Thursday, January 22, 2009

Why I'll never be dieting on South Beach

I don't know if my love affair with bread started in childhood watching my mom and sister make Irish soda bread, but as far back as I can remember I've always loved me some bread.

(If you haven't figured it out, this is absolutely an homage to the great and powerful Lemmonex, who I desperately hope is not offended by my borrowing her wonderful trademarked style. They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and that's what I'm going for here.)

Crusty bread. Soft bread. Shelf stable bread out of a plasticized tinfoil Meal-Ready-to-Eat package. Flat bread. Pitas. Slice it thick and fill it with hot turkey, pastrami or roast beast. If it was steaming hot and right out of the oven or day-old (or year-old or more in the case of the shelf-stable stuff), just try keeping me away.

So, imagine my unbounded joy when this month's Gourmet Magazine arrived, its cover filled with a picture of yeasty goodness (words you've never heard said before). I couldn't wait to give one of the recipes a try this past weekend.

And here's the result. My first attempt at baking Crusty Cornstalk Rolls. Now they don't look exactly like the picture in the mag, but from where I'm standing they tasted just right.

Crusty Cornstalk Rolls

From Gourmet Magazine, February 2009

Yield: Makes about 1 dozen rolls
Active time: 35 min
Total time: 4 1/2 hr (includes rising)

The technique for shaping this sculptural loaf is very simple, but the result is dramatic. Once baked, the bread resembles a towering cornstalk, and each roll, or "ear of corn," is torn off the stalk by guests. But it's not just the presentation that makes these rolls worth the effort—they've got the hearty exterior of a French baguette, plus a yeasty, slightly chewy interior.

1 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast (from a 1/4-ounce package)
1 1/4 cups warm water (105–115°F), divided
1 teaspoon mild honey or sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for kneading and dusting
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoon stone-ground yellow cornmeal, divided
Equipment: a spray bottle filled with water

Stir together yeast, 1/4 cup warm water, and honey in a large bowl and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn't foam, start over with new yeast.)

Mix flour, salt, 1/2 cup cornmeal, and remaining cup warm water into yeast mixture with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until a soft dough forms.

Turn out dough onto a well-floured surface and knead, dusting surface and your hands with just enough flour to keep dough from sticking, until dough is elastic and smooth, 6 to 8 minutes. Form dough into a ball.

Put dough in an oiled large bowl and turn to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Punch down dough (do not knead) and fold into thirds like a letter (dough will be soft), then gently roll into a 12-inch-long log with lightly floured hands.

Sprinkle a large baking sheet evenly with remaining 2 tablespoon cornmeal and put dough diagonally in center. Alternating sides, make 3-inch-long diagonal cuts, about 1 1/2 inches apart, into sides of log using kitchen shears (ends of cuts should not touch; maintain a center "stalk"). Gently pull apart cuts to stretch dough, forming rolls that are separate (about 1 1/2 inches apart) but connected to center stalk. Cover with a kitchen towel (not terry cloth) and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in middle.

Spray rolls with water, then bake. Spray them again in the oven 3 times in first 5 minutes of baking (to help form a crust), then bake until golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer rolls to a rack and cool at least 20 minutes. (Dew Note: I think I waited about 10 minutes. They were sooooo good.)

Cooks' note: Rolls are best the day they’re made, but whole baked stalk can be frozen (cool completely, then wrap well) 1 month. Thaw, then reheat on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven until warmed through, 5 to 10 minutes.


Lemmonex said...

Oh these look great! And of course I do not mind.

FoggyDew said...

Lem - They are FANTASTIC! I am not ashamed to say I ate the whole thing. Not at once, of course, but over the weekend. It was yummy.

And thanks, promise not to do it again until, that is, I find another recipe I love.

Shannon said...

I will just never be the sort of person who makes bread. It's just too complicated...I'm far happier just throwing things into a pot.

FoggyDew said...

Shannon - we all have our strengths. Your beef stew or chili would go quite well with this loaf. It's a team effort.

LiLu said...

Um, NOM. All it needs is some gruyere...

But then, we all have our own love affairs. Some are just cheesier than others.


FoggyDew said...

LiLu - bring it along, we can munch on it before the stew. And if it's cheese you love, there's nothing cheesy about that.

Shannon said...

I smell a potluck brewing!

FoggyDew said...

Shannon - For some reason, the phrase "potluck brewing" makes me laugh. Don't know why. Still, not a bad idea.

Fearless in Toronto said...

As I've told my boss on many occasions, a world without bread isn't worth living in...and she told me I was being overly dramatic. Please.

Lisa said...

Well done! I've only made sweet breads - never any dough that needed punching down and rising. It daunts me. Yum!

FoggyDew said...

Fearless - truer words have never been spoken.

Lisa - Think of it as a way to work out your growing frustrations. Kneading bread is very therapeutic.

Sarah said...

That bread is very cute (which is not a word I've used to describe carbohydrates, ever). Way to be ambitious!

FoggyDew said...

Sarah - It is kinda cute, now that you mention it. Kinda like Mini-Me "Get in ma belly." What can I say, I'm a man who loves to bake.