In for a good kneading

JOHN Bartlett uses a whole column of type to list all his quotations about bread, but he has only one reference to John the Baptist. Is this not a good thing to know? Bread has sustained itself and us from forgotten times, except that nobody much outside of a factory makes any nowadays, and perhaps extinction looms since you can't have John the Baptists unless you bake bread. (I can't consider the factory bread of commerce now rampant in the land, even if its palatability has been raised to that of a paper towel. To make John the Baptists, you need bread dough! So home-baked bread is in context.) At least once a week I am asked to ``bring up'' the bread mixer, emblem of a happy home, and nobody has ever told me why a kitchen item that gets used weekly must be stored down cellar with the jars of pickles and the water pump. But I bring it up gladly and after the bread is riz I take it back down. And for every carry up and down I get my just reward of John the Baptists -- proving I will do well to ask no foolish questions.

A John the Baptist is a little bread cake made by frying a dollop of dough in a spider. I have no idea why it is so called. If such a dainty were not called a John the Baptist, it would probably be called fried bread dough. And a John the Baptist certainly frustrates the demands of the emancipated woman who has allowed the bread factories to take over her domestic pleasures. We unspeakable gents left the baking of bread to her, with concomitant privilege of being loved by eaters of John the Baptists, and lo -- we don't get any. The torch was not held high and equal rights took over. Honestly, now -- when did you last have a John the Baptist?

I had four this morning, and I am full of my subject. Mix the dough for a batch of bread -- our mixer does four loaves at a time and the John the Baptists. Cast the dough on the breadboard (grandmothers always called this ``casting'' dough) and let it rise. Pay heed to time and temperature, and when it has riz, give it a good kneading. Slap it around. Housewives who have not loved their families this way in a blue moon may tire easily, but keep at it -- it's worthwhile. Do it right.

Now let the browbeaten dough catch a breath and rise again, and cuff it back a second time. It is now ready to be cut for loaves and put in the pans to rise again before baking. But you will take away enough for a pan of John the Baptists and make them ready before they rise the third time.

Pat the dough for the John the Baptists so it's maybe an inch thick. You can roll it if you wish. Then with a biscuit cutter you do just-'s-if you were making cookies or doughnuts (but no doughnut holes!) and lay things by until the frypan is ready. Bacon fat does all right, and in a pinch you can use butter.

Now comes the secret -- and every good recipe has at least one. Don't have the frypan too hot, because the dough for these John the Baptists has riz only twice, and the yeast action is delayed. Have the frypan just hot enough so the John the Baptists will puff a mite before they begin to cook. Then, when they're ready, turn the heat up (or move the pan to the front of the stove!) for a bit of a brown crust. It is well to synchronize this with the assembly of the family at table, since John the Baptists and families should always approach each other just right.

Some may liken the John the Baptist to an English muffin, which we can pass over without comment at this time. They do split up the middle, and then comes a widely divided opinion as to how a John the Baptist should be eaten. The various differences all start, however, with butter. Then some take marmalade, some quince jelly, some raspberry jam, and apple sauce is all right. A comb of honey or a drench of maple syrup? There's nothing wrong with molasses, either. It's pretty hard to spoil a John the Baptist when it's made with care and comes hot.

I should add, I suppose, that the full column of type with which ``Bartlett's Familiar Quotations'' covers bread has to do with bread. The reference to John the Baptist is about something else.

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