Thursday, December 12, 2013

Nanny Milly’s Bread

 You know that smell that hits you when you walk into a bakery, and I mean a real proper bakery, that makes you unconsciously take a deeper breath in through your nose? You do it because you can’t help it, it’s reflex, it’s every happy scent receptor in your nose screaming, “Give me more of that”! It sends a little warmth flooding through you and it lifts you up, in part because you’re filling your lungs up, up, up with that heavenly smell. The smell of fresh baked, buttery, soft, tear-apart-with-your-hands-and-devour bread. With this recipe, that’s the smell you can fill your kitchen (/whole house) with.

One of my earliest memories is of sitting on my kitchen counter, stealing little pinches of dough to play with and eat while my dad baked bread. Back when I was little dad would bake bread once every week or two and the whole house would smell heavenly. The recipe he used, and the one I use now, is my nanny Milly’s, my momma’s momma. Truth be told I’m not sure how many times this recipe has passed down the family line, but it’s tried, tested, and deliciously true.

Dad was the first one who went to my nanny Milly and tried to hammer out a clear idea of the ingredient amounts, but like all good old-fashioned Newfoundland recipes, the concept of ‘cups’, ‘teaspoons’ or measuring at all was utterly foreign. To this day, my nanny describes her recipe ingredients as “Oh a fair amount of this, about a handful of that”. Endearing, but frustrating when you want to try and replicate their delicious product!

To give your house that amazing euphoric ‘mmm, bread’ smell, I’ve tweaked this recipe until it’s now a near-perfect replication of my nan’s homemade bread. I say near-perfect, because nothing can add that wonderful magic to a loaf of bread that grandma’s seem to sprinkle over everything, from a quilt, to a knitted scarf, to a slice of bread still warm from the oven, slathered with creamy butter.

You can make this basic bread dough either by hand or with a stand mixer, though there is one part of the process that has to be by hand, and that’s when you cut in the fats into the flour. There really is no perfect substitute for feeling through the dough and using your fingers to work the butter into small little pieces. Don’t worry, after that you can let the mixer do all the hard work kneading it for you if you want!

Whenever I give this recipe to someone, their eyes always bug out when I mention that there’s both real lard and butter in my bread. This is a pretty old school Newfoundland recipe. My only reply is to smile and laugh, “Of course! Why do you think it tastes so good?”

Nanny Milly’s Bread
This homemade bread will make your whole house smell wonderful, and each piece will make you come back wanting another fragrant, fluffy slice!
Prep time: 20 min
Bake time: 20-25 min
Yield: 4 loaves

2 ½ tbsp. dry-active yeast
1 cup warm water
1250g all-purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp. salt
1/2 cup lard, soft (or shortening, but real lard is best!)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, soft
Additional water, as needed
Additional butter, hard (3-4 tbsp)

1.  In a small bowl, combine yeast and warm water. Stir gently just till dissolved, set aside. In a large bowl (or mixer bowl if using a stand mixer), combine flour, sugar and salt, mix to combine. Add butter and lard and squish the fats into the dough with your fingers. Work it through the flour, squishing any large lumps you find until all the pieces are pea-sized or smaller.

2.  Make a small well in the flour & pour in the foamy yeast mixture. (If using a stand mixer, set it up with the dough hook attachment.) Have a large jug of water beside you. Begin mixing in gradual amounts of water to your dough mixture, mixing and working it with your hands until it starts to come together, slowly adding water until it is able to form a ball. Sprinkle your work surface with flour and turn out the dough. Sprinkle it with flour & knead for 5-7 minutes, until it’s smooth and not tacky. (For a mixer, add water gradually on low until the dough starts to pull away from the sides and form a ball. Turn the mixer speed to med-low and knead for 5 minutes.)

3.  Coat the inside of a large bowl with non-stick spray and place the dough ball inside. Spritz the top with a little non-stick spray, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for around 30-60 min. in a warm place, or till doubled in size. While the dough is proofing, grease 4 loaf pans with butter and set aside.

4.  Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 1 min. Using a bench scraper, or knife, cut off three equal portions of dough. Pull or roll them into a ball shape, each a little larger than a tennis ball. (You can weigh each dough piece to make them identical in size, but I prefer to free-hand this.) Place them in a loaf pan and spritz with cooking spray. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place. Repeat with remaining dough. Let loaves proof 30-40 min. or until doubled. While proofing, preheat oven to 350.

5.  Remove plastic and bake 20-25 min. or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool in their pans for 5 min. Rub a piece of hard butter against the tops of each loaf while still hot to give them a nice shine and crisp, buttery crust. Remove from pans and cool on racks. Keep stored in an airtight container or bread bags for up to 5 days.

* This recipe freezes very well. A loaf will last in the freezer for up to 1 month before quality begins to diminish. 


  1. Would it be possible to freeze an uncooked loaf so that I could thaw (and let it rise?) at a later date?
    I'd love to have a fresh baked loaf more often then I would go through a full recipe.

  2. This recipe is really forgiving, so you could always cut it in half to bake just a 2-loaf batch (or double/x5 it for a huge batch like I do offshore!). Freezing the unbaked dough would kill your lovely yeast, but you can however wrap up the unbaked loaf in plastic and pop it in the fridge for 1-2 days. When ready to bake, just set it on the counter to proof as normal (it'll take maybe 15-20 minutes longer since the dough started out cold) and bake from there.

    Or another idea that I do at home, is to take the extra dough you have leftover after you make however many loaves you need and use it to make toutons! Form the dough into patties, wrap in plastic wrap and chill till ready to fry up (In oodles of real brown butter of course!)