Social theorist and writer Malcolm Gladwell has written that to be really good at something you need to do it for 10,000 hours. This notion seemed completely arbitrary to me until I started making bread. Now I think he has a point.
Linda Snider of Glenboro and Winnipeg's Debbie Saske responded to Gwen Bailey's request for pumpernickel bread flavoured with anise. I think I'd better "tell the truth and shame the devil," as my grandmother used to say, and admit that although the taste of both breads was lovely -- with the dark sweetness of molasses and a hint of licorice -- I struggled to get the right texture. I suspect this has more to do with my fraught history with yeast than with the recipes.
This week Barb Gmitrowski writes that she, along with an aunt and a co-worker, are searching for a tried-and-tested recipe for hot and sour soup. And since I need to put in some more quality time with bread dough, I wonder whether anyone has a good recipe for Christmas stollen bread, along with a few tips for bread novices.
November is also a good time to send in holiday recipe requests. This year we will be running 12 Days of Christmas Cookies, so please start thinking about your old family favourites. If you can help with a recipe request, have your own request, or a favourite recipe you'd like to share, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, fax it to 697-7412, or write to Recipe Swap, c/o Alison Gillmor, Winnipeg Free Press, 1355 Mountain Ave., Winnipeg, MB, R2X 3B6. Please include your first and last name, address and telephone number.
Linda Snider's simple pumpernickel bread
22 ml (1 1/2 tbsp) active dry yeast
375 ml (1 1/2 cup) warm water (43-46C or 110-115F)
125 ml (1/2 cup) molasses
20 ml (4 tsp) salt
30 ml (2 tbsp) shortening, melted
30 ml (2 tbsp) anise seeds
650 ml (2 3/4 cup) dark rye flour
500-750 ml (2-3 cups) bread flour
Place warm water in a large bowl and sprinkle yeast on top, stirring until yeast is dissolved. Stir in molasses, salt, shortening, and anise until combined. Add rye flour and then slowly add bread flour until you have a dough that is stiff enough to be kneaded. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes or until dough becomes smooth. If dough is too sticky, add bread flour, 15 ml (1 tbsp) at a time, until dough is workable. Place dough in a greased bowl, turn dough over to grease top, cover and place in a warm place for 1 hour or until dough has doubled in size. Punch down dough, cover again and let rise for 45 more minutes. Punch down dough again, then turn onto floured board and knead briefly. Cut dough in half and shape each half into small round loaf. Sprinkle a greased baking sheet with cornmeal, place loaves on sheet, then cover and let rise for about 45 minutes more or until almost doubled in size again. Bake at 190C (375F) for 35 minutes or until bread is beginning to brown and sounds hollow when tapped on bottom. Cool on wire racks.
Tester's notes: I found the 500 ml (2 cups) of bread flour was about right, but flours can vary. The "doubling in size" thing remained elusive for me, but I think this was my issue with yeast. If the water is too cool, the yeast won't activate; if it's too hot, the yeast will be killed. You can use a bread stone for baking instead of baking sheets; just be sure to put the stone in a cold oven and let it heat up with the oven.
(adapted from The Farm Journal's Homemade Bread)
750 ml (3 cups) cold water
175 ml (3/4 cup) cornmeal
60 ml (1/4 cup) dark molasses
15 ml (1 tbsp) anise seeds
30 ml (2 tbsp) shortening
20 ml (4 tsp) salt
1 packet (about 2 1/4 tsp or 11 ml) dry active yeast
60 ml (1/4 cup) warm water (43-46C or 110-115 F)
500 ml (2 cups) mashed potatoes made with packaged instant mix
1125 ml (5 cups) dark rye flour
1500-1625 ml (6 1/2 -7 cups) whole wheat flour, stirred before measuring
In medium heavy saucepan, combine cold water and cornmeal. Bring to boil and cook until thick, about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in molasses, anise, shortening and salt. Pour into a large mixing bowl and let cool slightly. Sprinkle yeast over warm water and stir to dissolve. Add cold potatoes and yeast to cooled cornmeal mixture. Gradually add rye flour, then whole wheat flour, mixing to form a stiff dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and no longer sticky, about 10-15 minutes. (Be sure not to underknead.)
Place dough in large greased bowl, turn dough over to grease top, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about 2 to 2 1/2 hours). Punch down dough, knead on floured board until dough is no longer sticky, adding more flour if necessary by 15 ml (1 tbsp) increments. Divide into 4 portions and shape into round or oblong loaves. Place on 2 greased baking sheets sprinkled with cornmeal, cover and let rise again in warm place for 45 minutes (loaves will rise but not double). Bake 40-45 minutes at 190C (375F). Remove from oven and cool on wire racks.
Tester's notes: The cornmeal and potatoes (using packaged instant mashed potatoes instead of homemade helps to keep things consistent) add a little prep time but pay off in the texture. Debbie points out that rye flour can be sticky to work with, so don't get discouraged in the kneading process. And make sure to let the cornmeal mixture cool a bit so you don't kill the yeast. Debbie also recommends brushing loaves with cold water for a crisp crust or melted butter for a tender crust.