MANILA, JULY 26, 2005
(STAR) By Joy Angelica Subido - A. A. Milne, more popular as the author of the childhood favorite Winnie-the-Pooh, also wrote in The King’s Breakfast: "The King asked/ The Queen, and/ The Queen asked/ The Dairymaid:/ ‘Could we have some butter for/ The Royal slice of bread?’/ I do like a bit of butter to my bread! / The King said/ ‘Butter, eh?’ / And bounced out of bed."

Nowadays, butter is just another commodity that can be obtained from any grocery store. It probably would not be enough cause for anyone, especially a king, to "bounce out of bed" in excitement.

Long ago, butter was a very special item. It was used to flavor the bread eaten by the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Although available by 2000 BC, butter was not a common food item. Rather it was used as an ointment, medicine and illuminating oil, and, as mentioned in ancient Egyptian texts, the arsenal of warring imperial legions and the surgeries of physicians in classical Athens.

In Northern Europe, butter was believed to have medicinal properties and was ingested to prevent kidney and bladder stones. Superstition accompanied it, with an English custom offering a tub of butter to young married couples to ensure fertility and prosperity, while the ancient Irish, Scottish, Scandinavians and Finns bury their dead with barrelfuls of it (ostensibly to ensure that the dead will remain prosperous and continue to "eat the fat of the land" in the afterlife.)

Bread, too, has become quite banal. While ordinary citizens of yore toiled in their primitive kitchens and spent countless hours baking bread, most of us modern folk simply head towards the nearest bakery, make our choices, and then head home with nary a thought about how many man hours were expended on making the bread products.

Thus, the "Bread and Butter Basics Class," organized by Magnolia Gold butter at the Heny Sison Culinary School was a reminder for those of us who take the conveniences of modern life for granted.

After a preliminary lecture on culinary history and techniques by chefs Heny Sison and Jill Sandique, the group of media and bread aficionados were divided into several teams. The different groups were assigned to make ensaymada (the sweet bread that originated from Spain), focaccia (a flat bread of Italian origin), lavosh or Armenian cracker bread (a Middle Eastern yeast-raised, thin, crisp bread), pita bread (a flat, round bread, which is also known as the Syrian, Greek or Middle Eastern flat bread), kulich (tall and dome-shaped Russian Easter bread with candied fruit and nuts), and a basic sour dough, which was required to be able to make cinnamon-walnut rolls and grissini bread sticks.

Dressed in aprons and armed with the basic bread-making kits, the different teams went to work with the supervision of chefs Jill and Heny. As we mixed and kneaded and waited for the dough to rise, the chefs mentioned additional pointers to remember in bread baking:

• Yeast is essential to make the dough rise. The best water temperature for dissolving yeast is 105-115°F (lukewarm). Yeast dies at 135°F.

• You need to deflate yeast to release carbon dioxide or the bread will be sour.

• Allow dough to rise in the pan before baking. Not doing so will result in hard bread.

•Do not pre-heat your oven right when you start making bread since you need to allow the dough to rise and this is a time-consuming process.

• The main difference between "lean dough" (wheat flour, water, salt, and yeast) and "rich dough" is that fat (butter) is added to it.

Busy at work and eager to see what the other teams were up to, the participants lost track of time. Lunch was delicious but everyone rushed through it, impatient to continue the interesting task of bread-making.

The group was soon joined by famous actor Aga Muhlach, who, like chef Heny Sison, respected culinary teacher Sylvia Reynoso-Gala and French Baker’s Johnlou Koa, is an endorser of Magnolia Gold butter. The amiable Aga quickly rolled up his sleeves and got into the thick of making bread – kneading and rolling like the rest of us.

"While this is certainly not the first time I have conducted a bread making class, it is my first time to work with Aga Muhlach," smiles chef Heny.

Soon it was 4 p.m. We had been in the kitchen for six hours and the delicious scent of newly-baked bread signaled that we would soon be able to sample the products of our exertions. The results did not disappoint: Light, buttery ensaymada made tastier with generous toppings of grated queso de bola; crunchy lavosh and grissini sprinkled with sesame and poppy seeds; calorific but irresistible cinnamon walnut rolls; and a yummy kulich with just a hint of nutmeg.

The best surprise, however, was the pita bread with anchovy butter. The tops of the pita disks were cut off, anchovy butter was spread in the pita pockets and vegetables, like lettuce, tomato, onion rings, and cucumbers, were tucked into them. Delicious!

All the participants were pleased with what they had accomplished.

Jonas Idea, Magnolia Gold butter manager, who was with the group throughout the class, beamed, "It is Magnolia Gold butter’s first time to conduct an event like the Bread and Butter Basics Class, and I’m happy with the response we got. What made the activity extra special was that it brought together some of our valued partners, including chefs Heny and Jill and the ever-charming Aga Muhlach. Their presence and trust really reflect the versatility of the brand."

The Magnolia Gold butter’s Bread and Butter Basics Class was a rare opportunity for respected chefs to share their bread baking secrets with people who do not bake professionally. It was a welcome break for us who live fast-paced lives, as it allowed us to rediscover the pleasure and satisfaction of being able to bake our own bread and learn innovative ways to use butter. It was a reminder that all it takes is a little imagination to transform the ordinary bread and butter into something outstanding, so that like the author A. A. Milne’s character, it would "make us bounce out of bed."

Pita Bread

A flat round bread known as Syrian, Greek or Middle Eastern flat bread. Butter is not an ingredient of pita. Instead, it is used as a spread.

1/2 Tbsp. active dry yeast 3/4 cup lukewarm water 1 tsp. salt 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil 2 cups whole wheat flour 1 cup bread flour

In a large bowl, mix yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. When completely dissolved and foamy, stir in the remaining water mixed with salt and olive oil. Mix well, then stir in the flours, holding back a little on the whole wheat flour.

Turn the dough out on top of a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, adding more flour as necessary to make a firm and elastic dough.

Pull the dough on a large, lightly floured surface and roll into a long cylinder. Cut into six equal portions. Form each into a ball, and let rest for five minutes. With a heavy rolling pin, roll each ball, flattening to a disk. Cover with plastic cling wrap. Let rest for 30 min.

Bake for six minutes at 500°F.

Chef Heny Sison’s Anchovy Butter

1 cup Magnolia Gold butter, softened 1-1/2 Tbsps. lemon juice 1 oz. anchovy paste salt and ground black pepper to taste 1/2 Tbsp. chopped drained capers

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Wrap tightly and refrigerate until needed. Soften before spreading.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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