When the weather starts cooling off, that’s when you know it’s time to start turning on the oven and dirtying your hands in…..flour. After a month of pudding, tarts and cakes, I was only too happy to get back to the therapeutic rhythm of kneading bread dough, shaping it and coaxing out the heady, comforting scent of freshly baked bread from a ball of dough.
Picking up where I left off in the Bread Bakers’ Apprentice Challenge, here’s the last of the two ‘C’s in Peter Reinhart’s book: Cornbread and Cranberry Walnut bread, two variations perfect for Fall. I’ve captured them below in pictures and commentary, enjoy!
(Note: We’re not posting recipes as part of this challenge, but if you’re curious about the breads we’re making, get yourself a copy of the book, check out the BBA Challenge page and start baking!)
My first taste of cornbread was in a restaurant decked out in Kenny Rogers memorabilia, alongside a huge (i.e. American-sized) portion of roasted chicken, ribs and mashed potatoes. It was the era of Planet Hollywood and celebrity restaurants were all the rage, especially in emerging cities in Asia like Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. Opening a restaurant showcasing American cuisine – from sandwiches and chopped salad to milkshakes and mud pies – was the de rigeur venture for pop stars from the 80s. For us in Singapore, it was an exciting addition to the Western dining scene in our tiny city. Their tiny cornbread muffins were moist, tasty and sweet, igniting my affection for this golden bread. While it’s not something we have on a regular basis, this is a really friendly bread that I’m always pleased to meet at the dinner table.
With the BBA Challenge, I decided to keep the bite-sized forms of my memory, opting for the muffin tray over the cake pan. This is by far the easiest bread in the book and can be assembled and baked in just under two hours. That is, if you’ve soaked the cornmeal in buttermilk the night before. This softens the little yellow morsels so that you’re not greeted with hard bits of cornmeal on your first bite. I used frozen corn kernels, which tasted as good as the fresh ones (in my opinion), and took care to fully defrost them before adding them to the batter. Which is not too much of a hassle anyway because you could toast the bacon strips in the oven while the kernels take their time to reach room temperature and the cornmeal enjoys an extended buttermilk bath. Talk about multi-tasking!
I found the resulting bread to be delightfully moist, but slightly lacking in the flavor department probably because I didn’t grease the muffin liners with leftover bacon fat (which Reinhart advises doing to your baking vessel). All the same, these were some tasty muffins that served as an addictive snack!
Cranberry Walnut Bread
I have affectionately called this loaf the Alien Bread because, well, just look at it! I must accept responsibility too, because my dough braiding skills aren’t exactly perfect (check out the product of my first attempt), but I was happy to have another opportunity to braid bread dough again. This double-braided ‘celebration’ loaf features dried cranberries and walnuts, with the cranberry relish at Thanksgiving dinner serving as Reinhart’s inspiration for this recipe. Despite its extra-terrestrial appearance – which was normal, as I saw from other bakers – this loaf is absolutely delicious. And it’s a breeze to make!
Similar to the formula for the Cinnamon Raisin Swirl loaf, this recipe includes eggs, flour, yeast, milk, butter, water and orange or lemon extract. As I didn’t have either of the extracts on hand (and wasn’t about to buy some), I substituted with the zest of a lemon, which worked out pretty well. I also reduced the amount of cranberries in the original recipe by a third (after reading feedback about the original fruit/nut ratio) which made the process of incorporating nuts and cranberries a far more pleasant one. You would recall the corraling experience I had with the raisins for the Cinnamon Swirl loaf? Well, I’m glad to report that cranberries and walnuts are far more obedient ingredients than raisins. They stay where they need to be and are far less likely to pop out of your dough on a whim.
After leaving the double braid to rise and coating it with egg wash, I baked the loaf for a total of 50 minutes (instead of the original 25 to 30 that Reinhart states), probably because my oven is a mild, gentle one. The loaf came out like a big brown bear resting on its haunches, so I wasn’t expecting too much, but with my first bite, OH MY! The crumb was so moist and flavorful – tart and sweet cranberries balanced out by earthy walnuts. I’m definitely making this again, not only for its flavor, but also the kick of surprising my friends with a loaf of ‘Alien Bread’.
That’s it for this week’s installment and check back soon for the next bread on the list: English Muffins. In the meantime, here are other BBA baking stories for your reading pleasure:
- Judy at No Fear Entertaining (Corn bread)
- Sarah at Blue Ridge Baker (Corn bread)
- Kathryn at Grandma’s Kitchen Table (Corn bread)
- Kelly at Something Shiny (Corn bread)
- Nicole at Pinch My Salt (Cherry Pecan bread)
- Wendy at Pink Stripes (Peach and Pecan bread)
- Paula at bell’alimento (Cranberry Walnut bread)
- Rebecca at Grongar Blog (Cranberry Walnut bread)