Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Comfort Food 101

B and I have had numerous conversations about "comfort food" - what it means to each of us, what foods we each find comforting, what dishes we could not live without.  

B grew up with homemade pasta sauce cooking on the stove all day long.  He remembers the anticipation as he looked forward to a huge pile of cheese ravioli topped with the sweet and savory sicilian tomato sauce for dinner.  My idea of comfort food is my Grandma's chicken soup with kreplach, grilled cheese sandwiches and bread, especially homemade fresh bread. 

"Hello, my name is Julia and I'm a carbaholic."  

I love GOOD bread and so does B.  I've done my share of bread-baking and have found several recipes that I make frequently.  Here's the latest one I've tried and LOVED:  Anadama Bread.  Huh??  The first time I heard of it was at a soup and sandwich shop called The Loaf & Ladle in Exeter, New Hampshire.  B used to eat there when he was a prep at Phillips Exeter Academy and took me back with him the last time we visited New England.  I had a bowl of soup with their Anadama bread and fell instantly in love. It has a soft crumb, a slight crunch on the crust from cornmeal and a hint of sweetness from the molasses.  And Oh, the smell as it's baking!  Words cannot express the delight you will feel as the bread perfumes your house with the distinctive tangy and yeasty goodness....

Anadama Bread
recipe from Pitchfork Diaries
(makes two loaves)
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal, plus more for dusting the top
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup molasses
1 package or 2 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
Mix cornmeal with one cup of water.
Bring one cup of water to a gentle boil, and add cornmeal mixture to the pot. Allow to return to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low, and continue to stir until all the water is absorbed and the mixture is quite thick, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and add butter, salt, and molasses, and stir to combine thoroughly. Transfer to a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, and set aside to cool.
Combine the sugar with 1/2 cup of warm water, about 110 degrees–it should feel like a warm bath. Sprinkle yeast over the top of the water surface and allow to sit for about 10 minutes to activate the yeast. When ready it should look frothy on top.
Add yeast mixture to slightly cooled cornmeal mixture. Gradually add flours, either stirring by hand or with the paddle of a stand mixture.
Knead for about 10 minutes (or 7 minutes with the dough hook of a stand mixer), until it is soft, supple, and pliable. Lightly oil a large bowl. Transfer dough to the bowl, turning slightly to also coat the dough in oil. Cover loosely and allow to rise in a warm place for about ninety minutes, until the dough as doubled in size.
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Punch down risen dough. Divide in half. Lightly oil two nine-inch loaf pans.
Very gently flatten each piece of dough into a large rectangle, roughly 11″ x 9″. With the short end near you, fold the top side down a third, and then down again a third. Press slightly to seal at the seam. Place the folded dough, seam side down, in one of the prepared pans. Repeat for second loaf.
Lightly oil the tops of the loaves and gently cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise for about 30 minutes, until they have doubled in size again (this actually took closer to 60 minutes for me).
Remove plastic. Sprinkle the tops of the loaves lightly with water, and dust with cornmeal if you choose.
Bake for twenty minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 20-30 minutes, until slightly browned and makes a hollow sound when thumped with a finger on the bottom. Cool on a baking rack.

NOTE:  I refrigerated the dough for the second loaf this recipe makes since we had no use for two loaves of bread at once.  It kept great in an airtight container for a week.  When I was ready to bake it, I took it out and let it come to room temperature (about 1 hour) in an oiled bowl.  Then, I shaped it and let it proof in an oiled bread pan just as written above.  It did take a little longer to double in size (about 60 minutes), probably because it was still a little colder than room temperature.  It baked the same amount of time and was JUST as delicious!

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