Baking through all the hot days of summer may qualify as a relevant definition of insanity, but this has been a fairly cool summer here and there’s a day once in a while when having the oven on isn’t so bad. Besides, you can’t expect me to eat home-grown tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches on store-bought bread, can you?
Even more than the lovely tomatoes coming at this time of year, the sage that I plant in pots on my patio inspired the ending of my procrastination in trying this flavorful bread recipe. Sure, I’m happy to use up most of that sage on this fabulously delicious white bean concoction, but sometimes you have to venture outward and share the sage.
I got this bread recipe from The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking from Better Homes and Gardens, but took it out of the bread machine (I haven’t had one for years) and rearranged the procedure for mixing and kneading in a heavy-duty stand mixer or by hand. I used pretty much the same techniques I usually do when making yeast bread, namely making a mini-starter with the liquid and some of the flour and allowing that to stand for at least 15 minutes to encourage yeast growth and develop flavor. I also did not bake this in a loaf pan, opting to make a long loaf instead. You could bake this in a pan to make a sandwich loaf, but I would add about 5 minutes to the baking time.
The flavor of this bread is fantastic, and its herb and onion aroma is a gift that keeps on giving. You get it when cooking the onions, when kneading the loaf, when shaping the loaf, when baking the loaf, every time the bread is sliced, and, possibly most of all, when it is toasted. Although the sage and onion combination may seem like something you’d expect in late fall and winter holiday roasting, this bread manages to smell and taste like summer.
Which is great, because, lightly toasted and smeared with mayonnaise, this soft loaf crackling with cornmeal is in fact a fabulous vehicle for my summer staple: tomato sandwiches. Although I suppose a grilled cheese wouldn't be too shabby on this bread, either. Yum!
Sage and Onion Bread with Cornmeal
¼ cup warm water (about 100 F)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
¾ cup warm milk (about 100 F)
2 ½ cups bread flour, divided
½ cup cornmeal
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer (or another large bowl if you are mixing your bread by hand), combine the water, yeast and sugar. Stir together and let stand for about 5 minutes or until the yeast appears foamy.
2. Add the milk, 1 ½ cups bread flour, and cornmeal. Stir, using the paddle attachment, to make a loose batter. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let the mixture stand for at least 15 minutes and up to 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium-size skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until soft and beginning to brown, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
4. Fit the mixer with the dough hook. (Or continue the next step stirring by hand.) Add about half the remaining bread flour to the yeast mixture, along with the onion mixture (including as much of the butter as you can), sage, salt and pepper. Stir together on low speed until the flour is incorporated.
5. Continue kneading, increasing the speed if desired (or turn out onto a floured surface and knead by hand), and adding as much of the remaining bread flour as you can. Knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough is elastic. (The dough won’t be especially smooth because of the texture of the cornmeal.)
6. Grease a large bowl or spray it with cooking spray. Shape the dough into a smooth ball. Place it in the prepared bowl and spray the top of the dough. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the dough. Cover with a towel. Let stand until the dough has roughly doubled in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
7. Gently deflate the risen dough and form into a new ball. Let stand for about 5 minutes. Prepare a baking sheet by greasing it or lining it with a silicone baking mat. Shape the dough into a long loaf about 10 inches long. Cover with a towel and let stand until roughly double in size, about 30-45 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 F.
8. Cut a few diagonal slashes in the top of the dough. Bake at 375 F for about 30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Or, use a more accurate test for doneness by inserting a probe thermometer into the bread. It should be about 200 F.
Makes a 1 ½ pound loaf. Store in a zip top bag at room temperature or freeze for a month or so.