Salt and Light
Recently we studied Matthew 5:13 in my Bible Study class. The lesson there is about salt and light and one of the questions we were asked was about what salt does and how it is used. It was fascinating to think about it!
Salt is so basic that we generally give it little thought. Like water, it is essential to life but easily available to us today and so generally taken for granted. In fact, if we do think about it these days it is generally thought of as something that contributes to high blood pressure and is to be avoided.
Still salt is necessary. What's more, it is amazing! Just a pinch of salt will change the taste of food. It will bring out its savor and add to its goodness. And not only does it enhance food's flavor, it can be used to preserve it. Salt inhibits decay. It also cleans and purifies. It can be used in household cleaning or to heal a sore throat.
What I Love About Baking
When used in baking, salt serves still another function. In bread, salt is used to slow the action of the yeast so the texture of the loaf is improved. The salt allows the dough to rise more evenly, avoiding large air pockets in the loaf.
That is one of the things I love about baking - kitchen chemistry! I love the transforming reactions of fire and heat, yeast and salt, that are at work in baking bread, the staff of life. I see in it God's plan for us, an infinite number of life lessons and so many teachable moments.
For many years now, this particular recipe has been transforming pumpkin and brown sugar, along with flour, salt and yeast, into a wonderful seasonal bread that my family loves and lets me know they long for around the holidays. The batch I baked last night, two braided loaves, are already gone and I will probably bake at least a dozen more loaves before the holidays are through.
Braided Pumpkin Yeast Loaf
1 package yeast
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup milk, scalded
1/2 cup pumpkin
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup warm water
Add all ingredients to a bread machine. Set the machine to 'manual' so that you can take the dough, when ready, and shape the loaves yourself.
(Or if you don't have a bread machine:
Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Heat the milk, pumpkin, butter and water over low heat until warm, 115 to 120 degrees. Add mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until a dough forms. Turn the dough onto a well floured surface and knead for approximately 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turn once. Cover with a towel and let it rise in a warm place until double, approximately 1 - 1 1/2 hours. Continue as follows.)
When the dough is ready, punch down and divide it into 6 equal portions. Cover and let the dough rest for 10 minutes. Roll each portion into a rope 15 inches long. Place ropes side by side on a greased baking sheet, one inch apart. Shape into two braids using 3 ropes for each, beginning in the middle and working out to the ends of the loaves. Pinch ends and tuck under. Cover loaves and let them rise until nearly double (approximately 1 hour). Bake in 375 degree oven 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a wire rack. Makes two braids.
Notes: This dough can also be used to make biscuits, which are delicious served with ham, turkey or sausage for brunch or dinner. Instead of forming braids, after the dough has been punched down, roll the dough to a 1/2 inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut with a floured 1 1/2 inch biscuit cutter and place biscuits close together on a greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise until double. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until golden.