Love baking when there’s a chill in the air. Living on my blustery hillside, I must admit I’m a creature affected by the weather. With the preponderance of frigid sleeting storms, my heart and soul yearns to bake in those moments that I’m not working.
I do need to keep an eye on the power, as my oven ceases its task the moment electricity falters. Our rural telephone poles that traverse the mountain are highly susceptible to the ravages of munching animals, drenching or freezing rain and gusting wind.
Browsing cookbooks and favorite magazines by a blazing fire yielded a wonderful lengthy list of things I’d love to bake and blog about with the highlight for those that could be yanked from the oven and dropped into a hot Dutch oven on gas burners should the need arise.
Neighbors in an oh so scenic rural environment is a tad different concept than in the city. My neighbor Terry traverses the winding single lane dirt road past my house up the hillside another 2 1/2 miles to her own. She goes to and fro to work or errands every day and, as only a handful of homes this high on the hill, we’ve chatted and become good friends. With cabin fever lurking, she and I decided to have a girls’ night of gossip, wine and snacks as a welcome break in our stormy week. This provided the extra incentive to get out that flour, cross my fingers on the electricity and get to baking.
With wine and cheese on the menu, I wanted to try out a new bread. I chose Martha Stewart’s Cornmeal Rolls, a most fortuitous selection as this is now one of my favorite bread recipes. For sandwiches or slicing small rounds for cheese, bake the recipe exactly as presented. For serving plain with butter or toasted with jams, I’d add a bit more sugar or even maple syrup or honey to the recipe. You get the predominant flavors of yeast and cornmeal in this perfectly textured bread. I like to put a pan on the lower shelf of my oven with boiling water to create a nice warm space for my dough to rise. If you do this, use a plastic mixing or storage bowl; ceramic or glass will transfer the heat to the bottom of your bowl creating a spot a tad too warm for simple rising. Although Martha gets 20 rolls from this recipe, I shaped them large for guest size sandwich rolls and a couple as, what they call in New England, hoagie shaped to slice like baguette rounds with the cheese. Homemade crackers are visible in these photos and I’ll blog about them shortly. I’d planned on a nice brie round, but it hadn’t been wrapped well and isn’t supposed to be a blue cheese – I’ll leave it at that. Pepper Jack certainly wasn’t as fancy, but it did make a yummy munchable, especially as we teamed it with small squares of cod baked in parchment to also adorn the bread rounds.1 1/4 cups milk 4 teaspoons salt 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal, plus more for sprinkling 1 package active dry yeast 1/4 cup warm water, 100 degrees to 110 degrees 2 tablespoons dark-brown sugar 3 large eggs, lightly beaten 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting Olive oil, for bowl and plastic wrap or a damp clean dish towel
Place milk and salt in a large saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Gradually whisk in cornmeal. Cook the mixture, stirring, until cornmeal is thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside to cool. (I did this in the microwave – high for one minute, stir, then high for another, stir and let cool). In the detached bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together yeast, water, and brown sugar. Set aside until mixture is foamy, about 10 minutes. Attach the bowl to a mixer fitted with the dough-hook attachment. With the mixer on low speed, add cooled cornmeal mixture and 2 beaten eggs. Slowly add enough flour to form a soft dough. Knead on medium-low speed until dough springs back when pressed with a finger, about 5 minutes. (You can mix and knead by hand – knead at least 10 minutes – until smooth and elastic). Brush a large mixing bowl with olive oil. Place dough in bowl; cover bowl with oiled plastic wrap. Set aside until doubled in size, about 3 hours.
Sprinkle two 13-by-18-inch baking sheets with cornmeal (I didn’t do this as I didn’t wasn’t a gritty texture on the rolls). Turn dough out onto a floured work surface. Divide dough into 3-ounce portions. Roll each portion of dough into a ball. Place balls of dough 1 1/2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Cover with oiled plastic wrap or the damp clean dish towel. Set in a warm place to rise until dough does not spring back when pressed with a finger, about 30 minutes. (The puddles you see are from brushing them with the egg wash). Heat oven to 375 degrees. Brush the top of each roll with the remaining beaten egg (I added a tablespoon of water to my beaten egg – habit) and, if you like, sprinkle with cornmeal. (Optional: using a sharp knife, cut two parallel slits in the top of each roll). Bake rolls until they are golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.
The rolls freeze and reheat beautifully. Take the frozen roll and very lightly mist with water from a spray bottle, put on the rack of a toaster oven at 350° for nine or 10 minutes. They emerge warm and as wonderful as fresh out of the oven. Here’s my pepper jack lunch cheese sandwich that is so much more than if it were simply on plain old bread. The agate plates are from our local, Angel’s Camp, Stories in Stone.
I have been babbling bit about the weather, but has gone from 80s to freezing with deep snow and back again a few times. Our local vintners have also been posting their pictures of the last few weeks (Irish Vineyards FB post, Love this – as someone said the road closed sign is a tad redundant, Jeff of Twisted Oak).
This post is participating in the parties linked below.