Cornmeal Honey Bread

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I think in some ways, you fall into one of two camps. Either you make bread and you love it, or you want to make bread but are afraid. (Okay, there's another camp of course of people who never even think about making bread, because technically there's no need, but this post isn't really for them.) So, if you already make bread and you love it, here's a loaf (two of them, actually) that is de-li-cious. Or delish if you're trendy (and bread-baking is, after all, trendy these days). You can skip straight ahead to the recipe and get cracking.

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If you're afraid of bread, but you want to try it, this recipe is eas-y. As pie. Easier than pie actually. If you're hanging out at home for any amount of time, it comes together almost as an afterthought, a way to use up some of that extra buttermilk in the fridge and the last of the cornmeal from your latest batch of cornbread. Don't believe me? It comes from Beth Hensperger's Beth's Basic Bread Book: Simple Techniques and Simply Delicious Recipes for Foolproof Baking. It's like Beth's beginner bread book. AND you get two loaves out of it to really maximize your effort. You won't be disappointed.

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Beth gives actual temperatures instead of just telling you "warm water" or "warm buttermilk" and if you're still a little nervous you can actually take the temp of your liquids. I didn't, I just warmed them in the microwave a bit and called it good. So don't stress just because there are some temperatures listed in the ingredients. I give instructions on how to make it in a stand mixer because I made mine in a stand mixer, and I like to relay what I actually did since it's the only method I can really speak to. But this bread can also be mixed up and kneaded by hand.

Cornmeal Honey Bread
Adopted from Beth Hensperger's Beth's Basic Bread Book

3/4 cups warm water (105F - 115F)
1 tablespoon (1 package) active dry yeast
Pinch of granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups warm buttermilk (105F - 115F) (it might separate a bit when being heated, but that ain't no thing so don't worry about it)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 2 more tablespoons melted for brushing
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup yellow cornmeal, fine or medium grind, plus a bit extra for sprinkling
4 1/2 - 5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

The first step in this easy bread (and in any bread) is to proof the yeast. Which is just a fancy way of saying put it in some warm water, give it something to munch on (the sugar) and wake it up (yeast is a living thing, after all). To proof it, pour the 3/4 cups warm water in a small bowl and sprinkle the yeast and the sugar on top. Give it a gentle stir with a fork so the yeast dissolves and just let it sit there for about 10 minutes until it's a bit foamy.

To make the dough fit your standing mixer with the paddle attachment, and pour the buttermilk, the melted butter and the honey into the bowl of the mixer. Add the salt, cornmeal, and 1 cup of the all-purpose flour. Beat on medium-high speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Stir in the now-bloomed yeast. Add the rest of the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing between each addition. The dough will be soft and a bit sticky, but if it's too sticky to handle, add more flour.

As the dough begins to come together, you'll have to switch the paddle out for the dough hook, or just turn the dough out onto a floured surface and kneed by hand. Kneed it for about 3 minutes with the dough hook until it becomes smooth, not overly sticky and elastic. It shouldn't be dry, so be judicious with any extra additions of flour.

Take the dough out of the bowl and set aside. Lightly grease the bowl and return the dough to the bowl, rolling it over so that it is coated. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise at room temperature for about 1.5 hours, until it's doubled in volume. Go do something else.

Come back, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then sprinkle the extra cornmeal on the paper. Set aside. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it in half, which will deflate the dough. Shape the dough into two round loaves. If you need help with this step, check out this video from The Kitchn, since showing is so much better than telling. Place the loaves seam-side down on the prepared baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Let the loaves rise again at room temperature for about 45 minutes, until doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven to 375F. When the dough is risen, use a sharp knife to cut an 'x' into the top of each loaf, which should not be deeper than 1/4 inch. Brush the loaves with the rest of the melted butter and bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40-45 minutes, until the loaves sound hollow when tapped with your finger. Remove from the oven and transfer the loaves to cooling racks. Serve warm or at room temperature.


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