Mama’s Bread

  • Pin It
  • print
  • email to a friend

Mama’s Bread

By Damon Lee Fowler

When the weather is bitter, when the world presses too close and my heart is lonely, or a hunger sets in that food alone will not satisfy, nothing lifts spirits and fills the void in my heart and stomach like a warm, fragrant loaf of homemade bread.

There’s something elemental and deeply satisfying about bread baking, something that reconnects me to my roots. Never do I feel closer to my mother than when I’m kneading a loaf and getting it ready for the oven. And as that heady aroma of toasting yeast and wheat fills the house, it sends a warmth that goes clean through to the bone, penetrating and thawing much more than chilled fingers and toes.

Really good bakeries are relatively new to the South, so when Paula and I were growing up, the only really good bread that we could count on was made at home. That’s still true in the more rural communities of our region; but even in cities where really good bread can be bought, there’s just no substitute for a loaf made with our own hands.

This is my own mother’s all-purpose yeast dough. She makes it into rolls for home, the standard bread for all our holiday meals, but she also makes it into small, neat loaves to give comfort to a shut-in, ailing or grieving neighbor—and to a son who is reluctantly going away after too short a visit home. Though we probably had Mama’s rolls most often, it’s those little loaves that best say home and love for me.

Mama’s Buttermilk Bread
Makes 4 small (7-inch) loaves, 3 9-inch loaves, or about 3 dozen rolls

2 pounds (about 7 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar, reserve one pinch for proofing yeast
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
½ cup water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter or oil
2 teaspoons active dry yeast

Reserve 1 cup of flour to use during the kneading. Whisk or sift together the remaining flour, sugar, soda, and salt.

Heat the milk, water, and butter or oil and pinch of sugar until just warm (110° F.), stirring until the butter is melted. Let cool slightly and dissolve the yeast in it. Let proof 10 minutes (All baker’s yeast should be given a test called proofing to make sure it’s still alive. To proof yeast, dissolve it in warm water and add a pinch of sugar. Set the mixture aside in a warm place for 5 to 10 minutes. If it begins to swell and foam, the yeast is alive, active and capable of leavening bread), then make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid. Work it into a soft dough. Lightly sprinkle a work surface with some of the reserved flour, turn out the dough, and knead about 8 minutes, adding flour as needed, until the dough is elastic and smooth.

Clean the mixing bowl and return the dough to it, cover with damp, double-folded towel or plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 4 hours, or lightly oil the bowl before putting the dough in, cover with plastic wrap, let it rise in a cool spot or the refrigerator overnight or for at least 8 hours, keeping it refrigerated until you are ready for the final shaping and rising.

Lightly grease four small (7½ -by-2¼ inch) loaf pans with butter or olive oil. Punch the dough down and lightly knead for a minute. Divide it into quarters, shape each into an oblong loaf, and put them into the pans. Cover with a double-folded damp towel and let rise in a warm spot until doubled and clearing the tops of the pans, about 1-to-1½ hours.

Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375° F. Uncover the bread and bake in the center of the oven 20 minutes, then increase the temperature to 400° F. and bake until the loaves are well-browned and hollow-sounding when tapped, about 15 minutes longer. Turn the bread out of the pans and cool it on wire racks.

Buttermilk Rolls or Yeast Biscuits: Roll the dough out ¼-inch thick and cut with a 2-inch biscuit cutter dipped in flour. Place on a greased baking sheet about an inch apart for separate rolls or into greased 9-inch cake pans, slightly touching, for cluster rolls. For pocketbook rolls, crease each roll firmly down its center with a knife, fold over, and put a greased baking sheet about an inch apart. For cloverleaf rolls, lightly butter two 12-well standard muffin tins; grease your hands, pinch off 1-inch lumps of dough, roll into tight smooth balls, and put in the tins three balls per well. Cover with a damp towel, let rise until doubled, then uncover and bake at 450° F. until browned, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Whole-Wheat Buttermilk Bread: Substitute from 1 to 3 cups of whole-wheat flour for the regular flour. Most whole-wheat flour tends to be on the thirsty side and may need a little more liquid, so have about a quarter of a cup of room temperature water close at hand as you mix the dough, so it can be added as needed.

Damon Lee Fowler is a culinary historian and author of six cookbooks, including Classical Southern Cooking, Damon Lee Fowler’s New Southern Baking, and The Savannah Cookbook. His work has also appeared in Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and Relish. Damon lives and eats in Savannah, Georgia.

Read More From Southern Recipes.

You May Also Like These Articles:

You May Also Like These Recipes:

  • Brussels Sprouts with Hot Bacon Vinaigrette Brussels Sprouts with Hot Bacon Vinaigrette
    View Now
  • Pickled Okra Sandwiches Pickled Okra Sandwiches
    View Now
  • Orange Citrus Bars Orange Citrus Bars
    View Now
  • Fresh Fruit Salad with Lime-Ginger Honey Dressing Fresh Fruit Salad with Lime-Ginger Honey Dressing
    View Now

Leave a Comment

Reader Comments:


Thanks 4 all the good recipes. Your Mom is a very special lady. She has worked so hard over the years. It's refreshing to see you boys working with your mother. She is a true southern belle!! God bless your Mom & her boys & family.

By Jimmie Sue Lindsey on September 26, 2013


I would like to make pecan pie bars. Do you have any recipes for that? Thanks y'all , I am going to try the recipe but I an not a ckn eater, beef eater. Me bad lol

By Sandi Carr on August 26, 2013


Can't wait to try it! I love making food from scratch. Paula always makes the best dishes!

By Brittany Byerly on March 25, 2013


I know this may sound like a silly question, but my parents gave me their breadmaker that they only used twice. Can the Mama's bread be made in the breadmaker and will I need to change the ingredients if I do use it? We are looking at making more food from sratch to lower our grocery bill.

By Laure Apt on September 30, 2012


I enjoy your food network programs, but when searching the web for basic recipes its sometimes hard to figure it out I just wanted to know "how to make home-made yeast bread. This will be my first time makig an attempt to do this so please email me with the recipe. Especially on how o prepare the yeast, I got the flour,salt,oil and ?sugar but HOW DO YOU PREPARE THE YEAST... H-E-L-P me. Thank you p.s. Tell Ina Garten, Paula D. and Giada D. their the greatest host ever, keep up the good work we love yall here in Braintree, Massachusetts. Please send me easy recipes. Ina I need some advice on writing a BOOK... That's all Artie W. @

By Artie on May 23, 2011


Thank you so much for this recipe. I followed it exactly as you instructed and they came out perfect...THANK YOU:-)))))))))))))

By Tricia on January 09, 2011

I enjoy baking bread,mostly hot rolls. My daughters have started baking bread too.There is just something about homemade bread. I use to work in school caf.[17 yrs.] and we made rolls and cobblers every week, from scarch .Nearly every thing was made fresh.I am going to make your receipe too.Really enjoy your t.v. show and family.Please keep it up. Thanks.

By Joy Stanton on February 24, 2010

This sounds delicious! I can’t wait to try it out for myself and my family! Thanks for sharing, I hope it brings memories like yours to my boys! God Bless…

By Tara Hewitt on February 24, 2010

I very much enjoyed this article and waiting for more to come. There’s nothing better than sharing enjoyable memories. My 12yr old daughter and I bake and cook together all the time. My older children and grandkids all come at holidays and we let the little ones help decorate cookies and make candy. You can imagine the joy I have with everybody together.

By Bonnie on February 24, 2010

This was a delicious bread….easy too !  My Grandma use to make a cake she called “japanese fruit cake” but its nothing like that sounds…it is so delicious and very unique….not the typical fruit cake you see in stores….This is a four layer cake with yellow and spice layers…and you make the filling with raisins, coconut, oranges, lemons, coconut milk, spices, and cinnamon of course…..Anyway, I loved your Mama’s bread - will make this again and have homemade chili with it! My husband loves you Paula and so do I….thanks for sharing your recipes.

By Gail on February 24, 2010

This Mama’s bread sounds just wonderful. I have never made “bread” but I think I could do this recipe. My aunt Ree made homemade rolls and I can still smell the aroma of them baking…and it has been years ago!!! A smell you never forget…

By Debra Wilburn on February 24, 2010

paula i love everything you’ve ever posted. so glad to be able to share your goodness. this bread is just another greatest hit! God bless you and yours.

By DEDEE on February 24, 2010

My Recipe Box |

Paula's Upcoming Schedule

  • September 20: Booksigning in Waco, TX

    Join Paula at DuBois Furniture in Waco, TX for a book signing and meet and greet from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm.

  • September 24: Paula Deen Live! in Charlotte

    Come see Paula’s live show at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte, NC and get a heaping helping of Paula’s recipes, and some good old-fashioned fun and laughter!
    Tickets available from Blumenthal Performing Arts Center here!

    Starts at 5:30 PM. Light hors d’oeuvres and beer & wine will be served, including a meet and greet with Paula Deen! 

    Sponsored by Springer Mountain Farms.

  • October 24: Deen Family Book Signing

    Join the Deen Family for a Book Signing at The Lady & Sons from 10 am to 12 pm.
    The event is free; 350 wristbands to be distributed starting at 9 am.

  • View Paula's Full Schedule