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Lee Fisher


Photo of reading at celebrationD is for Dough. Break bread if you please.

Bread is truly magical. I used to hate baking it because I could never get the yeast right. I spent the better part of three years trying to replicate my grandma’s Sally Lunn bread, a magnificent and fluffy treat made in a Bundt pan with leftovers perfect for French toast. All I ended up with was a short, dense brick-like substance that I wouldn’t force on even the birds. I don’t know why it gave me such difficulties, but one afternoon, my senior year of college, my mom and I tried again and she showed me how to proof the yeast. It’s a simple little task that takes a bit of patience, but I’ve never been disappointed since. And now I feel like I’ve joined a community that dates back longer than I can fathom.

You see, bread is old. We’re talking 30,000 years. And for as long as we can look back, it seems to be associated with community. Growing wheat was at the heart of agriculture, the practice cited as one of the main contributors for modern civilization as it allowed people to stay in one place instead of moving as hunting and gathering required. Widely known is bread’s religious symbolism in Christianity but a bit earlier than that, folks in the Neolithic Period noted that after a stalk of wheat died, more wheat grew back in its place, so it, along with women ‘s ability to create life, was regarded as sacred. Ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks similarly connected bread, grain, and agriculture to their respective religions. All of this goes to say, bread has got quite the history.

Originally, as refining techniques for flour were discovered, they became associated with society’s elite. To be seen as powerful, you needed good clothes and a white-bread sandwich in hand. Only the poor ate whole grains as purchasing processed goods was out of their reach. The reversal of this mentality is relatively recent and due to science informing us of the nutritional chasm between refined and whole grains driving up the price of artisan bread and lowering the cost the supermarket brand.

And then somewhere in the late 1990s, in the name of eating healthier, bread became public enemy number one. It has more or less stayed there since, all because of carbohydrates. Here’s the deal though. Carbs are found in all foods, especially all those fruits and veggies we’re told to eat. The problem is when fiber is missing from the mix. You see, carbohydrates turn into sugar and starch when digested, which gives us energy. Fiber slows that process down so the energy is long lasting. Without fiber, all that sugar gets absorbed at once and our bodies have a hard time handling that. Refined flours used in generic pasta, coffee-shop muffins, and almost any mass-produced bread have much less fiber. Whole grains have a whole bunch of it.

What it all bakes down to is this: bread is a delicious part of human history. If you’re worried about health, eat whole grains. If not, understand that it is basically a sweet and should be treated like one―enjoyed in moderation.

This became a favorite in my house the first time I made it. It requires molasses, which can be a great sugar substitute in other recipes such as ginger cookies, but it can also live quietly in your fridge for a long while between uses for this bread. If you don’t want to buy it, honey is a great alternative as is maple syrup. Sugar is fine but it won’t add any flavor to the final product like the others will. Yeast can also be expensive if you’re not sure you want to do this a whole lot. The little packages next to the jars in the store work great for starters. However, the jar will keep for a long time in your fridge or freezer.

Also, start this late morning and take the whole afternoon, leisurely letting the dough rise. Fermentation develops the flavor. Bread making is an art and should be practiced with the gut as much as the head. Feel it out and trust yourself. Though I know you’ll do great, don’t worry. If it doesn’t work the first time, welcome to the club. We’ve made t-shirts.

Makes: 2 medium loaves or 1 large loaf       Hands-on time: 30-35 minutes         Total time: 3 ½-4 hours

  • 1 tablespoon of yeast (or 1 envelope)
  • 2/3 cup molasses
  • 2 ½ cups warm water (If you have an instant-read thermometer, aim for 105-110 degrees. Don’t go above 115 degrees as it will be too hot and kill the yeast. Under 90 degrees and it won’t wake up as well. If you don’t have a thermometer, think of a swimming pool. 100 degree water is noticeably warm but won’t burn.)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • ¼ cup oil (Any kind will do. If you want, applesauce could work as an alternative, but it will change the outcome a bit.)
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • 2 cups rye flour
  • 2–5 cups all-purpose flour (spelt or whole wheat pastry flour are okay substitutions if you’re trying to be mindful about your flour intake)
  1. In a large bowl, pour molasses, water, and yeast. Let sit for a minute and then stir to dissolve, mashing up large clusters of yeast on the side of the bowl. Set aside in a warm area for 5-10 minutes waiting for it to proof (foam). It is important to give it a warm environment. Hanging out by the window on a winter morning may be picturesque, but you’re not doing the yeast any favors. You want it to wake up with energy, not give it a reason to stay dormant.
  2. Once the surface is covered with foam or you feel like it’s good enough (I say wait at least 15 minutes if it’s reticent. Otherwise, start over before all the other stuff is added and you’ve lost several hours and any desire to try this again), mix in the salt, oil, cocoa powder, and rye flour one at a time. Then add the other flour one cup at a time until the dough forms a sticky ball. You should not exceed 5 cups of regular flour as this will dry it out.
  3. If you have a KitchenAid, use the dough hook and mix for 5 minutes. If not, or you’re a bit of a romantic, knead the dough on a lightly floured surface adding flour as needed to keep it from sticking for 7-10 minutes depending on your vigor. A couple reminders: 1) Avoid adding a lot of flour as it will create those bricks I was talking about earlier. 2) The kneading process creates the strands of gluten in the bread that make it different than quick breads like muffins or cookies. You should notice the makeup of the dough change a little bit over time as you work it. To knead the dough, push the ball forward and down with the heel of your hand. As you bring your hands back towards you, turn the dough a quarter turn and fold in half. Then repeat the action. It’s physically engaging.
  4. Place in a well-oiled bowl and let sit in a warm environment for at least 90 minutes or until it doubles in size. I set it on top of the radiator or dishwasher. Let it stay undisturbed, though. Motion will deflate it, which you don’t want right now.
  5. Once raised, punch it down (yep, you get to use your fists), cut in half, place in well-oiled bread pans or shape into loaves and place on a baking stone. Let rise for about an hour to the size you want it, knowing it will rise slightly in the oven.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350 towards the end of the rise.
  7. Bake for 40-50 minutes (until an instant-read thermometer reads 190-200 degrees when inserted or it sounds hollow when tapped, feels crisp to the touch, and is still even in color)
  8. Let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, if not an hour, before cutting in. This is a work of art and patience. Don’t rush through it at the end unless you are really going for that freshly baked flavor. If that’s the case, don’t slice. Tear your piece off the loaf. If you’re going to go for it, go for it.


I grew up watching my mom make everything except for three recipes: pancakes for the first day of school, the Fisher Family cranberry sherbet recipe for Thanksgiving, and pies. These were Dad’s territory. He would take over the kitchen and reign supreme for those hours. At some point, he scanned the worn and stained page from Betty Crocker with the piecrust instructions, and I held it in the highest esteem. And then I found this recipe. I haven’t used Dad’s since.

This may seem like a bit of an exaggeration, but what is true for people is true for pie. Behind every powerful person is a partner who works their butt off to make it look flawless. Similarly with pie, the filling gets all the credit, but the crust is what really determines the success of the dessert. Because of this, I really recommend giving this a go, though it requires a bit more thinking―mainly because most people haven’t done it before. If you go through the process once or twice, it becomes as easy as pouring a bowl of cereal. You really can do it and the result is worth it. I will warn you, though. As soon as you do it, store-bought piecrusts will never be good enough. You will become a crust snob. If you’re worried about consuming animal products or gluten, I’m simply going to recommend that you pass this by. Sorry but there’s just no getting around it.

Also, though it will take more time and much more effort, you can do all of this with a pastry blender or a fork. And if you’d like, I love including the zest of a lemon when combining the flour, salt, and sugar.

Makes: 1 double piecrust (bottom & top)   Hands-on time: 15-20 minutes         Total time: 75-90 minutes

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (coconut sugar is fine for substitution)
  • 20 tablespoons (2 ½ sticks) butter cut into tablespoon pads (8 per stick)
  • ¼ cup vodka, cold (the alcohol will cook out―please don’t substitute for this)
  • ¼ cup cold water
  1. In a food processor, process 1 ½ cups of flour, salt, and sugar until combined, about 5 seconds. Add the butter and process until it starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds. Add remaining cup of flour and process until mixture is evenly distributed, about 5 seconds. Dump into a large bowl.
  2. Pour vodka and water over the flour mixture and mix using a folding motion until it’s evenly dispersed and the dough is tacky. Divide into 2 balls and press down a bit to begin the formation of a disk. Place in the fridge for 45 minutes to 2 days.
  3. Remove 1 disk from the fridge and let it warm slightly so that it will be malleable under a rolling pin. If you don’t have a rolling pin, I’ve used a can of cooking spray or empty wine bottle in a pinch, but these are both awkward. Roll the dough out on a generously floured surface (you don’t want it to stick to the counter after getting it perfect). Size it up by holding the pie plate over the dough. It should extend at least an inch or so past the edge of the plate. Carefully transfer the dough onto the pie plate and ease it in by gently lifting the edge of the dough with one hand while pressing it into the plate bottom with your other hand.
  4. Stick back in the fridge until firm, 15-30 minutes. Continue with pie recipe.