I have posted before about the fact that I am maybe ... not so good at the fine art of baking. I can make several different kinds of cookies. That's about as far as I can get. I tried meringues, they collapsed. I tried foccacia, the result being a freakish hybrid bread-cracker-thing. The baking thing just seriously eludes me.
But I am not a quitter. And though I won't be making any souffles or layer cakes or eclairs or what-have-you in the near future. I do continue to strive for certain more rustic baking accomplishments, because I figure if a peasant with no money and no stuff can manage to make a loaf of bread, then I with my modern kitchen accoutrements should be able to figure out at least this basic skill.
So for my latest attempt, I picked something rustic and hearty and not in the least bit fancy. I also watched an episode of America's Test Kitchen and studied closely as Bridget made some buns so I could learn how to knead and otherwise handle bread dough without (a) getting most of it stuck to my hands and other kitchen parts; or (b) having to use too much flour to avoid scenario (a). I learned how to kind of slap the dough around (now we're talking!) and I learned that I really need one of those dough scrapers, but I don't have one, so I had to make do with slapping around.
I chose a Moroccan bread because it seemed fairly simple and rustic and a little exotic too. I also know that I like North African flavors and well, I've always wanted to go to the North African countries and probably won't go in this lifetime unless political climates drastically change. So the least I can do is eat some of their bread.
The bread came out smashingly and I was super-proud of myself. I was afraid I would be eating two whole loaves of bread by myself, since there was aniseed in it and J. is not an anise-fan. But toasted, with butter, the bread tasted a lot like a rye bread and was not very licorice-y, so we were all able to enjoy some Moroccan bread. This bread is a dense, but soft bread that's best just on it's own with butter, as an accompaniment to a meal.
One thing - I would remove the excess cornmeal from the baking sheet before popping it in the oven, as on mine, the extra cornmeal started to burn and I had to take it out mid-bake and pour the extra in the trash.
RECIPE (Makes 2 loaves):
Source: Bon Appetit, September 2006
- ¾ cup warm (105-115 F) water, divided
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast , (measured from two 1/4 oz. envelopes)
- ½ cup lukewarm (100-105 F) whole milk
- 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 2 cups whole-wheat flour
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 4 teaspoons aniseed
- 2 teaspoons salt
- olive oil
- yellow cornmeal
Pour 1/4 cup warm water into a small bowl. Mix in sugar; sprinkle yeast over. Let stand until yeast dissolves and bubbles, about 15 minutes. Mix in milk. Stir both flours, sesame seeds, aniseed, and salt in a large bowl. Make well in center of dry ingredients. Pour in yeast mixture. Stir with fork until dough comes together, adding more warm water by tablespoonfuls if dry. Turn dough out onto floured surface. Knead until smooth (dough will be dense), about 10 minutes.
Brush large rimmed baking sheet with oil; dust with cornmeal. Divide dough in half. Shape each piece into 4-inch diameter round, about 2 inches high. Place rounds at opposite ends of the baking sheet; brush rounds with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and towel. Let rise in warm, draft-free area until puffed and almost doubled in volume, about 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Pierce dough rounds in several places with fork; place in oven and bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 and bake until loaves are light gold in color and sound hollow when tapped on bottom, about 45 minutes longer. Transfer loaves to rack and cool.