Let’s Make Yeast Bread

Quick breads like biscuits, cornbread and fruity nut breads are much more a part of our Southern heritage than yeast breads. Probably because corn was sometimes the only grain grown on small farms. The wheat grown in the South is low protein and better for quick breads or soft yeast breads.

If you have not made yeast breads, but always wanted to try, Holiday Cinnamon Rolls are a great place to start. They’re not totally dependent on texture, providing a variance in finished product from a little chewy to light and airy – delicious either way.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Yeast is a plant that produces gas to make the dough rise.  When adding the liquid it needs to be warm, but not hot. Recipes will usually suggest the proper temperature which you can check using a thermometer. Just remember, it should be similar to the temperature of a baby’s bottle.
  • Forget the gentle handling. Most yeast doughs need to be kneaded for several minutes to create the elastic structure needed for the dough to rise.
  • Most recipes suggest putting the dough in a warm place to rise. Alice Jarman, who started the Martha White Test Kitchen, always let her dough rise in a cold oven with a pan of warm water on the rack underneath. But it will rise on the counter or even in the refrigerator.

Give it a try. You’ll enjoy the process and the wonderful results.

Alice Jarman and the Martha White® Test Kitchen

We talked recently about the history of Cohen E. Williams’ idea of starting a test kitchen. He realized that he had developed a loyal customer base for self-rising flour and corn meal, but knew there were many undiscovered uses for these convenient products in addition to biscuits and cornbread. In 1952, Cohen decided to start a test kitchen and hired Alice Jarman to be the first director.

Alice grew up on the family farm in Middle Tennessee. After majoring in home economics at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama, she worked in the Midwest for a power company and later a major flour company. Delighted by the idea of moving back home, she accepted the challenge of starting The Martha White test kitchen.

Her first order of business was to develop more recipes using self-rising flour and corn meal. She soon had a delicious collection of recipes to share, perfect for pancakes, waffles, muffins, dumplings, cobblers and cakes.

Before the days of cooking shows on television, Alice and other home economists, located in cities over the Southeast, presented cooking schools to adult and youth groups. Recipe leaflets from home economics classes, home demonstrations and 4-H clubs were distributed to the cooking school attendees.

Alice’s charming personality and free spirit made her a favorite among Southern cooks of all ages. Her philosophy of developing basic recipes using ingredients that were available in most Southern pantries propelled her recipe leaflets to become collectors’ items.

It was my privilege to work with Alice for five years before she retired. I have to say it was an absolute joy and a wonderful learning experience.

Do you remember getting Martha White recipe leaflets or winning a 4-H baking contest sponsored by Martha White?  If so, I would love to hear you story.