Among the lessons I've learned while baking bread, this, I suppose, could have been the most predictable: Baking bread is not like riding a bicycle. If you haven't done it in a long time, well, don't count on being able to do it again.
I won't go into it, but there exists a recent valiant attempt at making multigrain bread extraordinaire, which many bakers in the Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge had pronounced a breeze. In my Brooklyn kitchen, however, this turned out to be anything but. And the end result was a flat dense brick that was as saggy in the center as it was dry and mealy.
"You're out of practice," the husband noted. (Which earned him extra dishwashing duties but — I had to admit — was not untrue.)
How to solve the problem? An old Julie Andrews song instantly came to mind.
Perhaps, I thought, it might help to go back and start at the very beginning …
"A" is for Anadama, which is a New England bread with a colorful story attached to it. At some point in time, many many years ago, a Massachussetts man was upset with his wife for leaving him with nothing to eat but cornmeal and molasses, so the story goes. He added flour and yeast to the mix and created a bread while cursing, "Anna, damn 'er!"
I'd been curious about this bread for months, having heard many raves about it from other BBA challenge bakers, who have been ploughing through Peter Reinhart's "Bread Baker's Apprentice" book together. I had not attempted it myself, since I joined the challenge when the bakers were well into the "B" breads. But when I happened to see a college friend post on Facebook that her toddler, who adores the Anadama loaves she's made, declared "It is the Nice Bread," I took it as a sign.
I got out my bowl and my polenta and the Anadama-making began.
Baking anadama is a two-day process — on the first, you mix a cup of polenta (very coarse cornmeal) with room temperature water and let that sit overnight.
The next day, you mix that soaker with bread flour, instant yeast and more water and let that ferment for an hour …
… until the sponge starts getting bubbly.
Then you add more bread flour, salt, molasses and room temperature shortening and mix it altogether. When that's properly combined, you knead it for six to eight minutes, if using a standmixer.
Next, you oil a bowl and roll the ball of dough around in it a little and let it sit for about 90 minutes…
… or until it doubles in size.
When that happens, you divide it into two or three equal parts, depending on what size loaf pans you're using. You roll them up into logs and place them in oiled pans for more proofing/growing.
They're supposed to crest above the tops of the pans, but after more than two hours of watching and waiting, I was getting antsy.
So, with a light dusting of cornmeal, into the oven they went for 40 minutes. And the incredibly sweet smell of loaves quickly started to fill my entire apartment.
And the loaves looked truly beautiful fresh out of the oven.
Because of the molasses and also because soaking the cornmeal overnight in water releases the natural sugars in it, the flavor in Anadama loaves are a little more complex than most breads.
It's lovely as a sandwich bread but also delicious on its own, lightly toasted with a little bit of butter. I adored the slightly crunchy texture to it — and I found it to be an excellent canvas for a grilled cheese sandwich that you'll just have to wait until Friday to read about.
When the first loaf was sliced and served, the husband, this time, was quiet. He was so busy with the devouring — and the smiling in between the devouring — that there simply wasn't any time to waste on these things called "words." But he had been right — all it took to get back on that bike was a little bit of practice.
As for the bread? It made me think of my friend's kid, who may be young yet but she's clearly already very wise. This Anadama — it is most certainly a Nice Bread.
Check out other Bread Baker's Apprentice bakers' Anadama breads here:
Devany's at My Hawaiian Home
Haley's at Appoggiatura
Helene's at La Cuisine d'Helene
Leslie's at Lethally Delicious
Nicole's at Pinch My Salt
Tanna's at My Kitchen In Half Cups
Check out Yeastspotting for other Anadama loaves.