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Didn't succeed? Toss bread off deck and start again

After much persistence, I've achieved victory over the yeast gods.

Winter is the time to bake homemade bread, not from a mix, not with a machine, not with frozen pre-made dough, but from scratch.

I was a city girl until my parents built a horse farm in Rosemount when it was a farming community. In the winter, my best friend's mother baked bread every Saturday morning in a wood stove. At a table in the Jensen kitchen, we played cards and feasted on slabs of warm white bread dripping with butter.

I make Swedish Christmas bread just as my great-grandmother, grandmother and mother made. After mixing, it's a sticky bread that calls for three risings before baking, an all-day task, but worth it. Daughter Laura is carrying on the tradition.

For several years, I've wanted to learn how to make Swedish Limpa.

It's a rye bread flavored with molasses, anise and orange zest.

I was determined to learn how to make it but I had a lot to learn before achieving a finished product.

My first attempt was a huge flop. The bread was flat and tough. I threw it into our back yard to help the raccoons and squirrels make it through the cold weather.

I used the wrong rye flour, I concluded, and traveled to Whole Foods in St. Paul in search of finer-milled rye flour.

I made the second batch with a different recipe and the new flour. It turned out worse than the first one. Off the deck it went.

A third recipe made with beer to boost the yeast also flunked.

Depressed, I headed for a bookstore and bought a bread book. Daniel Leader in "Local Breads," educated me about making "artisan" breads such as sourdough and pumpernickel.

What did I learn from the book and my experiments?

In kindergarten, we all learned to follow directions. I reverted to that skill and buckled down.

I learned about the chemistry of bread making. Rye is not flour and needs to be combined with white flour.

Bread tastes better and rises higher if you combine the yeast with small amounts of water and flour and let it sit, covered, for two hours before adding the remaining ingredients.

When the recipe calls for kneading for eight minutes, do it. It takes four minutes when you use a stand mixer.

When I set the dough to rise for two hours, I stared at it every five minutes to see if it was rising. "Yes," I shouted, when it did.

I slashed the top of the loaf with a razor blade, just like the pros do, before putting it in the oven to bake.

Through the window in the oven door, I watched it rise, knowing I "nailed" it.

Husband Gary pronounced it, "good," as he slathered it with butter.

After taking some Limpa to the Bulletin office, editor Patty Drey Busse said she is interested in making sourdough bread.

"I'll get the yeast starter going right away," I said, with confidence. "It takes two weeks to get a good one, according to my book."

Judy Spooner can be reached at

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600