With summer officially under way and fall harvest activities looming right around the corner, the next closest pagan holiday we'll be celebrating is Lammas, also known as Lughnasadh. Traditionally celebrated from the end of July to the beginning of August, Lammas signifies the beginning of the harvest and the end of the warmest, life-giving part of the year; it is a preperation for the fall and winter, and a celebration of the bountiful givings of the land. It's a lot like the traditional American Thanksgiving, with the focus on sharing the bounty of hard work, although truly that celebration is saved for later in September. During Lammas we share fall fruits, fresh baked bread, grains, berries, and those with altars sometimes add a small loaf of bread to their altar to offer up to the Lady.
Although I've already shared a good easy bread recipe earlier, those of you wishing to make bread that involves a little more time and effort (and thus more good energy and thoughtful blessings) but doesn't mean a billion more ingredients might consider taking this route instead:
3 cups of good bread flour (if you need a gluten-free flour, go for it)
1/4 tsp instant yeast (do NOT get the slower stuff, trust me on this)
3/4 tsp kosher salt (or about 1 tsp regular fine table salt if you must)
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water (you know, the kind of water that yeast loves)
Mix dough the night before you intend on cooking it. Combine all ingredients in a large non-metal bowl with a wooden or plastic spoon until it just comes together. It will probably look like a gloopy mess and will be very sticky but that's okay! Cover it in plastic wrap and set it on the countertop in a dark place for 12-24 hours, or really however long you need to. If you set it out overnight, and your kids help you make it before they head to bed, it can sit all day while you're at work or otherwise busy and that won't hurt it.
The next day the dough SHOULD be kind of bubbly and just as sticky. Use a wet or olive oil coated spoon or spatula to dump it onto a well-floured surface of your choice, then fold the ends around and use the spatula to make it into a rough ball shape. If you use your hands, make sure they stay wet or coated in olive oil or the dough will stick BADLY! Place the dough onto a large piece of parchment paper and put that into a large bake-safe bowl, such as a well-seasoned and coated cast iron pan, a Pyrex baking dish, or some other bake-safe container that can safely sit out. Cover the dough with a towel (don't let the towel touch the dough) and let it rest for 2-3 hours. About 30 minutes from the end of your "wait time", place the covered container into the oven and preheat it to around 450.
At the end of this half an hour, the dough should have doubled again. Remove the container from the oven and the parchment paper and dough from the container, then return the bread dough to the container (spray with cooking spray or coat pan with olive oil if it isn't non-stick or well-seasoned). Bake covered for about half an hour, then uncover and bake about another 20 minutes or until bread is golden brown.
For Lammas, consider instead seperating your bread into equal-lengthed strips just before the final bake and braiding it. Brush the tops with olive oil, then add fun and festive herbs such as parsley, basil, rosemary, chives, and cilantro. For ultimate herb flavor, add them to the bread during mixing. Consider making a similarly-flavored butter by just combining your favorite butter with the same herbs in another bowl and using it as a spread. These braided loaves should be cooked on a shallow or flat baking sheet on parchment paper.
- Add dried cranberries, fresh apple chunks, or a little brown sugar to make this into a truly festive Lammas bread that you can share with friends and family to celebrate the harvest!
- Consider sharing with coworkers, teachers, postal workers, or paper carriers by making a small braided loaf, allowing it to cool, and then wrapping it in an inexpensive checkered tea towel (think your local dollar store) tied off with a length of twine or plain string and a simple, handwritten note.
- Make it a learning experience: If you are part of a church or group that has younger members, this can be a fun chance to help them learn not only valuable life lessons (cooking, cleaning up, group contribution) but to learn about where food comes from. Have every child volunteer an ingredient if possible, and then get their help measuring out the ingredients, mixing, adding, and cleaning up afterwards. Obviously the baking portion should be left to adults or older members, but the children will love the chance to learn something new and will enjoy tasting their creation!
- Make a dessert bread by adding in a little sugar to the mix and sprinkling a cinnamon/brown sugar mixture on top of the bread just before baking. Afterwards, serve with honey butter or your favorite jam.