Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pilgrim's Bread


I've had the recipe for at least three years. When I first tasted the bread, I was still living in Vancouver, visiting my friend Tora. Maybe I was popping over for a bit of tea and a rest from the rigors of grad school insanity. Maybe I wasn't at her house at all. Maybe she gave me a loaf wrapped up tight to smuggle home on the bus and share with Kevin. Whatever scenario is true, I remember Tora and I, bread in hand, standing in her bright basement suit, eating.

That is how it was with us. Tora, among others in Vancouver, helped cracked the door into the world of cooking for me. She was blog-savvy and introduced me to a few of my now-favorite food sites. She taught me to put milk in my tea (and sugar). English Breakfast in the morning, Earl Gray in the afternoon. And it was in her kitchen that I spent a few key afternoons reading and typing at her kitchen table. I would come over, teary, weary, and shaken and she would sit me down and make me tea, feed me hazelnut cake with whipped cream, or molasses crinkle cookies, or this bread, with butter. She would read to me glorious nuggets from the very books I could not manage to read myself, and by the end of my visit, I was on the verge of OK again.



You'd think with that kind of golden memory I would have made this bread immediately. But maybe life is never so obvious. I have standards. I'd see the large yellow index card peeking out from the top of shorter ones, remember the bread, and reach for another recipe. Pilgrim bread simply does not fit my criteria for every day baking. Never mind that in the past two years I have baked (and eaten) more cakes than anyone outside a bakery should admit. Never mind that my everyday bread from two weeks ago was so heavy it wouldn't rise passed the sides of the bread pan. And never mind that I will happily consume most of a bran-deficient loaf of sourdough if Kevin brings it home. In short, I have neglected this rather delightful, "light bread" with its "lovely blend of flavors" for these years post-introduction because it is just that--a light bread.

Lightness comes from the white flour. Its "lovely blend of flavors" is from the decisive nod towards whole grains, with whole wheat, rye, and corn. What you get out of mostly white flour and a trio of whole grains is a slightly sweet bread (from the corn) with a nutty edge (from the wheat), and this odd depth, this something...different that is not a hit-you-over-the-head rye flavor (which can be nice), but rather mysterious otherness I can't quite put my finger on.

The bread is easy, its moist, it has structure, and the crust does this fabulous shattering thing when toasted. Kevin had it for his peanut butter and plum sandwich today. I had it as toast. And then I had it again for lunch, with soup.

Maybe I have finally learned something from those soul-cleansing afternoons at Tora's. Give yourself a break. Take a deep breath and let that rest in. Life should never be so serious as to keep you from a couple of loaves of Pilgrim Bread for three years. Life, perhaps, could use a little less cake and a little more "light bread." If life seems to be pounding you awkwardly into silly ideals, then here, I think both of us could use some tea...




Pilgrim's Bread (adapted from More with Less via Tora)

I used a mixture of olive and neutral vegetable oil here, and I think it did something good. Also, when asked to grease the pans, I used oil again (instead of my usual butter). The crust turns out shattery-crisp, like (track with me here) a croissant without the butter flavor. I highly recommend it.

Combine in a bowl:
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt

Stir in gradually:
2 cups boiling water

Add:
1/4 cup oil
Cool to lukewarm (or forget about it completely until cold, like I did)

Dissolve packages dry yeast in
1/2 cup warm water
(and a bit of honey)

Combine yeast, cornmeal mix and:
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rye flour
41/4-4 1/2 cups unbleached white flour

Turn onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Place in a lightly greased bowl, turning once to grease surface. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled.

Punch risen dough down; turn out onto lightly floured surface. Divide in half and knead a second time for 3 minutes. Shape dough into 2 loaves and place in greased pans. Cover and let rise again in warm place until doubled in bulk. Bake at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes. Remove from pans and let cool on wire racks. Enjoy!

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