Here is my Polish grandmother’s signature bread, and no one in the family, no one, had the recipe. She was an elegant lady who also was a fabulous cook, including dishes such as tender venison steak and walnut-stuffed turkey. But she made this always round, hard crust bread almost daily, sometimes adding raisins and topping with sugar. This bread was treasured, especially at my mother’s swanky Christmas parties. And, one summer, a grandson entered her bread at the Wisconsin State Fair, where it promptly won a blue ribbon.
My grandmother never used a recipe for her bread, of course, and would gently laugh while raising her shoulders when we asked how to make it. But we could watch.
This “close-as-we-can-get” recipe comes through my uncle and aunt. He was the second youngest of her nine children, and saw her make bread countless times. I’m so grateful, for as I follow it, grandma comes to life, there in her small kitchen, brewing strong black coffee as she scalds the milk with butter and sugar, then softens yeast for her bread. Then she stops, turns, and in her wonderful Polish accent, asks me to “wait a minute,” as she pulls ginger cookies down from the pantry for me before turning back to her bread.
Bernice Zurawski’s Bread
½ lb. butter, and more to generously grease the bread rising bowl and bread pan
1 c. granulated sugar
1 tbsp. salt
2 yeast cakes
1 c. whole milk
6-8 c. flour “to work with,” Sarasota flour preferred
about 1 c. of raisins, (optional) soak in water until plump, drain well
1 tbsp. granulated sugar for sprinkling top of raisin bread
Combine milk, salt, sugar and butter in a small sauce pan. Heat on low until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves, scalding the milk. Cool to lukewarm. Dissolve the yeast in warm water (110°-115° F.) in a warm cup.
In a kneading bowl, mix eggs and about 5 c. of flour. If making raisin bread, add the raisins now. Add the cooled milk mixture and yeast. Mix well, adding flour as needed until the dough can be readily kneaded and is not sticky. Knead well.
Place the dough in a buttered bowl, turning dough over to grease the top. Cover with a dry cloth and let rise in a warm place until it doubles (about 1¼ hrs). Punch down, knead and let rise once more. Shape into loaves and place into generously buttered loaf pan. Tip: my grandmother always used round “roasters,” the type of pot one would typically use to make stew or roast meat. An enameled cast iron roaster is perfect.
Once the dough has expanded, cook at 350° F., 30-45 min. (longer for raisin bread). ~And, if making raisin bread, …. during the last-minute of baking, coat the hot loaf with a bit of butter or, if you prefer, egg white and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Remove from pan and cool on a rack.