I have had this recipe sitting on my bookshelf, twiddling its thumbs and patiently waiting for me to pay any attention to it, for over a year. An entire year, people! I have no good reason for unjustly ignoring other than I simply haven't gotten into the habit of baking my own loaf bread yet. Yes, I, Miss Everything From Scratch, still purchase our weekly loaf of sandwich bread at the grocery store and, with each sandwich I eat, I lament the fact that I didn't take the time to make my own bread and vow to do it the next week. Sadly, "next week" came and went about 52 times and now I am kicking myself for all the time I've lost with this fantastic loaf and its soft, hearty, moist, and flavorful characteristics.
This particular recipe comes from Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" (which, if you don't already own, you should go buy). Though the recipe may look long and tiresome, it's not difficult, and doesn't require a lot of hands-on time. I prefer this bread sans butter, jam, or honey; it's perfectly balanced, quite moist, and needs no additions (though it does make the best peanut butter and preserves sandwich I've ever had). For you molasses haters out there, don't be scared. The molasses is present, but up against the subtly nutty cornmeal soaker, it takes a backseat, spares you the full spectrum of its flavor profile, and pulls through with just a hint of sweetness and depth. On that note, I think it's time for another slice.
Peter Reinheart's Anadama Bread
1 cup (6 oz.) cornmeal, preferably coarse grind 1 cup (8 oz.) water, at room temperature
4 1/2 cups (20.25 oz.) unbleached bread flour 2 teaspoons (.22 oz.) instant yeast 1 cup (8 oz.) water, lukewarm (90-100 degrees F) 1 1/2 teaspoons (.38 oz.) salt 6 tablespoons (4 oz.) molasses 2 tablespoons (1 oz.) shortening or unsalted butter, at room temperature cornmeal, for dusting (optional)
1. The day before making the bread, make the soaker by mixing the cornmeal and water in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight at room temperature.
2. The next day, to make the dough, stir together 2 cups of the flour, the yeast, the soaker, and water in a mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap and ferment for 1 hour, or until the sponge begins to bubble.
3. Add the remaining 2 1/2 cups of flour, the salt, molasses, and butter and stir (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) until the ingredients form a ball. Add water if necessary to make a soft, slightly sticky mass.
4. Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook), sprinkling in more flour as needed to make a tacky, but not sticky, dough. The dough should be first but supple and pliable and definitely not sticky. It will take about ten minutes of kneading to accomplish this (or 6-8 minutes in the electric mixer*). The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 77-81 degrees F.
5. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment the dough at room temperature for about 90 minutes, or until it doubles in size.
6. Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it into 2 equal pieces of 24 ounces, or 3 pieces of about 16 ounces. Shape the dough into loaves** and place them into bread pans that have been lightly oiled or misted with spray oil (the larger loaves should go into 9x5" pans and the smaller loaves into 8 1/2x4 1/2" pans). Mist the tops of the loaves with spray oil and loosely cover tops with plastic wrap.
7. Proof at room temperature for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the loaves crest fully above the top of the pans. (If you want to hold back any of the loaves, place them in the refrigerator without proofing, where they will hold, or retard, for up to 2 days. Remover them from the refrigerator about 4 hours before baking and proof them at room temperature, or until ready).
8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Place the pans on a sheet pan and remove the plastic wrap. Mist the tops with a spray of water and dust with cornmeal.
9. Place the sheet pan in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the sheet pan for even baking and continue to bake 20 to 30 minutes***, or until the loaves are golden brown, including along the sides and the bottom, and register at least 185 to 190 degrees F in the center. They should make a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.
10. When the loaves are done, remove them immediately from the pans and cool on a rack for at least 1 hour before slicing or serving.
* My dough needed 11 minutes with the dough hook before it passed the windowpane test. Also, depending on the brand of flour you use and the humidity levels in your kitchen, you may have to add what feels like quite a bit of flour or water to your dough.
** To shape your loaves, flatten the measured piece of dough with your hand, folding in the edges to make an even-sided rectangle about 5" wide and 6 to 8" long. Working from the short side of the dough, roll up the length of the dough one section at a time, pinching the crease with each rotation to strengthen the surface tension. The loaf will spread out as you roll it up, eventually extending to a full 8 to 9". Pinch the final seam closed with the back edge of your hand or with your thumbs. Rock the loaf to even it out; do not taper the ends. Keep the surface of the loaf even across the top. Place the loaf in a lightly oiled loaf pan. The ends of the loaf should touch the ends of the pan to ensure an even rise.
*** My loaves were done after 32 minutes (20 minutes, turn, then 12 minutes). Your time may vary.