BBA Challenge: Anadama bread

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”
-Lao Tzu

The journey through the The Bread Baker’s Apprentice begins with Anadama bread. It’s because the recipes are in alphabetical order, but I think it is an interesting place to start. It is one of the few American yeasted breads with character and history, though I had never had it before (but then again, I grew up in Michigan, not New England where the recipe originated). Will I be making it again? Definitely, and not only because now I have a whole jar of molasses that won’t be used for anything else. It is a tasty, versatile bread with a really beautiful crumb structure, and it was fun and easy to make.

The journey through Anadama bread begins with a cornmeal soaker – basically, just cornmeal and water left to sit and get to know one another overnight. I stirred them together around 9 pm on Friday night. Saturday morning, there was a film of water on the top and a cornmeal sludge below. I re-stirred and left it until about 12 noon when I made the sponge:

I like to weigh the ingredients – it keeps you from having to remember how many cups you measured out, and of course, it’s the standard for bakers everywhere. The only thing is, my scale doesn’t measure in straight ounces, it switches to pounds when it reaches an increment of 16 ounces, so you have to do a little math (you were right, Dad. I DO need math!). This recipe calls for 20.25 ounces of flour, but you only need two cups for the sponge. I measured out all the required flour, then dipped out those two cups.

That’s the cornmeal soaker in the brown bowl. The loaf in the photo is a giant loaf of five minutes a day bread that we had with breakfast, in case you were wondering.
Once the sponge was mixed, we went off to the grocery store to get ingredients to make beef barley soup for dinner. When we left, the sponge looked like this:

And when we came back about 80 minutes later, it looked like this:

Reinhart uses terms like “ferment for one hour” instead of “set aside for one hour”, which really makes you aware of the powerful activity that goes on during the bread making process and makes clear your role not as a master, but as a facilitator.
Into the sponge goes the molasses, salt, and butter:

The butter is just a big glob in the middle of the bowl, but it became evenly distributed through mixing and kneading. Reinhart estimates that after ten minutes of kneading, the dough should reach the windowpane stage but for me it took 20 minutes. I enjoy kneading, especially this bread with the feel of the cornmeal in it, so it was no big deal. Then off to let it rise for about 90 minutes – I probably didn’t need to let it go quite that long, it was likely doubled sooner than that but I gave it the full 90 anyway.
Then time for shaping – Reinhart recommends dividing in three for use in 8×4 loaf pans or in half for 9x5s. Guess what I had? One 8×4 and one 9×5 and that’s it. So I divided it roughly in half and put the smaller of those two into the 9×5, then divided the other half in half again for the 8×4 and one free-form boule:

I did use his sandwich loaf shaping method which made two really handsome loaves.
I set the timer for proofing for 30 minutes, after which I switched on the oven – this bread bakes at only 350 which sounds just insane to me since I usually bake lean, European style breads which start out at 500-525. Another 30 minutes and the large loaf and the boule were ready, but the small loaf hadn’t crested the top of its pan yet. I decided to give that one the full 90 minutes recommended in the recipe and instead roast three beets on the sheet with the other two loaves (I like to consolidate oven time as much as possible):

This bread smells so delicious baking – I know, most bread smells delicious when its baking, but when you bake at very high temperatures, you don’t really get that amazing, rich smell – it tends to smell “thinner”, somehow. The bread turns out great, of course, but you miss that wonderful, house-filling aroma.
The third loaf crested the pan before the other two were done, but I didn’t have the space to get it in the oven when it should have gone, so it over-proofed a bit. Guess I shouldn’t have roasted those beets after all. Oh well – I got two absolutely gorgeous loaves:

And one very nice loaf that was just slightly deflated and I didn’t photograph. The loaves certainly looked done, but I used the thermometer just to be sure:

Bingo!
The large loaf was enjoyed with the excellent beef-barley soup from The New England Soup Factory Cookbook (I wanted something New England-y and something soupy). The molasses flavor was really strong the first day, but I just had a slice for breakfast this morning (toasted with cream cheese) and the dark molasses taste had mellowed out considerably. The boule is going to be sandwiches for lunch tomorrow – I’m thinking turkey and brie with lettuce!

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