“Will the Real Kelley Bread Please Rise?”

Kelley Bread

A loaf of Kelley Bread in this family is gold. The original recipe rests with Ellen Marie Bates Kelley (“Nana”), married to the Hon. Augustine B. “Gus” Kelley, congressman from Pennsylvania. They settled in Bethesda, Maryland, and together they had nine children and 66 grandchildren. I am married to one of their grandsons, Bill. Early in our marriage I learned about Kelley bread.

Not every Kelley descendent makes the bread. But those who do are lauded for their efforts. The recipe varies and so does its name. The whole wheat bread is known as Kelley Bread, Nana’s Bread, Whole Wheat Bread, St. Vincent’s Bread, Mother’s Bread, or Ella’s Bread. Several of the recipes use bacon grease for the shortening element. The phrase, “Will the real Kelley bread please rise” is taken from the chapter on Kelley Bread in the Kelley Cookbook. Even the Kelleys can’t agree on the exact formula, but they all agree this bread is an essential ingredient of being part of the ever-expanding Kelley Family.

The Kelley Bread Workshop

One of the cousins, Danny Kelley — that’s Aunt Terry and Uncle Regis’ boy — claims that he has the original recipe. In fact, Nana typed it for him. He even notes that the “1” on her typewriter was broken so she had to use the letter “I” instead.

He’s been using Nana’s recipe for the basis of his own version of Kelley Bread. His goal is to make it healthier and has substituted canola oil for the bacon grease. He said they used bacon grease back then “because they had it.” Some Kelley’s will debate that the bacon grease gives it flavor and is what gives it authenticity. I say, no matter the recipe, the bread is gold.

Danny (or Dan) held a bread-baking workshop in his home last Saturday for those of us who wanted to know how to bake bread.

Dan’s Students

Sridevi, Dan and Luciana enjoy some coffee and Kelley Bread before we start the lesson.

Luciana came because she wanted to see how bread is made. From Brazil, Luciana loves to cook and loves to try food from different regions of the world. She says the more you travel the more open you become to different flavors. She and her husband have a four-year-old son and they enjoy food together. Luciana is a certified Professional Food Manager and has a bachelor’s degree in marketing, but she is looking to re-invent herself as a real estate broker.

She talked about Brazilian coffee and the “cheese buns” she makes. I want to taste those!

Sridevi is Luciana’s friend who is studying to become a dentist. She came because she is also interested in bread baking. She is an accomplished cook of her native Indian cuisine. She described the elaborate meals and told me about the banana cake she made for her brother’s birthday which they were celebrating that day. I want the recipe for that cake!

Me. I want to learn how to make Kelley bread. After all, I am a Kelley now. But I admit I am also intimidated by yeast.

Dan generously dedicated his Saturday morning to teaching us how to make bread. Before you actually bake bread it is worth a tutorial from Dan. Here are some general notes and suggestions about bread baking that will help you with any recipe you attempt.

Lesson One: Yeast

He strongly advises not to buy the packets of yeast from the grocery store. They are massed produced and he wonders how tightly controlled the expiration dates could really be. He suspects that is why when you use this packet yeast you have to leave the dough in a warm place to rise.

“The best bread is when you can leave the dough to rise in the refrigerator for 24 hours,” he says. “You’re taking your chances with those packets you buy in the grocery store.”

He recommends “saf-instant” brand yeast from Breadtopia.com. He calls it “high octane yeast.” It’s as fresh as fresh can be. He said if the yeast is good you don’t have to leave the bread in a warm place to rise. (He proved this.)

One yeast packet = one rounded teaspoon of saf-instant yeast.

Most Important Step: The Starter

The yeast is temperamental though. He mixes the yeast with lukewarm water in a big pan (to activate the yeast), stirs in sugar until dissolved then waits 10 minutes. Then he adds only a portion of the flour (4 cups or so), the oil, and water, covers it with a cloth, and lets it sit for one-half hour.

He calls this the “starter.” If this successfully rises in one-half hour, he can continue with the rest of the ingredients. If not, you haven’t wasted a ton of ingredients. “You just throw it away and start again,” he says cavalierly.

Dan said, “The starter will double in size, look like thick porridge, and have bubbles. That is how you know your starter has worked. Then and only then can you add the salt because the salt will kill yeast.” (Sridevi shook her head in agreement at this statement). Remember, the dough must be “started” in order to add the salt.

Put some flour on the counter, take the dough, add about 1-1/2 cups of flour and salt and “knead it down.” Put it back in the big mixing pan and spray it with a mister of water (his special touch to keep the bread from drying out or something like that). “Put a cloth on it, park it and let it rise two to three hours or as long as it takes the dough to get to the top of the pot. The more it rises on its own, the better it will be. The kneading and the rising have to do with the gluten factor of which he can describe in scientific detail if you ask him.

Kelley Bread on the rise.

After that, he kneads it down again, sections it off into loaf pans and lets it rise again. He advises not rushing this process, let it rise really big (about four to five hours). “The first time I made bread, I wasn’t patient and didn’t have a good result,” he says.

Before baking, brush the bread with an egg wash for a nice shine.

Not an Exact Science…Oh Really?

Dan is an expert at baking bread. No fancy bread machines, no colorful implements —  just a man, a white kitchen, his pans, and his hands. He doesn’t follow a recipe. He asked us, “Do you want to put some honey in this? If so, how much?” Dark brown sugar maybe? He continued with no measuring cups or spoons looking to us to give him our preferences. “More salt?”

We were awed by Dan’s confidence, but disturbed. Luciana and I thought baking was more of an exact science, unlike cooking where you can improvise and adjust. He disputed that; however, we felt that we need a recipe to follow and could in no way go home and replicate what he was showing us. He suggested going back to Nana’s recipe on his typewritten copy.

The Result

Some say Kelley bread is best enjoyed toasted. We all enjoyed our breakfast of coffee, Kelley bread (some already baked for us!), butter and jam before we got started on the lesson. Luciana and Sridevi ate theirs toasted. I ate it not toasted – soft in the middle with a crunchy crust. It makes great grilled cheese too. At home, when we are lucky enough to come by a loaf, we put cream cheese and a slice of salami on a piece of the toast.

Dan says that Nana made it to soak up all the soup she made to fill the stomachs of nine hungry kids.

Closing Remarks

I’m going to bake Kelley Bread. I can do it because Dan took us beyond the recipe with tips that wouldn’t be written in any recipe. He also showed us how which burns the lesson in my brain. I will try until I get it right so I no longer have to be dependent on my sister-in-law, Monica, or Cousin Dan for Kelley Bread. I’m now a big fan of Breadtopia.com. I feel that with the Internet, Dan, and the Kelley Cookbook, I can do this.

I also made two new friends, Luciana and Sridevi. Yes, we chatted a lot and Dan had to almost put us in detention for talking too much in class; however, he was a tolerant and spirited teacher and sent us all home with a freshly-baked loaf of Kelley Bread. He also supplied us with the requisite teasing and comic relief which left us all laughing.

Better yet, Dan said when we make the bread he will either come by and supervise or be ready for phone calls.

Thanks, Dan. You showed true Kelley Hospitality! (It’s genetic!)

Kelley Bread — Nana’s Recipe

(With this recipe in mind, remember Dan’s approach — alter as you wish and refer to his notes above.)

  • 6 cups lukewarm water
  • 2 packs of dry yeast (Dan recommends the saf-instant yeast. 1 packet of yeast = one rounded teaspoon of saf-instant yeast)
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1-1/2 Tablespoons salt
  • 1/2 cup soft Crisco or soft bacon grease
  • 1-1/2 whole wheat flour
  • 13 cups white flour

*Editor’s note: Monica Kelley Dean (my sister-in-law) jabs her bread with a fork like her dad did. I distinctly remember fork marks in her loaves. I vow to uphold the tradition of the fork jab as was directed in my father-in-law’s (Richard B. Kelley) recipe.


3 thoughts on ““Will the Real Kelley Bread Please Rise?”

  1. I agree with the “fork jab” – an absolute necessity when I make the bread! Gives it that authentic “home made look.” Over the years I have made the bread all different ways depending on how healthy I wanted it to be.

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