... a return to Random Recipes brings me to an artisan bread worthy of a good soup ...
How appropriate that a return to Dom's monthly cooking challenge should take me back to a basic bread. It's been ages since I've contributed to Random Recipes. There has been far too much drama in my life, of late. Blogging took a real hit and my connections to all my blogging friends have suffered a bit. For a while, I have been feeling sad-hearted. Losing my Dad back in May just seemed to take the wind out of my sails; having a few health problems of my own was the double whammy, though. I have tried putting up the brave front with folks, managed to fulfilll my volunteer obligations in my little community, and tried to move on, but found myself doing some retreating from other areas of my life. I haven't really wanted to write or cook as extensively as is my usual wont. Haven't wanted to socialize too much. Haven't wanted to yak on the phone with friends and family much. Haven't even wanted to write poetry, which is a particular love of mine (even if I'm not so great at it). I've sat reading or sewing or playing mindless word games on the computer, but real productivity has escaped me. It's funny how events in life can turn your routine upside down. Enough said about that.
BUT ... I am beginning to come back to blogging (and cooking) and pulling a random book off the cook book shelf seems a fine way to begin the return to a more healed and happier me. And what a fun book, I pulled. A Feast of Ice and Fire is the companion cook book to George R.R. Martin's cult hit called A Game of Thrones. His books are wildly popular and the television series has made fantasy freaks of millions of viewers. The rustic medieval-type fare in this cook book is great fun - basic country cooking with some really fun over-the-top desserts and gorgeous presentation of all the foods presented in the cook book. I became obsessed with Martin's literary series a couple years ago when I went on a jag of reading fantasy genre. Mixed in with his incredibly involved plot line was some damn fine description of cooking and meals. Most of the foods he described were always so inviting, so I jumped onto a list of followers of a Thrones-inspired foodblog called The Inn at the Crossroads - check it out. It's all things Game of Thrones ... very cool. Anyway ...back to Random Recipes.
I happened to open the book to a basic crusty bread that turned out like an artisan loaf right from the bakery ... the crust is super crisp and chewy and the inner bread is full of bubbles and pulls apart in long swags that are perfect for dragging through a stew or dipping in a soup ... which is exactly what we did last evening. Chicken and rice soup, another one of my healing tactics, and hunks of this crusty bread brought us to a happy place! And that's as it should be, don't you think?
Crusty White Bread
Makes three loaves of bread
1 ½ tbsp active dry yeast
1 -2 tbsp. honey
3 c. warm water
6 ½ - 7 c. bread flour
1 tbsp. coarse salt
⅓ c. cornmeal
Making the Bread:
- Mix the yeast and honey in the warm water (109°F) and let it sit a few minutes to proof.
- Place 3 cups of the flour and the salt in a deep bread bowl and make a well. Add the proofed yeast/honey mix and begin to stir to make a sloppy mix. Combine it completely and then add the rest of the flour ½ a cup at a time, stirring it in.
- When 6 ½ cups of flour have been stirred in, the dough will be loose and sticky.
- Sprinkle a generous amount of flour on a kneading surface and then, using flour-dusted hands, knead another ½ cup or so flour into the dough, keeping the kneading surface dusted and working fast to keep the dough from sticking to your hands.
- When the dough is smooth and of a consistent texture, but very soft still, turn it into an oiled bowl. Cover it with a damp towel and place it in a warm sunny spot to rise for 2 hours.
- After the rise, sprinkle part of the cornmeal onto the kneading surface, turn the dough out, and knead in some of the cornmeal, using the cornmeal to you’re your hands too. Reserve some of the cornmeal to dust the baking sheets.
Note: Here is where I say, this is a really loose dough and the loaves will spread out if left free-form. I use oiled and cornmeal dusted baking bowls. This allows the bread to get some height as it rises for the second time.
- Divide the dough into three mounds. Shape into rounds and place on oiled and cornmeal-dusted baking sheets. Let the dough rise, uncovered, for 40 minutes.
- While the dough rises, place baking tiles on the bottom rack of the oven. Place a baking pan with a couple cups of water in it on the baking tiles. Place the upper rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450°F.
- Bake the breads for 25 – 30 minutes. They should be golden and should ‘thump’ when you knock them with a knuckle.
- Remove and cool on racks before trying to slice them. They are wonderfully ‘tearable’ while warm, though. Enjoy!