dough has risen, punch down, cover again, and let rise a second time until doubled, about 45 minutes to an hour.
- Deflate the twice-risen dough and cut in half, setting one half aside, covered, while you work with the other half.
- Divide the dough into three equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about 16 inches long, thicker in the middle and tapered at each end. Align the three ropes together. Working from the center, braid the three ropes together, tucking the ends underneath when you have finished the braiding. Turn the loaf around and, again working from the center, braid the three ropes together, tucking the ends underneath the loaf when you are finished.
- Repeat the braiding process with the second half of the dough.
- Transfer the loaves to two baking sheets lined with parchment or a silpat. Cover the loaves with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for about 40 minutes or until nearly doubled.
- While the loaves are rising, whisk the egg, egg yolk and water together, forcing the mixture through a sieve so that it is smooth. Brush the tops of the risen loaves with the mixture; let the loaves sit for 5 minutes; and brush again. Sprinkle the glazed loaves with sesame seeds and coarse salt.
- Bake the loaves in the middle of an oven preheated to 375°F for 20 minutes. Brush the loaves with glaze and continue to bake for 20 more minutes or until browned and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.
- Transfer to a baking rack and cool completely.
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