Isn’t it amazing how quickly one can adapt to a new climate? After months of high California heat I’m finding temperatures in the 70’s a little chilly. And those 50’s at night? Wow, get out the sweaters and hot beverages right now! Last weekend’s Farmer’s Market yielded the usual perfect seasonal bounty and I was off on a soup and bread-making spree.
I decided that this classic New England bread would be the perfect companion to my autumn vegetable version of minestrone. If you are familiar with anadama bread you know that it is a hearty, slightly sweet and cornmeal-flavored bread. In fact, cornmeal is an essential ingredient, along with molasses. I used a recipe from Peter Reinhart’s brilliant book “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice”. Mr Reinhart’s method involves an overnight process whereby the cornmeal is soaked in water, rather than cooked as a mush and added to the dough. He also suggests using a mild-flavored molasses, which I didn’t have on hand. I substituted half blackstrap molasses with half maple syrup, to good success. Use the best cornmeal, preferably a coarse grind, and you will be rewarded with a hearty, delicious loaf of bread. Although there is a slight sweetness to anadama bread, it does pair very well with savory foods, like the herb butter pictured above. It’s a simple amalgamation of good butter, toasted finely chopped almonds, and fall herbs; altogether with the subtle crunch of the cornmeal in the bread, it was a symphony of flavor and texture.
And, totally unrelated to bread and soup, the colors of fall are so beautiful in the array of cut flowers at the Market. Here is a bunch that I brought home last weekend.
So turn on the oven and get baking. There will be more seasonal treats on the way here soon…
- 1 cup medium-grind organic cornmeal
- 1 cup water , at room temperature
- 4 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 3 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter , at room temperature
The day before you plan to bake the bread, mix the cornmeal and water in a small bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow it to sit at room temperature overnight.
The next day, combine two cups of the flour, the yeast, the cornmeal-water mixture, and the lukewarm water in a large mixing bowl. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and allow to ferment until bubbly, about 1 hour. This is the sponge portion of the bread.
Add 2 cups of the remaining flour, salt, molasses, maple syrup, and butter to the sponge and stir together until a ball of dough forms. If the mixture is very wet, add the additional 1/2 cup of flour. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary. You want a tacky and moist, but not sticky dough. It will be firm but pliable.
Lightly oil or butter a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, turning it around to coat with oil (or butter). Cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise until double in volume, about 90 minutes.
Remove the dough from the bowl, deflate gently and divide into 2 equal pieces. Shape into loaves and place in oiled or buttered 9x5-inch loaf pans. (At this point you can refrigerate the bread, tightly covered, for up to 2 days. Allow 4 hours for proofing at room temperature before baking.) Cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise above the top of the pans; this will take about 60 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F with the rack in the middle position. Place the pans on a sheet pan and mist the tops lightly with water. Dust with a little cornmeal. Bake for a total of 40 to 50 minutes, rotating the sheet pan half-way through, until the bread is golden brown and the internal temperature is 190°F in the the center. Remove the loaves from the pan and cool on a rack. Enjoy with sweet or savory toppings, such as compound butter, jam, or marmalade.
Recipe gently adapted from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.