Sunday, January 3, 2010

Time on my hands...

Being on vacation from work since pretty much Christmas Eve has given me so much more time than I usually have to cook!  So wonderful…I feel spoiled.  Usually between working full time, going to grad school and commuting to Boston every day I’m lucky if I can cook anything even remotely interesting midweek.  But I’ve been up to all sorts of things this particular week in the kitchen – roasted pork and apple ravioli, butternut squash bisque, triple chocolate pudding…it’s been fantastic.

My biggest culinary achievement this week by far has been baking my first yeast bread ever!  I’ve been meaning to get around to this challenge for years now, but there never seems to be enough time to mix and knead and rise and shape and rise again and bake and yeah.  Whew.  Plus the whole yeast chemistry component was admittedly daunting.   But I am now happy to report that it’s not so scary at all, and the results are so super satisfying.
For my first yeast bread adventure I chose anadama – for those unfamiliar, this is a hearty bread consisting of both flour and corn meal, which receives a rich and lovely brown hue from a healthy dose of molasses.  In a word, heavenly.  In my travels on the web I came across a recipe a few months ago via Tastespotting and Oui, Chef, which was adapted from the New York Times Bread and Soup Cookbook.  It’s definitely a beginner friendly recipe, and I was attracted to it because it doesn’t require hours and hours to rise.  Not to mention the fact that I adore anadama perhaps more than any other bread...

Anadama Bread
sliiiightly adapted from Oui, Chef

7 ½ to 8 ½ cups unsifted All-Purpose flour (I used 7 ½ on the money)
1 ¼ cups yellow cornmeal (I used fine ground, but you could probably use coarse)
2 ¾ teaspoons salt
2 packages dry active yeast
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
2 ¼ cups warm water (about 130˚F – I used my milk foaming thermometer to get it just right)
¾ cup molasses at room temp

Combine 2 ½ cups of flour with cornmeal, salt and yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer with a paddle attachment.  Add in the butter and mix to incorporate.  Add the water and molasses a bit at a time, blending after each addition.  Turn the mixer to medium speed and blend (scraping sides of bowl as needed) for about 2 minutes.  Stir in another ½ cup of flour and mix on high for about 2 minutes more. (Should look like a weird, mealy soup at this point) Slowly blend in enough of the remaining flour, with the mixer on low-medium, to form a stiff dough (I did about ½ a cup at a time – try not to lose count!)  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.

Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl, turning it over to oil both sides.  Cover with a damp kitchen towel and place in a warm, draft free area to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.  Punch down the dough and split into 2 equal parts.  Shape the loaves by rolling out each piece into a 14”x9” rectangle, and folding the ends sides and ends in.  Place the loaves, seam side down into 2 greased 1 ½ pound loaf pans.  Cover with a damp towel and again place in a warm, draft free spot to rise until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Pre-heat your oven to 375˚F and bake the breads on the center rack for about 40 minutes.  If the tops start to brown more than your liking toward the end, tent loosely with a piece of tinfoil.  When you think the loaves are done, remove one from the pan and tap it on the bottom – a hollow sound means it is ready!  Allow to cool on a wire rack outside pans before enjoying.

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