Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Crusty Cornstalk Bread - A Loaf Worth Giving

There is something about making bread that taps into my emotional core, in ways that are very difficult to accurately capture for you. Part of it is the sense of history I get when kneading - the feeling that millions upon millions of people have stood at a bench and pressed down dough with the heel of their hand, while reflecting on their day. Part of it is the ongoing amazement at the chemistry of making a loaf - the feeling of being an alchmeist playing with simple ingredients to spin some gold. Then there is the yeasty smell of bread rising in a corner of the kitchen, which probably taps some ancient cellular memories inside me of comfort and warmth. It is also a quite "physical activity" in that it requires no particular brain activity, in fact you get to put your brain on hold for a little while. You just need to rely on your senses, especially touch. And then once the loaf is in the oven, I find it difficult to tear myself away from watching as it grows and browns, and once it is out of the oven, I feel incredibly proud, a bit like a clucky new mother insisting that everyone admire the new arrival.

Knowing that I had an "in the kitchen day" a few weeks ago, courtesy of Miss 10's school fair on Monday and the mountain of cupcakes that were to be baked, I decided to tackle another of the loaves in the Gourmet magazine from Feb 09. (Regular readers may remember the Parmesan loaf success earlier in the year). This loaf was denser than the first, but really yummy, and it looked so very handsome that I decided to give it to a beautiful friend when we went for dinner that night.

If you have never made bread, I highly recommend giving it a try. I am not so enthusiastic, or accomplished a baker, that I would ever consider making all my own bread. But, it is actually a very lovely thing to do now and then, and the satisfaction you get is entirely disproportionate to the effort required. The only thing you must have is time, as the steps can't be rushed. Just start the process in the morning, check back in at lunch time and then bake in the afternoon - you will be rewarded with wonderful bread for dinner.

Crusty Cornstalk Rolls

from Gourmet Feb 09

1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water (105-115F)
1 tsp honey
2 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tbls cornmeal, divided
A spray bottle filled with water

Stir together the yeast, 1/4 cup warm water and honey in a large bowl and let stand until foamy, about 5 mins. Mix together flour, salt, 1/2 cup cornmeal, and remaining cup of warm water, with the yeast mixture. (I didn't read the recipe properly and added all the water at the beginning to the yeast - it didn't seem to matter).

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead until the dough is elastic and smooth - 6-8 mins or so. Put dough in oiled bowl, and turn to coat. Them leave it to rise at warm room temperature (about 1 1/2 - 2 hours) until doubled.

Punch down the dough, then fold it into thirds like a letter, then gently roll into a 12 inch long log. Sprinkle a baking sheet with the remaining 2 tbl cornmeal and put dough diagonally in the center. Alternating sides, make 8-10cm long diagonal cuts with kitchen shears into the roll. Gently pull apart cuts to stretch dough, forming rolls that remain connected to the central stalk ( I will pull mine more next time).

Allow to rise, covered with a kitchen towel (not terry) for about another 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Preheat oven to 425 with rack in the middle. Spray rolls with water, then bake, spraying into oven 3 times in the first 5 minutes of baking. Bake until golden - about 20 minutes.


Cathy said...

I am relatively new to breadbaking, but I totally agree with you - there is something so gratifying about it! This cornstalk bread sounds incredible - I have to try it!

Debinhawaii said...

How pretty the cornstalk bread is! I so admire breadbakers, but still get intimidated myself to do much of it. ;-)