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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Daily bread

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By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Kathy Summers' whole wheat loaves cool. Raising nine kids on homemade bread made the Kailua resident a skilled baker.

Photos by DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Kathy Summers' third and latest book on baking bread, "The Best and Easiest Homemade Breads, From Start to Finish in 1 and 1/2 Hours," is a distillation of all she's learned and a tribute to her hanai father on the Mainland. "There are so many wonderful bread books. This is just one humble one," she says.

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Use instant yeast; store in airtight container in refrigerator.

Place flour in a large metal or plastic canister and, before measuring, fluff it with a large spoon. If it's packed tight, your measurements will be off.

With spoon, scoop flour into measuring cup; don't dip into container. Sweep away excess with the flat side of a dinner knife.

Measure oil first, then liquid sweetener; the oil will coat the measuring cup and the sweetener will slide right out.

Check oven temperature with an oven thermometer every six months.

Knead very lightly; don't stretch or tear dough; dust dough and counter with flour sparingly.

Knead pushing, folding and quarter-turning until dough feels soft as baby skin outside, but not sticky. The inside of the dough will remain moist; that's OK.

Do not try to mix in dried-out lumps of dough; they will not incorporate.

Loaves should rise until they are almost doubled in size; rolls until fully doubled in size. Too long a rising time can mean a collapse in the oven.

Always pre-heat the oven.

Bake in the center of the oven and don't open the door in the first five minutes of baking. Halfway through baking at about 15 minutes rotate pans in case your oven has hot spots and cooks things unevenly.

Bread is done when it's brown on top, sounds hollow when thumped and evenly golden brown on bottom (tilt a loaf into an oven-mitted hand and check). Or use an instant-read thermometer; center of soft bread should reach 190 degrees, crusty breads, 200-210.

Allow bread to cool 1 1/2 hours before storing it in gallon-size zip-closure bags with the date written on them. Bread keeps on counter for two days; freeze whatever you cannot eat in that time.

You can slice bread, freeze it, then pull out the number of slices you need and toast them.

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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."