Heat the first five ingredients (shortening through salt) in a pan until the shortening is melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool to lukewarm.
Mix 1 teaspoons sugar, 1 tbs. active dry yeast and 1/4 cup warm water in a large bowl. Allow to stand until foamy.
Mix cooled shortening mixture, beaten egg, vital wheat gluten (if using) and flour into proofed yeast. Add flour gradually and mix well after each addition. The amount of flour needed may vary according to humidity level. Dough should be soft and pliable, but not loose or extremely stiff. Remove dough from bowl to a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth, adding flour by the tbs. if dough is too sticky. Form dough into a large ball and place in a greased bowl. Turn dough over to grease entire surface. Cover and allow to rise in a warm area for about an hour, or until dough doubles in size.
Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead briefly. Divide dough into four even pieces. Roll each piece into an 8" circle. Make 3/4" cuts around the edge of each circle. Fold each circle in half.
Lightly grease two baking sheets. Place two loaves on each sheet. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes, or until doubled in size. While dough is in it's final rise, preheat oven to 350ºF.
Bake at 350ºF for about 25 minutes, or until light golden brown.
Alternatively, you could make the dough in a bread machine on the dough cycle, following the recipe instructions for shaping, rising and baking.