After a simply gorgeous November day yesterday that seemed more like June, today is rainy and blah. I have no place I have to be having voted early and needing a distraction from tonight’s last game of the World Series. Go Cubs! So I decided to bake some bread, especially since I make sandwiches for my husband most days and because I am an unrepentant bread lover. I could fairly easily give up meat if I had to, but I would be desolate if I had to give up bread.
One year for my birthday, my husband bought me the award-winning book, the Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. It’s a beautiful book and wonderful to read but somehow I hadn’t gotten around to making anything from it. I decided it was time to remedy that. I was looking for a good sandwich/toast bread and settled on that old New England favorite – Anadama Bread, which has a corn meal and molasses base. I’d read other recipes for it but none that used both a “soaker” and a “sponge.” I was immediately intrigued and knew that this is what I would be trying. By making a soaker, the corn meal has an opportunity to develop a depth of flavor that it would otherwise lack. There was nothing terribly complicated in either the ingredients or the method so don’t be put off by the length of the directions. I ended up with 2 lovely, brown, fragrant loaves that we will be enjoying over the next week.
Yield: Two 1.5 pound loaves
For the Soaker
1 cup stone ground yellow corn meal or polenta
1 cup tap water at room temperature
For the Dough
Approx. 4.5 cups of unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons instant dried yeast
1 cup lukewarm water (90 to 100 degrees F, although I just do it by touch…)
1.5 teaspoons Kosher salt
6 Tablespoons molasses (it suggested Brer Rabbit Golden Molasses, rather than a full-flavored molasses)
2 Tablespoons solid shortening at room temperature
Canola Oil for the bowl
Cornmeal for dusting
- The day before making the bread (I did this before going to sleep), make the soaker by mixing the cornmeal with the water in a small bowl. Cover the bowl or container and allow it to sit at room temperature overnight.
- The next day, stir together 2 cups of the flour, the yeast, soaker and cup of water in a mixing bowl and cover it with a towel or plastic wrap. Allow this to ferment for one hour or until the sponge is poofy.
- Once the sponge is ready, add the remaining 2.5 cups of flour, the salt, molasses and shortening and stir this well until the mixture begins to form a ball. This can be done in a standing mixer on a low speed with the paddle attachment. The result should be a slightly sticky mass.
- Sprinkle some additional flour on the counter and turn the dough out and begin kneading it, sprinkling in more flour as needed to make a tacky but not sticky dough that is supple and pliable. This should take about 10 minutes of kneading. You can also make this using the dough hook of a standing mixer. The kneading would take 6 to 8 minutes, checking if more flour is needed.
- Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow it to ferment (rise) at room temperature for about 90 minutes or until doubled in size.
- Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it into 2 equal pieces, which should each weigh about 24 ounces assuming you are into weighing things – which I am not. Shape the dough into loaves and place them into 9 by 5-inch bread pans that have been lightly oiled or sprayed with something like PAM. Lightly spray or brush the tops with the oil and loosely cover with plastic wrap.
- Allow to rise at room temperature for between 60 to 90 minutes or until the loaves crest fully above the tops of the pans. (Mine were ready in 58 minutes)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with the oven rack in the middle position. Place the pans on a sheet pan and remove the plastic wrap. Mist or brush the tops with water and dust with cornmeal.
- Place the sheet pan in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the pan for even baking and continue baking for another 20 to 30 minutes or until the loaves are a nice golden brown. The loaves should make a hollow sound when rapped with your knuckles or a wooden spoon. I like well-done loaves so might keep them in a few minutes longer.
- When the loaves are brown all over, immediately remove them from the pans and cool on a rack for at least one hour before slicing. I made sure that I had some softened butter on hand!