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By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor
When Kathy and Keith Summers married in New York state more than 40 years ago, it was their intention to live a life faithful to the tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and to have lots of children.
Keith Summers, now an O'ahu anesthesiologist, had two other ideas to enrich their home lives: they'd have no TV and they'd cook from scratch and eat together as a family every day.
Kathy, who hadn't done much cooking in her growing-up years, gulped and agreed. "I made an awful lot of funny things until I learned to cook," she admits.
Today, the Summers have nine children — ages 26 to 41 — 24 grandchildren, and three more on the way. There is a TV in the house, but no broadcast connection; they watch videos if they watch at all.
And Kathy has become a skilled from-scratch cook and baker. Especially a bread baker.
"We were very, very poor," said Summers, whose husband was in college and medical school (at the University of Hawai'i) when the children began coming. "Homemade bread tasted very good. It'd fill you up."
She raised all nine children without using store-bought bread, baking daily. Today, even with just a few of the children and grandkids about, she still bakes most days.
Their Kailua home is plain and modest, but she has the holy grail of many cooks: a Wolf gas stove and oven.
Though she learned baking from such standard references as Dolores Casella's classic "A World of Breads," over the years Summers became an expert and developed her own streamlined bread-making techniques and recipes.
"I'd have kids on the counter, kids hanging onto my legs, kids underfoot. I thought, 'I wonder if I can shortcut this' and I found that you could," said Summers, a thin, kind-eyed, soft-spoken woman who has written three books on bread-baking. The latest: "The Best and Easiest Handmade Breads, From Start to Finish in 1 and 1/4 Hours," (self-published, oversize paper, 2009; $17.95).
The book is a distillation of all she's learned and, typical of her, it's a tribute to someone else: her hānai dad back on the Mainland, who, though aging and battling cancer, decided to learn how to bake bread. Summers herself is a cancer survivor; her second book, "Healing with Handmade Bread" (iUniverse, 2004), was a reflection on the nourishing power of bread and bread-making .
"Whoever makes bread really makes it on the backs of the good people who made it before them," she said. "But bread is so versatile, you can be so original." She pats the cover of her battered copy of "A World of Breads." "I really never did do it exactly her way."
In her latest book, Summers outlines in detail her not-so-secret weapons:
• Organizing ingredients in advance — measuring and setting them up in order.
• Instant yeast, which goes into action more quickly than standard yeasts.
• Quick blending — no proofing.
• Limited kneading.
• One abbreviated rising only, right in the pan.
During a pleasant morning at her home, Summers gently led me through her recipe for whole-wheat bread, made with both whole-wheat flour and regular bread flour, which she said is great for sandwiches and appreciated by children for its mild wheat flavor.
I had tried two of her recipes previously: the white bread (which I made into rolls) and the 100 percent whole-wheat. They tasted pretty good, if a bit overly yeasted, but the texture on both was a disaster. Shame-facedly, I took along samples to show her and she agreed, sweetly and seemingly with genuine sympathy, that they didn't look too good. The rolls were hockey puck heavy and the whole-wheat loaf was overly moist, dense and gooey in the center.
She diagnosed my problems: overkneading and adding too much flour while I was doing it; under-rising; perhaps an oven temperature issue; not baked long enough.
But you know what? We ate almost every bit of that bread; even wrong, it tasted better than the average store-bought loaf.
"Even bad bread is good," Summers said, "especially when you're hungry."
And she repeated to me a direction she gives throughout her book: "Make it again. Each time it will turn out even better."
When you page through Summers' book, you may be intimidated by the length of the recipes. Don't be. As an aid to people new to baking, like her dad, she repeats the rules and techniques for every recipe — no need to go paging back and forth looking for her wise words on yeast or measuring or how to shape a loaf. They're in every recipe.
In each recipe she covers yield (usually two loaves or 12-15 rolls), checking yeast, ingredients needed, preparing to bake, measuring and stirring, preheating, kneading, shaping, rising, glazing, baking, cooling, thanking-eating-sharing, recording what you have learned, storing, freezing, defrosting and making the recipe again.
Summers uses whatever high-gluten unbleached bread flour is on sale, but she's careful to go to stores that are likely to have high turnover, so the flour is fresh-tasting, and she checks to feel if the bag is hard, meaning the flour has packed tight with age. She said you can play with bread ingredients almost as much as you want, but as long as at least half the flour used is wheat flour, it will rise and have a good texture.
Summers' bread-making favorites are the whole- wheat-with-white bread and her kids love her cinnamon bread and firm, chewy, no-oil pretzels. She sometimes forms the pretzels into letters, numbers, animals or other shapes and likes to make them with the children.
When I whined a bit about my bread-making shortcomings (I've baked a lot of bread successfully before), Summers smiled. "The real challenge in bread-baking is probably the things you can't write down — how it should look and feel. You learn by feeling when the dough has been kneaded enough, by seeing how high it should rise," she said.
As she directed me toward the right texture, Summers crooned, "It feels nice, doesn't it? Bread is such a nice thing to have your hands on." (Especially hot. With lots of butter and honey.)
Summers hopes people will find her book helpful, but she's modest about it: "There are so many wonderful bread books. This is just one humble one."