Baking Bread

Yeast in the Time of Corona

Baking Bread: Yeast in the Time of Corona, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Somewhere among all the COVID-19 updates in your feed you might have noticed that people seem to be baking a lot of bread these days. It makes sense– bread is one of those things that are suddenly in short supply in shops, but is easy to make at home (especially if you have a mixer with a dough hook). As soon as I realized our local store was out, I broke out the flour (and was grateful that there was still one pan I hadn’t packed yet). Although bread is now easier to find and yeast is selling out, baking is still a good distraction– and there is seriously nothing better than fresh bread from the oven.

Have you been baking lately? What else are you making while you’re stuck at home? Share in the comments…

(Pictures and recipe are originally from an old post on my other blog.)

Baking Bread: Yeast in the Time of Corona, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas (ingredients)
For those of you not from Ontario– yes, that is bagged milk in the pitcher.
Baking Bread: Yeast in the Time of Corona, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
The dough is still too sticky at this point (it shouldn’t be adhering to the hook like that). Time to add more flour…
Baking Bread: Yeast in the Time of Corona, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Once the dough sticks to itself but not to the bowl, hook, or you, it’s ready to  rise.
Baking Bread: Yeast in the Time of Corona, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
After rising for about an hour.
Baking Bread: Yeast in the Time of Corona, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Aluminum loaf pans I inherited from my mom. These are the best for baking bread, but you can use any loaf pan or baking dish. You can even just shape the dough and put it on a greased baking sheet.
Baking Bread: Yeast in the Time of Corona, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Loaves shaped and left to rise. Use the next hour to read, message a friend, or contemplate the nature of existence (Netflix is also an option).
Baking Bread: Yeast in the Time of Corona, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Ready for the oven. At this point you can brush the top of each loaf with a little milk or beaten egg white and sprinkle with sesame seeds or whatever else catches your fancy.
Baking Bread: Yeast in the Time of Corona, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
You might not have toilet paper, soap, or faith left in humanity, but you have delicious, sustaining bread, and that will take you pretty far.

Basic White (or Semi-White) Bread

This recipe came with my mixer and has quickly become my favourite bread recipe.

½ cup low-fat milk [I use 2%–you can use whatever you have on hand, including non-dairy milks]
3 Tbs sugar [you can use honey or whatever sweetener you have on hand, but not sugar substitutes]
2 tsp salt
3 Tbs butter [you can also use oil or margarine or any fat that will melt]
2 packages [or 2 Tbs] active dry yeast
1 ½ cups warm water [105F to 115F, or in other words, warm but not hot enough to burn you]
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour [You can replace 1 ½ to 2 cups of all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour if you’d like your bread to be more nutritious but not too heavy.]

Place milk, sugar, salt and butter in a small saucepan. Heat over low heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Cool to lukewarm.

Dissolve yeast in 1 ½ cups warm water in warmed mixer bowl. Add lukewarm milk mixture [Tip: if the milk mixture seems like it’s still too hot, you can cool it down by pouring it against the side of the mixer bowl in a thin stream instead of dumping it all at once into the yeast mixture.] Add 4 ½ cups flour. Attach bowl and dough hook to mixer. Turn to speed 2 and mix about 1 minute.

Continuing on speed 2, add remaining flour, ½ cup at a time, and mix until dough clings to hook and cleans sides of bowl, about 2 minutes. Knead on speed 2 about 2 minutes longer or until dough is smooth and elastic. Dough will be slightly sticky to the touch.

Place dough in a greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover. Let rise in a warm place, free from draft, about an hour or until doubled in bulk [the time it takes depends on your yeast, as well as the temperature in the room].

Punch down dough and divide in half. Shape each half into a loaf and place in greased 8 ½” x 4 ½” x 2 ½” loaf pans. Cover again and let rise again, about an hour or until doubled in bulk. Before placing the loaves in the oven you might want to add something on top. I’m partial to sesame seeds but you might prefer poppy or sunflower seeds or chopped herbs. Just gently brush the tops of the loaves with milk or egg white and sprinkle with your toppings of choice.

Bake at 400F for about 30 minutes. Remove from pans immediately and cool on wire racks. [Tip: the standard test to see whether bread is fully cooked is to tap on the bottom. If it sounds hollow you’re good to go. I recommend using a spoon to avoid burned knuckles.] Try to resist the fresh bread long enough to let it cool down a touch before slicing and slathering with decadent amounts of butter.

You can halve the recipe if you want, although extra dough is ideal to use in recipes such as Tiganopsomo (fried bread) and Wrapped Sandwich Loaf. You can experiment with add-ins too: try adding raisins and cinnamon to the dough for raisin bread, or add herbs and grated cheese. It also freezes well.

Makes 2 loaves

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

Aspasia S. Bissas's books: Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Magic, Tooth & Claw
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5 Bittersweet Real-Life Love Stories

5 Real Life Bittersweet Love Stories blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Valentine’s Day, the romantic holiday with pagan roots, just passed. While I hope it was a sweet day for you, it’s worth remembering that love isn’t always sunshine and roses– sometimes it’s rejection and struggles. Here are 5 love stories from history that are equal parts romance and tragedy…

Cleopatra and Marc Antony

cleopatra and antony
Cleopatra greeting Antony, A.M. Faulkner

She was Queen of Egypt, he was co-ruler of the Roman Empire. He envisioned himself as  Dionysus, Greek God of wine (and drama), and she captured his heart by presenting herself as Aphrodite, Goddess of love. Their relationship was based on passion and ambition, and it reached mythic proportions. Their twins were named Alexander Helios (the Sun) and Cleopatra Selene (the Moon). Circumstances kept them apart much of the time, and Antony was even forced to marry his rival Octavian’s sister, but Antony and Cleopatra met when they could and celebrated triumphs (and failures) together. Unfortunately, their actions led to war, invasion, and ultimately, defeat. Anthony fell on his sword in an honourable suicide. Cleopatra, knowing she would be paraded through the streets of Rome in humiliation, arranged to have an asp (an Egyptian symbol of divine royalty) smuggled to her. With a bite from the snake she committed what is possibly the world’s most famous suicide, while at the same time attaining immortality for her and her love.

Héloïse and Abélard

heloise and abelard
Abélard and his pupil Héloïse by Edmund Leighton

In 12th century Paris, an intelligent, inquisitive young woman named Héloïse was introduced to Abélard, a philosopher and teacher enlisted by Héloïse’s uncle to tutor her. Their intellectual bond soon deepened into love and passion. Héloïse became pregnant, and to avoid a scandal they secretly married after she had the baby (a son named Astrolabe, which goes to show that geeks have always existed). Unfortunately, scandal found them anyway (mostly thanks to her infuriated uncle). Héloïse was sent to a convent, while Abélard was viciously attacked and forcibly castrated. He went on to become a monk, and she a nun. Although they never saw each other again, they did resume a correspondence, and their letters stand as testament to their feelings. After they died, their bones were moved so that they could finally be together (there’s a dispute as to whether they’re buried at The Oratory of the Paraclete, or in their famous tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery).

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas

wilde and douglas

Lord Alfred, or ‘Bosie,’ as he was known, was Wilde’s love and muse at a time when LGBTQ rights were not only nonexistent, homosexuality was illegal. Their relationship was tempestuous, and marked by arguments, separations, and reunions (the latter, thanks mostly to a forgiving Wilde). Bosie’s father (the Marquess of Queensberry), angry about the relationship, denounced Wilde publicly. When Wilde’s libel suit against the Marquess failed, he was arrested and ultimately sentenced to two years of hard labour for “gross indecency.” Wilde and Bosie were reunited after Wilde was released, but it should be no surprise that their friends and families forced them apart. Then again, Bosie was a selfish and reckless person, and it’s debatable how much he really returned Wilde’s feelings. Interestingly, the phrase “the love that dare not speak its name” was coined by Bosie, not Wilde, as most people believe. Maybe a better love story was the one between Wilde and Robert Ross, who was possibly his first male lover and also a lifelong friend. Ross was with Wilde at his deathbed, and later commissioned Wilde’s tomb at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Ross asked the artist to include a small compartment in the tomb for his own ashes, which were transferred there in 1950.

Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley

elizabeth and dudley
Robert Dudley and Queen Elizabeth I

Sometimes genuinely loving someone isn’t enough. Elizabeth and Dudley’s story is a complex one, further complicated by rumours that have persisted through centuries. Dudley earned Elizabeth’s love early in her life, when he stood by her at a time when she was in trouble and it would have been easy to abandon her. Although Dudley wanted to marry her for many years, she could never allow it. As Queen, Elizabeth was averse to marriage, not least because marrying would have transferred her power as monarch to her husband, while she would have been relegated to quietly producing heirs. But even if she had wanted to marry, she couldn’t have married Dudley. There was no strategic political advantage to marrying him, he was generally unpopular, and he was a commoner (whatever position he had in society was directly thanks to her). He was also already married. After his wife died under mysterious circumstances, he was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing, but belief persisted among many that he’d had her killed. Eventually, Dudley accepted that Elizabeth would never marry him, but since he wanted heirs he went on to (secretly) marry twice more, for which Elizabeth never entirely forgave him. Still, he was her clear favourite and she gave him titles, prestige, and power; in turn, he gave her companionship, support, and devotion. They shared an emotional bond that even most married couples at that time could only dream of.

Dante and Beatrice

Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_Salutation_of_Beatrice_-_2
Salutation of Beatrice 2 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Alighieri and Beatrice Portinari’s story is one of unrequited love. Dante claimed he fell in love when he met Beatrice at the age of 9 (she was 8). Despite his intense feelings for Beatrice, Dante married Gemma Donati when he was around 20, while Beatrice married Simone de Bardi when she was 21. She died three years later. Although they barely knew each other and met only a handful of times, Beatrice would be Dante’s idealized love and muse for the rest of his life. She was his inspiration for Vita Nuova, and his guide to heaven in his Divine Comedy. Despite the lack of any real relationship between the two, the love Dante had for Beatrice has sparked imaginations to this day. There are paintings of the pair and poems written about them, references in books and on TV, and even an asteroid named after Beatrice.

Some of these stories may be more bitter than sweet, but perhaps that’s why they continue to inspire. Love isn’t love without a touch of the tragic. Or as the immortal Shakespeare put it, the course of true love never did run smooth.

Do you have a favourite historical couple (or a bittersweet love story of your own)? Share in the comments…

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

Aspasia S. Bissas's books: Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Magic, Tooth & Claw

(This article is a re-post, with a few alterations. It was originally posted here on 14 February 2019.)

Read More:

Cleopatra and Marc Antony

Héloise and Abélard

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas

The Life of Elizabeth I

Dante and Beatrice