Thursday, July 14, 2011

Baking with Basil, Volume 1: Whole Wheat Cornmeal Bread

I know what you’re thinking. It’s hot, the days are lazy, there’s grilling to do and salads to prepare. And you want to bake something. Are you crazy?

First of all, the answer to that question is beyond the scope of this cooking journal. Second, we’ve had a few cooler days recently, and I got in some baking while it was bearable to use the oven. And finally, but most importantly, those obligatory summer tomato sandwiches have to go on something. It might as well be a couple slices of whole grain bread laced with fresh basil.

I also use this bread for toasted cheese sandwiches and thick slices are good alongside soups and, especially, chili. It’s a little coarse and a bit nutty from the whole wheat flour and cornmeal and the flavor of the basil is in every bite. Whether you’ve got a field of basil or just a few sprigs, this is a good place to put it.

The recipe is adapted from The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking published by Better Homes and Gardens. I wore out my bread machine years ago, and have been re-adapting my bread machine recipes back into mix-by-hand-and-bake-in-the-oven recipes ever since. The dough for this one, as with many bread recipes with whole grains, is kind of stiff to knead by hand. It might be a good candidate for a heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook, and that must have been how I made it in years past, because I didn’t remember it being such a workout.

I guess if I’m going to make tomato sandwiches slathered with homemade mayonnaise, or toasted cheese (that’s Monterey Jack with buffalo sauce in it in the photo above) I need to find a way to work off those calories anyway. It may not be baking season, but it is basil season. As far as I’m concerned, the great flavors and aromas of this bread are worth getting my apron a little sweaty as well as messy in a hot July kitchen.

Whole Wheat Cornmeal Bread with Basil
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens: The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking

I have given directions for mixing and kneading by hand. You could use a heavy-duty mixer and knead using the dough hook.

¼ cup warm water (about 100-110 F)
1 tablespoon sugar
2-2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (about 1 envelope-style package)
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon sunflower or canola oil
¾ cups whole wheat flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon gluten
2 cups bread flour, divided
1 teaspoon fine salt
2 tablespoons finely sliced or torn basil

1. In a large bowl, mix together the water, sugar and yeast. Let stand about 5 minutes or until the yeast appears foamy.

2. Warm the milk to about 100-110 F. (I microwave cold milk about 30 seconds. Be sure to test it to make sure it’s not too hot). Add the milk, oil, whole wheat flour, cornmeal, gluten and about half of the bread flour to the yeast mixture. Stir together to make a batter-like dough. Cover with a towel and let stand 15-30 minutes.

3. Stir in the salt, basil and enough of the remaining flour to make a stiff dough. When the dough becomes difficult to stir, turn it out on a kneading surface. Knead until the dough is smooth and only slightly tacky, adding in as much of the remaining flour as you can (or more if needed). If the dough is already stiff and you have more than about ¼ cup bread flour left, add a small amount of water to the dough, 1 teaspoon at a time, and continue kneading in the remaining flour. Kneading should take about 10 minutes.

4. Shape the kneaded dough into a ball. Spray a medium-size bowl with cooking spray or brush it with oil. Place the dough in the bowl and spray or brush the top of the dough. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the dough. Cover with a towel and let rise about 1 hour or until roughly double in size.

5. Spray an 8 x 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray or brush it with oil. Gently deflate the risen dough and let stand for a few minutes. Shape the dough into a loaf and place in the prepared pan. Cover with a towel and let rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until about double in size and a gentle press with the finger leaves an indentation without springing back.

6. Preheat oven to 375 F. Remove the towel from the risen loaf and bake at 375 F for 30-35 minutes, or until the bread is done. (It should sound hollow when tapped, or have reached an internal temperature of about 200 F.) Remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack.

Makes a 1 ½ pound loaf.

Other recipes like this one: Multigrain Baguette, Wheat Sandwich Bread

One year ago: Cherry Clafouti

Two years ago: Sauteed Cabbage with Caraway and Cider Vinegar

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