I often find that, after coming home from a long trip, I want to start making a few really basic things: stock and a subsequent big batch of soup, a fresh batch of salts and toasted spices, and . . . bread. Somehow it’s important to fill the house with aromas to really let me know that I’m back.
I’ve been rather smitten with a somewhat recent cookbook purchase called Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day, by Hertzberg and Francois. The title refers not to the total time required to make a loaf of bread, of course; it refers to the really wonderful “nudge” of making a big batch homemade dough, refrigerating it, and slicing off a pound here and there to shape and bake whenever the fancy strikes. Once the initial labor of making the dough, letting it rise, punching it down, etc. is accomplished, great fresh bread is a short step away. It works. And the main reason it works is that pre-mixed, pre-risen, high-moisture dough keeps in the fridge for a long time. As a bonus, it’s no-knead, the yeast doesn’t need to be proofed, and you don’t need a starter or sponge. It’s about as low-fuss as it’s possible to be, yet it yields fantastic results. My kind of project!
I don’t always have bread dough in the fridge, of course; I still buy plenty of La Brea whole grain, Tartine country loaf, Brickmaiden wheat, and anything from Della Fatoria. But if I’m in the kitchen with a few extra moments and a small surplus of energy, I make an effort to whip up a quick five-pound batch of dough. It’s really not hard at all.
My favorite bread so far in the book is the broa, or Portuguese corn bread. It has a supercrunchy exterior, yet the interior is chewy and really corny. It makes brilliant toast.
It’s rare that I bother to write out exact instructions for a dish, but since bread is notoriously hard to wing, here it is, with a few minor adjustments that have improved it for me. I don’t think Hertzberg and Francois will mind. Give it a try.
Broa (Portuguese Corn Bread)
Makes two two-pound loaves, or four one-pound loaves. The recipe is easily doubled.
- 3 cups lukewarm water
- 1.5 tablespoons granulated yeast (1.5 packets; I buy mine in bulk from the local hippie store, and just keep it in a jar in the fridge)
- 1.5 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1.5 cups stoneground cornmeal (I use fancy-ish polenta, medium grind, but regular old cornmeal probably works fine)
- 5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur, purchased at Trader Joe’s)
- Cornmeal for pizza peel and dusting the top
1. Mixing and storing the dough: Mix the yeast and salt with the water in a 5-quart bowl, or a lidded (not airtight) food container
2. Mix in the remaining dry ingredients without kneading, using a spoon, a 14-cup capacity food processor with dough attachment, or a heavy-duty stand mixer with dough hook. If you’re not using a machine, yo may need to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour (I just use a sturdy wooden spoon).
3. Cover (not airtight), and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses, approximately 2 hours.
4. The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 10 days.
5. On baking day, dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and divide the dough into two pieces, one of which goes back in the fridge for later. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of a the dough around to the bottom on al four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Allow to rest and rise on a cornmeal-covered pizza peel for 40 minutes.
6. Twenty minutes before baking time, preheat a baking stone to 450F, with the stone placed on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray on any other shelf that won’t interfere with the rising bread.
7. Just before baking, sprinkle the loaf liberally with cornmeal and slash a cross, “scallop,” or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top, using a serrated bread knife. Leave the cornmeal in place for baking; tap some of it off before eating.
8. Slide the loaf directly onto the hot stone. Pour 1 cup hot tap water ito the broiler tray, and quickly close the oven door. Bake for about 30 minutes, until deeply browned and firm. Smaller or larger loaves will require adjustments in baking time. Allow to cool a bit before slicing.