“Honey, would you mind making a couple of your coffee cakes for me to take to the office as Christmas presents?” my husband asked me. I have not made those coffee cakes in years, but they were a staple of my Christmas baking frenzy while the kids were growing up. In fact, my children didn’t know what store-bought bread tasted like unless they ate it at someone else’s house. I made all our bread from scratch: honey whole wheat, onion rye, pumperknickel, whole wheat raisin, and more. There’s nothing better than a peanut butter sandwich made with homemade peanut butter made in a VitaMix spread on a slab of homemade honey granola bread. That was the kind of lunches my children grew up with.
Bread is time-consuming to make, and I found it easier to make big batches at one time and freeze the extra loaves than making a loaf or two several times a week. Kneading five loaves worth of dough was quite a workout for my hands but very satisfying. Since I made bread on such a regular basis, I was an expert at knowing the feel of water when it was at the right temperature to grow my yeast without killing it. I knew the feel of the dough when it had enough flour incorporated into it and had sufficient amount of kneading. I knew the sound of the thump that proclaimed it had baked enough. These things were like breathing to me.
Then the children grew up and moved away, and making large batches of bread didn’t make sense anymore. I made a loaf or two a week for awhile, but homemade bread, not having any preservatives, spoils quickly and must be eaten within a few days. That’s too much bread for two people to eat. Let me rephrase that. Two people would have no trouble eating that much bread, but they would be wearing it around their waists, and that’s not an appealing sight. Believe me, I know. So I gradually stopped making bread altogether. Oh, once in a great while, on a cold, wintry day, with the winds howling and a pot of split pea soup simmering on the stove, a loaf of hearty homemade bread sounded like the perfect accompaniment, and I would pull out the ingredients and whip up a loaf. But those times were few and far between.
When my husband asked me to make two coffeecakes, I worried that I had lost my touch. The ones he requested were the ones with an apricot filling spread down the middle and the dough cut in strips along the side, then crisscrossed over the filling. My daughter-in-law had also asked me to make a loaf of challah to bring up to Boston for Christmas, so yesterday I decided to make them all at the same time. By the time I finished at the end of the day, the kitchen looked like a bomb had hit it, but I had three lovely loaves of bread sitting on my counter. If I had been worried I had lost my touch, those three loaves told me I didn’t have anything to be concerned about. I only wish someone would come up with a homemade bread diet because yesterday reminded me just how much I love making bread. Almost as much as eating it!