I try not to complain. Really, what good is it? And my life is great. It is beyond great. It is more wonderful than I ever could have imagined. But it has its glitches. And even when the glitches are not apparent, sometimes I wake up and lo and behold! I do not feel like Little Miss Sunshine. The snow is blowing sideways in a dreary sky and it’s the end of March for godssake. That’s not helping. I try to reason with myself, and half the time that works. The other half of the time, I have to say to myself: ‘Honey, you are not in the flow of life, so you better get busy.’ So I sit down and breathe deeply until I feel that flow. And then I get off my butt and go into the kitchen and make bread.
The bread I want in these moments must be something marvelous: golden, transforming, as sweet to behold as the honey from the bees. As much as I love the no-knead method (Five Minutes a Day) there are times when I need kitchen therapy. Slap dash won’t do it. The job needs to involve some puttering and elbow grease and contact with beautiful ingredients. It needs my concentration and some hands-on time.
We often lose sight of one important side benefit of cooking: when you are in the flow of the action in the kitchen you are able get OUT of yourself and INTO yourself at the same time. Huh? You get out of the swirl of mental activity (sometimes unproductive) and connect to a flow inside and simultaneously connect to something beyond yourself. It’s a feel-good moment. Bring on the butter.
Golden Cornmeal Bread
Makes one 9-inch round loaf
For the sponge:
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 cup unbleached bread flour or all-purpose flour
1/2 cup warm water
1. Mix the yeast and flour in a small bowl. Stir in the warm water and mix until combined. A few lumps are okay. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for one hour or up to three hours.
For the bread:
2 cups corn meal
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 1/3 cups milk
The sponge (above)
2 cups unbleached bread flour or all-purpose flour
Olive oil for the dough bowl
1. Whisk the corn meal and the salt together in large bowl.
2. Heat the milk until scalding in a Pyrex measuring cup in the microwave (about 1 1/2 minutes) or in a saucepan on top of the stove. Pour the hot milk over the cornmeal and stir to mix. Let the mixture stand until tepid, 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Stir the sponge into the cornmeal mixture with a wooden spoon or sturdy spatula. Stir in the flour and mix until you have a shaggy mass. Dump the whole mess onto the countertop. Knead for about 5 minutes, until the dough is elastic. Add flour sparingly; the longer you knead the less sticky the dough will be. It should feel soft and slightly sticky, not stiff or dry.
4. Stretch the blob of dough all around to a point on the bottom to form it into a smooth, round ball. Pour about one teaspoon of oil into a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and twirl it around to coat it with oil on all sides. Place the bowl inside a plastic bag (a clean trash bag or plastic grocery bag will do) and loosely tuck the open ends underneath the bowl. Puff up the top of the bag to form a tent. Leave the dough to rise at warm room temperature until it has doubled in volume, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
5. Line a baking sheet with parchment or brush it lightly with oil. Invert the bowl onto the countertop and let the dough drop onto the counter. Knead it a couple of times to redistribute the yeast cells. Shape the dough into a round and place it on the baking sheet. Flatten the round slightly to form a 9-inch circle. Let it rise on the baking sheet until doubled, about 45 minutes.
6. About 20 minutes before the loaf is ready to be baked, position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 450°F.
7. Brush the dough with water and sprinkle it with about 1 tablespoon cornmeal. Make three evenly spaced diagonal slashes with a serrated knife across the top of the loaf. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the crust is golden and the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom. (For more accuracy, insert an instant read thermometer into the bottom of the loaf—the bread is done when the thermometer registers 190 to 200°F.) Transfer the bread to a rack and do not cut into it until it is thoroughly cool. Once it is cool, store it in a plastic bag or wrap it in a clean tea towel.