Posts filed under Bread

Through thick and thin: Asparagus pizza

When it comes to pizza, there are them that crave tomato sauce and cheese and them that want fancy schmancy.  I live in a house divided.

We have come close to dinner wars over this schism. Man of the House reaches for the phone to speed dial the local pizzeria if word gets out that the pie di giorno will be devoid of tomato or pepperoni. College Boy, on the other hand, demands more panache. After all, he held me hostage to five foods for two decades, and he is ready to break out. Big time.

Now twenty years is a really, really long time to cater to a picky eater. (Please, let’s not get into an argument on that subject right now.  You do what you can with finicky children, it’s best just to move on when it’s over.)

Opportunity knocked when an exploration of the refrigerator yielded little besides a few bundles of asparagus and a bit of smelly cheese leftover from the weekend’s indulgence. I usually reach a point in the afternoon where I will simply not get in the car and drive to a market, which is why I better have a dinner plan early in the day. Except that I almost never have a dinner plan early in the day. So on this particular occasion, the following asparagus pizza was born.

Frankly, on the face of it and pretty as it may be, a tangle of shaved asparagus piled high on a bit of dough did not seem like it would work. But after discovering Smitten Kitchen’s recipe online, I decided it was indeed a bonne idée, so I present you with my interpretation. College Boy was very happy and Man of the House did not have time to react until he came to the table and grudgingly admitted enjoying it quite a lot more than he anticipated.

I used thick stalks of asparagus for this, but I suspect you could also use very thin ones without shaving them. Just break off the tough bottom end of the stalk and pile the asparagus on the pizza. As for the cheese, you could use almost anything that sounds good to you: mozzarella, goat cheese and fontina are just a few suggestions. I used Morbier, a mild semi-soft cow’s milk cheese that smells stronger than it actually tastes. I have also made this pizza with a sharper Swiss Vacherin cheese. Fancy schmancy it may be, but it is a paragon of simplicity.

Asparagus pizza

Makes two 12-inch pizzas (enough for 3 to 4 people)

I have my methods for making pizza and one of them is this: Bake the pizza on a stone or a baking sheet in a very hot oven on the bottom shelf. After about 10 minutes, the dough will have baked to a degree of firmness that makes it possible to move the pizza to the top shelf. Literally. Set the pizza directly on the top rack without a pan or stone under it. This allows the bottom to become deliciously crisp and also gives you a chance to start baking the next pizza on your list. Note that I used a little more than a pound of dough for 2 pizzas. If you make a full recipe of pizza dough (below) you can make more pizzas or freeze the extra dough for another night of pizza making.

1 pound asparagus with thick stalks

1/2 pizza dough recipe (see below)

7 ounces (195 g) Morbier cheese, sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

Truffle oil if you have it

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Adjust the oven racks so that one is near the bottom of the oven and one is closer to the top. If using a baking stone, place it on the bottom shelf.

2.Trim about 1-inch from the bottom of the asparagus stalks. Use a vegetable peeler to shave the stalks into ribbons: Grasp the bud and work down to the bottom of the stalk. Keep peeling until you can peel no more. You may have one thick-ish piece, but not to worry, it works out just fine. Break off the asparagus tips when you can shave no more.

3. Divide the dough in half (that means, 1/4 of the whole piece of dough if using the recipe below.)  Shape into two balls and flatten the balls by dimpling them with your fingertips. Let rest for a few minutes to allow the dough to relax which will make it easier to roll.

4. Dust a pizza peel with cornmeal. On a well-floured countertop, roll one piece of dough into a 12-inch circle and set it on the peel. Cover with half the cheese and top with half of the shaved asparagus. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Slide the pizza onto the baking stone and bake for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the second pizza in the same way.

5. After the first pizza has baked for 10 minutes, use a wide spatula (or two) to transfer it to the top oven  rack. Continue to bake for another 5 minutes, or until the crust is golden. Remove from the oven and set it on a cutting board.

6. As soon as the first pizza is on the top shelf, slide the second pizza onto the stone. Bake as you did the first pizza.

7. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil, or truffle oil if you like.

Note: If you don’t have a pizza stone and peel, simply bake the pizza on a cornmeal dusted baking sheet. Read and follow the instructions above. After ten minutes, the pizza should be firm enough to transfer to the top shelf of the oven. Set it directly on the rack (without the pan) and continue baking in the same way.

Pizza Dough

Makes four 12-inch pizzas

Ever since I started making Jim Lahey’s bread, I have revised my dough-making method: Instead of kneading the dough, I discovered that you can simply mix it and let it rise for anywhere between 3 hours to a couple of days. If you are not using it within a day, refrigerate it, covered with a piece of oiled plastic wrap, until you need it. You will have to deflate the dough from time to time to keep it from spilling out of the bowl.

This dough is very sticky and requires a generous amount of flour to roll out, but it is easy to work with once you get the hang of it. If you prefer, you can add a bit more flour to the dough when you mix it, but don’t overdo it. Once you have mixed the dough, it is much easier to bump up the flour than to add water.

If you have refrigerated the dough, remove it from the fridge to warm up about an hour before you want to use the dough for pizza. To freeze it, double-wrap the dough in portion-size pieces in a heavy plastic freezer bag and store for up to a month. Defrost it at room temperature (about 3 hours) before shaping and baking it.

4 cups (500g) unbleached bread flour or all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon instant yeast (aka “rapid rise”)

1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt

11/2 cups (350g) water

Food processor method:  Add the flour, yeast and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse for a few seconds to mix the dry ingredients. With the machine on, rapidly pour the water through the feed tube (this should take no more than 6 seconds). Continue to process for a few more seconds, just until the dough comes together. Scrape the dough into a bowl and press an oiled piece of plastic wrap on top of the dough. Let rise for 3 to 8 hours at room temperature. If not using within 8 hours, refrigerate the dough.

Stand mixer method: Measure the flour, yeast and salt into the mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for a few seconds to combine. Add the water all at once and mix on low speed until the dough comes together. Press an oiled piece of plastic wrap on top of the dough. Let rise for 3 to 8 hours at room temperature. If not using within 8 hours, refrigerate the dough.

By hand: Mix in the same way as above in the stand mixer method, but use a wooden spoon and some elbow grease to thoroughly mix the dough.

Quick Irish oatmeal bread with cheddar and pumpkin seeds recipe

It’s cold this week in New England and like everyone else, I am waiting (impatiently) for spring to make up its mind.

Meanwhile, April fool! Snowstorm in our immediate future! But I’m staying tuned. Those fickle weather gods are at it again. I'm taking a wait-and-see attitude.

While I'm cooling my heels, I am counting my blessings. This slow segue into spring allows me to do the following:

1) Procrastinate garden cleanup (justified for another week or so.)

2) Procrastinate cleaning study (it is too cold in there.)

3) Close door to study until the weather warms up, so I can….

4) Ignore tornado-like mess I created in attempt to organize study.

5) Procrastinate grocery shopping (justified by a freezer full of soup.)


ust to keep me on my toes, I’m going to make this easy bread to eat with my soup. It’s a version of Irish soda bread. I was going to make it for St. Patrick’s Day, but just like the arrival of spring, I procrastinated.


Harvest Soup


Roasted Tomato Soup


Tri-Colored Lentil Soup


Vegetable Barley Soup


A general method for making soda breads and scones:

Stir flour, baking powder and salt together and rub in butter pieces until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs

Add and mix in additional dry ingredients, such as raisins, currants, seeds, or grated cheese.

Pour in the liquid, in this case, buttermilk.

Stir together to form a dough.

Plop the dough onto a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.

Use your floured hands to shape it into a flat round.

Make a deep cross in the bread and prick it four times in the triangles created by the cross to ‘let the fairies out,' as my Irish grandmother might say. If you are making scones, cut the round in eight triangular wedges and separate them on the baking sheet.

Brush with cream or buttermilk. 

Sprinkle with toppings.

Irish oatmeal bread with cheddar and pumpkin seeds

Makes 1 round loaf

3 ounces grated sharp cheddar, about 1 1/4 cups

3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds

1 cup whole-wheat flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup steel-cut oats

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small pieces

2 tablespoons flax seeds

1 1/4 cups buttermilk plus 1 tablespoon for the top of the bread

Extra buttermilk to glaze the bread

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the grated cheese and 1 rounded teaspoon of the pumpkin seeds for the top of the bread.

2. Whisk the whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, oats, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl until combined. Add the butter pieces and rub them into the dry ingredients with the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the remaining grated cheese, the remaining pumpkin seeds and all of the flax seeds into the dry ingredients.

3. Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk. Stir with a rubber spatula just until the mixture comes together; don’t overmix. Use the spatula to form the dough into a round piece as best as possible. The dough will be quite sticky, so don’t fret if it is not a perfect round ball.

4. Turn the lump of dough onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Dust your hands with a little flour and pat it into a 7-inch round, flat shape. Use a sharp knife to cut a 1-inch deep cross on top of the dough. Prick the center of each of the four triangles created by the cross with the point of a paring knife.

5. Brush the top of the loaf with buttermilk. Sprinkle the reserved grated cheese and pumpkin seeds over the top.

6. Bake for 10 minutes, then decrease the heat to 400 degrees F. Bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until the top is golden and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it. (Total baking time is 25 to 30 minutes.) Cool on a rack before slicing. The bread is best eaten on the same day it is baked, but it makes delicious toast for a day or two more. 

Posted on March 30, 2011 and filed under Bread.

When things fall apart (bake banana bread)

It could start with a furnace.

You come home after a couple of days away. It is mid-winter and mid-cold snap. A few days before, too far down the highway to turn back, you realized you had forgotten to set the heat on its energy-conserving temperature. Oh well. At least after a long ride home you can expect to open the back door to a toasty, welcoming sixty-eight degrees.

Wait a minute! It’s fifty-one in here. You think back to the cold snap a few years ago, and recall how your cranky old Victorian would not warm up no matter how high you set the thermostat. So you put on a couple of sweaters, your warmest and woolliest socks, and you crawl into bed under a down quilt and all the extra wool blankets you can steal from around the house.

After a few days, it warms up outside to an almost reasonable just-below-freezing temperature. Your house responds. It is now sixty-four degrees (heat still up to the max) but you can tough it out.

Wait another minute! What’s that funny smell?

Man of the House returns home from a trip and checks the oil burner. He calls the oil company. A logical, manly step that the little woman did not take. The flashlight-carrying guy with oil stained hands in the scruffy teal jacket drops by and takes a look.  Whoa! Many little things have gone awry. You immediately block them from your brain and cut to the bottom line. There’s a crack in the furnace. Oh, THAT explains the fine layer of soot you noticed seeping into every corner, graying the curtains, the walls, the moldings, and settling on top of each and every picture frame in each and every room. You stubbornly ignore it. It’s like living in New York City with the windows open you tell yourself. You can deal with it.

No you can’t.

You need a new furnace. And you need to insulate the mausoleum, the purchase of which was the biggest miscalculation you’ve made in your married life—for which mostly you are to blame. (Like Goldilocks, you’re still trying to get the size right.) So here you are with a heart full of regret and a white elephant that needs another huge influx of cash.

Now College Boy is pointing out a broken bit on the kitchen faucet. (That’s a new kitchen faucet, dammit.) The paint on the bathroom ceiling is starting to crack and curl and soon enough it will be gently cascading down like so many little snowflakes. The white slipcovers on your mother’s old furniture are beyond washing and restoring. You feel your life needs washing and restoring, too. Come to think of it, what


you doing with your life? Are you having identity crisis number nine hundred and ninety nine? Yes, you are.

This is the moment when you imagine walking out the door and never looking back. You envision a breezy little trailer on a deserted spit of beach where the sun often shines and the weather is always convenient.

Suddenly the deck of cards that is your life, the deck you so neatly and fastidiously stacked just so, starts to fall. You watch somewhat fascinated by the beauty of it. It winds and curls and you hear a faint flap flap flap as each card falls upon the next. It is not about the furnace. The furnace is simply the manifestation of a series of events gone wrong and they have taken you to this place, which at the moment, feels like it’s

all falling apart


There must be an upside to all this. You know there is. Think. Think.

Well, for one thing, people don’t change unless they have to. That’s a terrible truth, but it is a truth. Having a smackdown from your furnace or any other small to catastrophic event in your life can always be used to get your butt in gear.

Here’s another truth: when one door closes another door opens. Stupid platitudes are usually based on truth, so you shouldn’t ignore them just because they’re stupid platitudes. If you are too busy looking at the thing that’s falling apart you might not notice what’s opening up.

Notes to self, when things fall apart:

• Remember, you are the same person you were yesterday, before this mess.

• Fix what you can because, miraculously, some things can be fixed right away!

• Look for outside resources if you don’t have them yourself.

   (For instance, there are interest-free loans out there to cover heat emergencies)

• Think of a meltdown as an opportunity to make changes. They might be improvements.

• Limit self-pity to 15 minutes or one day, depending.

• Take a walk outside and breathe slowly. Do this as often as possible.

• Notice how, in nature, things are always falling apart and renewing. It’s normal.

• Allow yourself to not know the answer right away.

Make space for not knowing much of anything.

• It’s lonely out there in space. Make peace with that.

• Imagine a life that feels happy. Take notes.

• Sit quietly and breathe for several minutes at a time (aka meditation; let it be simple).

• When you can’t do anything about it, bake banana bread.

Espresso Banana Bread with Chocolate Covered Walnuts

I’ve been tinkering with banana bread for years. While this recipe is not health food by any means, it still contains some whole-wheat flour because I love the way it tastes with bananas. The idea of coating walnuts in chocolate comes from Jess Thomson at Hogwash (read her blog, you’ll like it.) I have finally gotten around to trying it, and lo and behold, it is easy and is indeed an epiphany. When baked in two pans, the loaves are somewhat flat, but in my book, that just adds to their homey feel. If you’re not careful you could down a half a loaf in no time. Save some to share with a friend.

Makes 2 small loaves

1/2 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate or chocolate chips (100 g)*

1 cup walnuts, broken in pieces (100g)*

3 to 4 ripe bananas

1 cup all-purpose flour (121g)

3/4 cup whole wheat flour (108 g)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder  (7.35g)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda (2.5g)

1/4 teaspoon salt (1.7g)

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (1g)

3/4 cup brown sugar (180g)

2 large eggs

1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick), melted (57g)

1/4 cup olive oil (55g)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract (8g)

1/2 sour cream or crème fraiche (121g)

1/4 cup brewed espresso (59g) or 1 heaping teaspoon instant espresso dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Butter and flour 2 small loaf pans (8-inches by 3 1/2-inches).

2. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over hot water or in the microwave at 30-second intervals. Stir the walnuts into the chocolate to coat them and spread them on the wax paper lined baking sheet so they are not touching. Refrigerate until firm while you make the batter.

3. Mash the bananas in a bowl with a potato masher or with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg together.

5. Add the eggs, brown sugar, melted butter, walnut or olive oil, vanilla and sour cream to the bananas. Stir by hand with a whisk or with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer until well blended. Fold in the dry ingredients by hand until just blended.  Stir in the nuts.

6. Divide the batter between the loaf pans and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick poked into the center of a loaf emerges with only a few crumbs. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes and turn out on a rack to completely cool. Wrapped in plastic, the banana bread will keep for about 3 days at room temperature and can be frozen for up to 3 months.

*I haven't tried this, but you might consider using chocolate covered nuts (I think Trader Joe's has chocolate covered almonds.)

Note: You probably don’t want to eat bananas that are all speckly like this, but they are perfect for banana bread. When bananas are past their prime, FREEZE them for later: peel them and wrap them individually in plastic wrap. Pop them in a heavy-duty freezer bag and store them in the freezer until you are ready to use them. Defrost at room temperature or nuke them briefly in the microwave.

Blogging around:

Banana Bread (Simply Recipes)

Jess Thomson's Banana Bread (Hogwash)

Banana Cake (David Lebovitz)

Posted on February 27, 2011 and filed under Bread, Food gifts, Muffins and Tea Breads.

A Sticky Situation: Pecan Sticky Buns

I missed the IACP conference last week in Portland (for the uninitiated, it’s the International Association for Culinary Professionals, a funfest for foodies, food writers and the food-obsessed.) I had my bags packed, but a family emergency kept me on the ground. I don’t regret not going, family first and all that, but as a people-watching, people-listening opportunity, it’s hard to beat. Apparently there was at least one funny food fight that broke out at the conference, notably, Michael Ruhlman’s comment challenging the assumption that people are just too busy to cook. That notion is just plain b**l**t was the source of the fracas!  I would have loved to have been there! 

I pretty much agree.

Elissa Altman, also on the Huff Post chimed in. She echoed my own thoughts to a tee. “….the minute that a culture stops cooking for itself and ceases the basic act of nurturing, it starves. And every time we choose the quick-n-simple, pre-fabricated, synthetic, just-add-water route, we're one step closer to hunger, regardless of how much food comes out of the oven.” 

Are you too busy to cook? I’d love to know your answer and your whys and wherefores. Ruhlman’s rant might be a bit harsh for some people, but in defense of cooking, I have to say, he has a point. We are in control of how we spend our time, no matter how little of it we think we have. (Everyone has 24 hours in a day, by the way.) How we manage it is programmed through habit—and much of that habit creeps in when we are not really looking. Some people hate to cook because they’re not good at it because they don’t cook often enough to become good at it, so they don’t cook because they hate to cook because they’re not good at it. It’s like saying you hate to play tennis because you’re not good at it because you don’t know how to play well enough. Every time you get on the court you feel defeated. The learning curve is too daunting and uncomfortable.

You really need to make a conscious effort if you want to get beyond that curve. So why not cook one or two meals a week and build on that? Keep them simple and every once in a while, add something new or something absolutely irresistible. It’s not an all or nothing proposition. It’s more of a try-it-you’ll-like-it kind of thing. When you program it in, it becomes a habit.

If you are looking to be seduced into the kitchen, try making a batch of sticky buns. If these three teenagers can make them, so can you. Even if you’ve never made yeast dough in your life, just take it step by step. With all the effort comes a sweet reward. And nothing says homemade quite like sticky ooey gooey pecan rolls.

There are fancier ways to make these (with brioche dough, for example) but I love the old-fashioned granny feel to this recipe. I couldn’t find my old recipe when the girls requested these buns for a class, so I adapted a pillowy, golden buttermilk bread recipe. You could substitute plain milk if you don’t have buttermilk. You could even make these without their sticky topping, and ice them with a little glaze made with confectioner’s sugar, vanilla and enough milk to make the icing drizzle. (But why would you do that, you might ask?)

I tried making the dough the night before, and it works, but you need to bring it to room temperature for about 2 hours. After it warms up, shape it and let it rise again (another 1 1/2 hours.) It might be more efficient to just make the dough in the morning. Then again, another option would be to set your alarm, take the dough out of the fridge and go back to sleep for a couple of hours!

Pecan Sticky Buns (Makes 1 dozen sticky buns)


4 cups bread flour, and a little for kneading the dough

2 teaspoons instant yeast

1/3 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 cup buttermilk

2 eggs

1. Combine the flour, yeast, sugar and salt together in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse the machine several times to fully mix the ingredients.

2. Combine the melted butter, buttermilk and eggs and beat with a fork until the mixture is combined.

3. With the machine on, rapidly pour the liquid through the feed tube (this should take no more than 6 seconds). Continue to process for a few more seconds, just until the dough starts to come together in a mass.

4. Turn the dough out of the work bowl onto a lightly floured countertop. If it is very sticky, cover it with plastic and allow it to rest for about 10 minutes. The flour will absorb more of the liquid as the dough rests. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic. Resist the temptation to add too much flour; the dough may feel sticky but it will become less so as you knead it. It should be soft and slightly tacky, not stiff or dry.

5. Form the dough into a smooth ball by pulling and then pinching the edges together at the bottom. Pour about one teaspoon vegetable 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 (75° to 80° is ideal) until it has doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Shape it as directed below. (Alternatively, after the dough has risen, punch it down and cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate it overnight. Let the dough come to room temperature and roll out as directed.)


4 tablespoons butter, softened, to spread on the dough

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

Reserve the butter for spreading on the dough. Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt together in a small bowl.


1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup honey

6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick), cut in pieces

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons corn syrup

pinch salt

2 cups pecans, lightly toasted

1. Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking dish that is 3 inches deep. Stir all the glaze ingredients together (except the pecans) in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until smooth bubbly. Pour it while it is hot over the bottom of the baking dish. Distribute the pecans with the rounded side down over the bottom of the dish.


1. Lightly flour the countertop. Invert the dough bowl and let the dough drop onto the counter, coaxing it gently at one of the edges if necessary. Flatten the dough and roll it with a rolling pin into a 16 by 12-inch rectangle, positioning it so that the long side of the rectangle is parallel to the edge of the counter. Spread the butter (see filling ingredients) over the dough and sprinkle it with the cinnamon sugar mixture, leaving a 1/2-inch border along the far edge. Brush the border with water. Starting at the edge nearest to you, roll the dough away from you into a cylinder. Seal and pinch the long edge. Lightly roll the cylinder back and forth if it is uneven. Cut the roll into 12 pieces and evenly distribute the pieces in the baking dish with the cut side up. The spaces between the rolls will fill in as the dough rises. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

2. When the dough is almost fully risen, set an oven rack in the middle position and heat the oven to 350°F.  Bake the buns until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. (An instant read thermometer should register 185 to 190 degrees.) Cool the buns in the pan for 5 minutes. Carefully invert the pan onto a serving plate and scrape out any lingering sticky sweetness over the buns with a rubber spatula. Cool for another 10 minutes before digging in.


1. Whisk the flour, yeast and salt together in a large bowl.

2. Combine the melted butter, buttermilk and eggs and beat with a fork until the mixture is combined. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the liquid. Starting in the center, gradually stir in the flour with a wooden spoon or heavy-duty spatula. 

3. When you can no longer stir easily, dump the dough (it may still be a shaggy mess) onto the countertop and knead until it comes together. If it is very sticky, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for about 10 minutes to allow some of the liquid to be absorbed into the dough.

4. Knead for about 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Resist the temptation to add much more flour; the dough may be sticky but will become less so as you knead it. It should feel soft and tacky, not stiff or dry.

Posted on April 29, 2010 and filed under Bread, Breakfast, Sweets.

Golden Cornmeal Bread: Sometimes You Need To Knead

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)


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.


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.

Posted on March 27, 2010 and filed under Bread.