My friends and I aren’t amateurs at sleeping outdoors, but we went on a disaster of a trip a few years ago. Near the end of October, we went to West Virginia hoping to see some fall colors. We hiked up to a ridge with all of our gear, planning to camp at the top for a couple nights. And a little blizzard blew through. Then my friend leaned over too far while cooking dinner and fell – into the fire. The dog kept running away. Our tent blew away – while we were in it.
The next morning, we got off of that stupid ridge as early as possible. (Another friend fell and sprained his ankle on the way down.) Once down, we had a very nice, sunny and even warm picnic lunch in a beautiful park at the base of Seneca Rocks. My friend passed around this bread, apologizing that something had gone wrong with the baking. It clearly hadn’t risen – it was so dense it was almost crystalline. But the taste, sweet and complex, was good enough to make up for the texture. I promised her I’d try the recipe and see if I could figure out what went wrong.
The recipe has quite a number of issues, actually. For one thing, it calls for 12-13 cups of flour and says that it makes two 9×5-inch loafs, where most recipes use just 3-4 cups of flour per loaf. It also instructs the baker to dump cornmeal into hot liquid, but that will cause it to clump. And then there’s the place where I think my friend went wrong: the recipe starts with a hot cornmeal mush, and after that cools for “a bit”, as the recipe misleadingly states, the yeast is added. But it took at least half an hour before it was cool enough not to kill the yeast.
It’s good thing I’m not new at bread baking. I halved the recipe and divided the dough between two loaf pans. The cornmeal lumps did seem to break up during kneading, but I’ve reworked the recipe to avoid this problem anyway. And fortunately, I used my thermometer to make sure the mush had cooled enough before adding the yeast.
After all was said and done, the bread was great. It was just as sweet as I remember, plus light and tender. So far I’ve eaten it toasted with butter, as French toast, with sliced avocado, and as part of a ham sandwich. Tomorrow it will be bread pudding. It’s delicious and versatile.
One year ago: Cinnamon Rolls
Anadama Bread (revised from Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special)
Makes 2 loaves
Note from Bridget: I have to admit that I didn’t totally make Anadama bread, which requires molasses. It turns out that I didn’t have any, so I used honey instead. Not the same, but still good.
¾ cup water
1 cup milk
1 cup cornmeal
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
1 package (2¼ teaspoons) instant yeast
6 to 6½ cups (28.8 to 32.2 ounces) unbleached flour
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1 tablespoon salt
1. Heat the water, milk, cornmeal, and sugar in a medium-saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently. Once it thickens, transfer to it to the bowl of a standing mixer or other large bowl, stir in the molasses, and set the mixture aside to cool, about 30 minutes.
2. When the cornmeal mush has cooled to 105-110F, add the yeast and 1 cup of the flour, and stir until smooth. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and set aside until the mixture bubbles, about 45 minutes.
3. Stir the oil, salt, and 3½ cups of the remaining flour into the sponge to make a stiff dough, mixing well (or mix for 2 minutes on low speed in a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook). Generously dust a board with the remaining flour. Turn the dough onto the board and knead it until elastic, about 10 minutes (or knead on medium low for 6 minutes, slowly adding flour until the dough pulls away from the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl). The dough may be sticky, but should be firm.
4. Lightly oil a large bowl, shape the dough into a round, and put it in the bowl, turning it to coat both sides with oil. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and set aside in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, 45 to 60 minutes.
5. Lightly oil two loaf pans (8.5×4.5 inches or 9×5 inches). Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured board. Slice it into halves and shape each half to fit the loaf pans. Place the dough in the prepared pans, cover with a damp cloth, and let rise until doubled, 30-45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350F.
6. When the dough has risen about an inch above the top of the loaf pans, bake for about 40 minutes, or until golden and hollow-sounding when tapped on the bottom. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf should read 195-200F. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then use a knife to loosen the edge of the bread from the pans. Invert the loaves onto a cooling rack and cool completely before slicing.