Don't ever lend me a book and say something like, "Oh, sure, take your time. I don't need it back anytime soon." If you do this, I will take your word (and then some) for it. I will take my time, even if that means, say, 10 years, and I will trust that you don't need it back anytime soon. This isn't to say you can't lend a book to me and expect it back. If you say simply, "Here's my book. I need it back in a week." Then I will most certainly have it back to you in a week. Or if you lend me a book and then text me and say, "Hey, are you done with my book." I will get my little self done with your book and get it back to you. But if you say, "Oh, sure, whenever" then I'm sorry, there are simply no promises.
Recently, by which I mean--oh five or six months ago--a friend lent me such a book. A lovely lovely book called My Bread by Jim Lahey about how to make beautiful artisan breads the easy way. Unfortunately for me and for you (and certainly for my sweet friend who lent it to me), I didn't crack that book open for months. And then one day I cleaned my shelf and there it was. Oh dear. Book borrower's guilt. So I got it down. It still took me a while to open it. It's just that I had my own little lazy method for artisan bread as well as pizza dough, and I was happy with them. I assumed that this book used the same basic method (which it does) and I thought to myself, "How much more is there to know?" Oh dear. It's not that there's so very very much more to know as there is so very very much more to imagine. He takes one method (flour, water, salt, yeast, time, heat) and turns it into the most amazing breads you could dream of by making simple alterations. Coconut chocolate artisan bread, yes please. Peanut butter bread--not a sweet bread, but a loaf made with peanuty water instead of just regular water and then peanuts cooked right into the crust. Or add some jelly and fold it in. It's a delicate touch, a bit of innuendo. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. Every page I turned was a new and beautiful (yet still almost stupidly simple) idea.
And the wonderful thing about a book like this--a book that uses a basic sort of method and opens the imagination--is that it opened up my mind. And today when I made my browned butter butternut soup (yes I will get you the recipe), I kind of thought it'd be good with bread and I kind of thought it'd be good with cornbread. And then I realized it'd be really just perfect with artisan bread that had a crunch of chunky-ish cornmeal in it. And it was. Not sweet, but textured and interesting. Oh--and beautiful.
1. Combine grain/flour, yeast, salt, and water.
2. Let it sit/rise for 12-18 hours (yeah--that's the part that's kind of not five minutes)
3. Turn it onto a tea towel dusted with flour, wrap it up, and let it rise another 1-1 1/2 hours.
4. Plop it into a hot Dutch oven and put it in a hot oven. (475 degrees)
5. Bake until it's brown.
6. Let it cool so that the moisture isn't lost and the bread is awesome. The end.
Five-Minute Artisan Corn Grain Bread
inspired by My Bread
Prep time: 5 minutes
Rise time: 12-18 hours
Cook time: 1 hour
flour: .30, cornmeal: .25, yeast: .05
2 3/4 C flour (I used all-purpose, but Lahey recommends bread flour)
1/4 medium ground cornmeal (regular old cornmeal will probably work, but I was going for a rustic, chunky look and feel)
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp yeast
1 1/3 C water
Combine all ingredients until incorporated. No kneading or anything else is required.
Let sit for 12-18 hours. Yes, you have to think ahead of time. Yes, I--of all people--am aware of the difficulty in that.
When the dough is ready, it won't look like regular kneaded dough. It will be wet looking with a bunch of air bubbles in it. It won't have a nice round shape, but will take the shape of your bowl. Don't worry--it's still going to come out round. Now, get out a tea towel. Dust the tea towel with some more corn meal. Plop your dough onto the tea towel and dust it with more corn meal. (Sounds like a pain, but was surprisingly easy). Wrap it up in the towel and let rise another hour or 1 1/2 hours. When you stick your finger in, the indentation should stay.
(See that lovely finger poke)
During the last 1/2 hour of rise time, heat your oven to 475. Put a Dutch oven (with lid) in the oven and let them heat up together.
When your oven's hot, plop your dough into the Dutch oven (I use a bit of parchment paper at the bottom just to make life easy), cover with lid. Bake for 30 minutes.
Uncover the pot (now remember that this pot is crazy, wicked hot--please be careful). Let it cook 15-30 more minutes until the top is a deep golden or darker brown (this won't mean the inside is burned at all--don't worry).
Let it cool. Lahey insists on this and I was going to, but then--oh--dinner was running late and I needed to feed everyone. So I cut into it while it was still warm. But Lahey says if you let it cool, the moisture will remain in and that as the steam escapes your bread will sing to you (make a sort of whistling sound--yeah--awesome) and then it will be perfectly moist and wonderful and chewy and amazing. I want to hear my bread sing and so next time, I intend to let it cool. But now I can tell you that even if you don't, your bread will be pretty darn awesome.