For your toasting pleasure

A few weeks ago, Mia had her First Sick. It was of the fever and tummy trouble variety. Through the worst of it one night, we set a timer and fed her milk with a dropper every twenty, then fifteen, then ten minutes, a few ccs at a time, only as much as she could keep down. When I finally felt her head plop against my shoulder and her body drop into sleep, I said to Eli, “I think we’ve been initiated.” We were real parents now.

By the time I sat down to write that last post, the one about celery, Mia was feeling quite well again. I was feeling well, too. It was Monday; the week was still mine! I was here with all of you, gearing up to talk celery! But as I typed, I began to wish a little bit that I were talking about something else, because celery, well, suddenly it didn’t sound so good. It wasn’t the celery, of course, but me. No sooner did I hit “Publish,” I was struck down. “Grown-ups can’t catch a bug like this from a baby,” Eli had (wishfully) surmised. Famous last words. He too was felled. Two healthy parents and a sick kid is one thing. Two sick parents – welcome to our real initiation.

When the fever lifted and standing in a fully upright position no longer seemed like a task for the mighty, I took myself on a tour of the apartment and surveyed the wreckage. There, on the coffee table, on the kitchen counter, on the floor by the sofa, on a plate in the bed, was forty-eight hours’ worth of evidence of my feeble attempts at solid food consumption: Toast. It was everywhere. At some point, I must have decided that getting bread to toaster, to plate, to bed, was victory enough, since one day-old specimen was not a crumb short of a fully formed slice. The remaining pieces were also whole to varying degrees, with just a corner, maybe two, missing from each one. From the looks of my apartment, this was no illness, but some kind of odd life experiment in which I had repeatedly tried, and failed, to eat toast.

Since we last spoke, I’ve been doing my best to make up for it.

It’s been a lot to get caught up on, all that toast. Loaf by loaf, though, I’ve been closing the gap.

That I have a thing for toast is no secret. Did you know that toast was the subject of the second post that I ever wrote on this site? That feels like a lifetime ago (technically, I guess it was, and then some), but what can I say? I will never get over toast. I must talk about it more than I even realize, because back at the end of January, when I mentioned on Twitter that “day-old corn bread from Hi-Rise Bread Company makes terrific cinnamon toast” (a public service announcement, really), my friend Nishta replied, “Jess, you think everything makes terrific cinnamon toast.” She has a point.

Between you and me, you can leave off the cinnamon, and her statement still holds.

I am proud to have delivered some prime toasting material to your computer screens over the life of this blog. You might recall this soda bread, the stuff of my friend Eitan’s “ideal toast” and, once upon a time, these buttermilk biscuits, which become different creatures completely when toasted. Today, I bring you something new for your toasting pleasure: a corn bread-cum-sandwich loaf from my neighborhood bakery.

I’ve been a fan of Hi-Rise corn bread for years, but these things go in cycles for me, which means that a favorite thing will often slip my mind for months, until one day, out of nowhere, hell-OOO, corn bread. It's not half bad, getting to rediscover my favorite things on a fairly regular basis. (Does this happen to you?)

Anyway, I rediscovered Hi-Rise corn bread just after the first of the year and started bringing home a loaf a week. Then, I found the recipe. It makes a couple of loaves at a time, so we’ve now been going through two loaves a week. (Closing the gap, I tell you, closing the gap.) What gets me about this corn bread is how unexpected it is. I don’t think I’ve ever used the words “corn bread” and “loaf” in the same sentence, but today, I get to. This is no skillet-baked, soda-leavened snacking cake, but an honest to goodness bread. It’s got yeast, and bread flour, and at first glance, looks like standard sandwich bread (if particularly golden-crusted). It is so far removed from what we typically think of when we hear the words “corn bread” that some might say it isn’t corn bread at all. It is, though, with a cup each of corn meal and whole corn kernels to prove it.

You can see here that the first time I baked this bread, it came out with a giant hump. I’m not sure what caused it – it hasn’t happened since – but in any case, it didn’t do any harm. I actually think it’s kind of cute. Here’s that hump from the other side, and a peek at the inside of the loaf to give you a better sense of the thing:

(If you click on that photo, you can see it big.)

This bread has a lot in common with other toast-worthy breads: the slightly moist crumb that’s somehow dense and airy at the same time, the crust that is already on its way to crisp just out of the oven and, once toasted, shatters and flakes when you bite into it. (One end piece for me, please. Two, if no one else wants.) These estimable qualities mean a piece of toast that is 100% toast on the surface – brown, stiff, crumbly; you know, typical toast stuff – but only about 75% toast within, where the bread is warm but still slightly springy to the touch. And that’s before we even get to the corn factor. If you’ve ever taken a corn muffin or a square of traditional corn bread, a corn scone or a glorious wedge of custard-filled corn bread, yes, if you’ve ever taken a corn anything at all, and stuck it in the toaster oven, you know that the corn factor is a very real, very wonderful thing. Cornmeal, toasted, is special. It’s its own flavor, really, and hard to describe. The words “buttery” and “round” come to mind. To me, toasted corn bread tastes sort of like how corn smells when it’s popping, if that makes any sense, only sweeter, in a way that makes me want to drop everything (except for the toast; I’ll finish eating first, thanks) and bake a full-on cornmeal cake. Toasting does nice things to the texture of cornmeal, too, making the grains feel more like crunchy seeds than crumbs.

I bet this bread would be great in a panade, or as the base of a stuffing or a summer bread salad. I'll let you know. If I ever get past the toast.

Hi-Rise Corn Bread
Adapted from Artisan Baking, by Maggie Glezer

If yeasted breads make you nervous, this corn bread is an excellent starting point. It’s rated as a “beginner” recipe in the cookbook where I found it, and I want to tell you a few things here to encourage you to give it a go:

:: This dough is one of the most agreeable I’ve ever worked with, in part because if you have a stand mixer, you barely have to work with it at all. It’s a fairly soft, wet dough, but not overly sticky. Just keep your surfaces floured, and when you dump it out on the counter and start rolling and folding it, you won’t have a problem.

:: Let’s talk about poolish. I feel like that word might scare some people off, but it’s really just a fancy word for a starter, and a very low-maintenance one, at that. You just stir together some flour, water, and instant yeast, and leave it alone for a couple of hours. Ta da! Poolish.

:: A word about timing. The original recipe has you make the bread from poolish, to dough, to fully-baked loaves on a single day. I prefer to break up the steps between two days with an overnight rise in the fridge. I feel it’s simpler this way, so that’s how I suggest you do it in my version of the recipe. If you want to make the bread all in one day, then instead of putting the dough in the fridge for the first rise, let it rise at room temperature until it triples in size (or comes close). That should take between 1½ and 3 hours, depending on how warm your room is. Watch the dough, not the clock.

:: It will be a while until corn season here, so I use (thawed) frozen corn, and it works just fine.

:: The recipe calls for stone-ground white corn meal, but I used Bob’s Red Mill stone-ground yellow corn meal, medium grind. My bread flour is King Arthur’s.

Finally: With so much fuss over toast, I want to be clear that even thoroughly untoasted, this bread is as nice as can be. And how about this for a happy medium: Pop the entire cooled loaf into a 300-degree oven for 7-10 minutes before serving. The crust doesn’t get quite toasted, but it does become something wonderful. Flakey, crunchy, delicious.

For the poolish:
1¼ c. (190 g) bread flour
1½ tsp. instant yeast
¾ c. (190 g) + 2/3 c. lukewarm water (160 g), divided

For the dough:
Fermented poolish
2½ c. (375 g) bread flour
1 c. plus 2 Tbsps. (140g) stone-ground cornmeal, medium grind
Fresh corn kernels from one large ear, or about ¾ c. (115 g) frozen corn kernels
2 large eggs
2 Tbsps. honey
1½ Tbsps. olive or vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. salt

For the glaze:
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Make the poolish:
The evening before you want to bake the bread, whisk together the flour and the yeast in a mixing bowl, then beat in the ¾ c. water. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave it alone until it’s quite bubbly, about 2 hours. I usually do this step in the early evening, before dinner.

Make the dough:
When the poolish is nice and bubbly, add the remaining 2/3 c. water, and stir to loosen it from the bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, and corn. Add the poolish, and all of the remaining ingredients except for the salt, and stir with your hand or a wooden spoon to make a rough dough. Mix with a dough hook on medium speed until the dough is smooth, about 5 minutes. Add the salt, then continue mixing with the hook for another 1-2 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.*

The next morning (12-18 hours later), take the dough out of the fridge and leave it (in the bowl, still covered) on the counter for an hour or two.

Generously butter or oil two 9 x 5-inch loaf pans, and dust your counter with flour. Scoop out about a third of a cup of flour to keep by your work area in case your dough starts to stick.

When the dough is about three times larger than what you started out with the night before, dump it onto your floured surface and cut it in half with a pastry scraper. Dust the first half with flour, and roll it out into a square-ish sheet that’s about ¼-inch thick. Press out the air bubbles as you go. Fold the left and right sides of the dough into the center, letting them overlap by about an inch. I use a pastry scraper to coax the dough up from the counter, and I find it very helpful.

Roll out the dough again from folded edge to folded edge (that is, left to right, parallel to the edge of your counter) until you have a rectangle of dough that’s as long as your loaf pans. Then, starting with the long edge of dough that’s closest to you, roll it up like a carpet. Lay the cylinder seam-side down in one of the prepared pans. (It will look small in there; it will grow.)

Repeat with the second piece of dough.

Cover the loaves with plastic wrap, and let rise until the dough is about an inch above the pans, about 2-3 hours.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the loaves with the remaining egg and bake for 50-60 minutes. Remove the breads from the pans – they should be a deep, glowy brown, and sound hollow when you thump them on the bottom – and let them cool on a rack.

Yield: Two loaves.

*I’ve only made the dough in my stand mixer, but you can also knead it entirely by hand. It will just take longer. Try to use as little extra flour as possible. The original recipe suggests using your pastry scraper to help you crush the corn kernels as you knead. You can also make this dough in a food processor: combine the dry ingredients in the bowl and pulse a few times. Add the poolish, eggs, honey, and oil, and process the dough until the bowl fogs, about 30 seconds. Remove the dough from the bowl and hand knead it for a few turns to cool it down and redistribute the heat. Return the dough to the bowl, add the salt, and process it for 3 or 4 more 30-second intervals, hand kneading it between intervals, until it is tighter and very smooth.

:: :: ::



A Plum By Any Other Name said...

I love Hi-Rise! I've taken to adding cornmeal to the bottom of nearly all the loaves that I make. And you're right poolish does scare me. I'd put it in the company of the trifecta illness that you recently encountered. Yikes, woman. If you can pull through, I have no other choice but to give this recipe a go and conquer my fears once and for all. ;)

Fannie said...

Jess, I thought this post couldn't get any better and then I reached the bottom of the page—what a beautiful girl!

But on to business—this sounds amazing, and quite similar to a very old recipe that I had scribbled on a post-it note (two sides, tiny writing) from a visit to Chez Panisse for, maybe, my twelfth birthday. I made it all through high school but lost the recipe sometime between then and now, and am so grateful to see a similar one to try here—thank you!

When I was making the Chez Panisse bread, I would sometimes crush some rosemary or lavender to add to the bread at the dry ingredients step (not the poolish, the flour/oatmeal/corn in a stand mixer part). It got mixed reviews from my family in the bread fresh out of the oven, but rave reviews as toast the next morning. With rosemary, it made a pretty fantastic toast base for a fried egg, avocado, and a ton of cracked pepper; with lavender, for just about anything a little more delicate and on the sweet side—just butter, a little bit of mildly flavored preserves, or my favorite, ricotta, walnuts, and a drizzle of honey. I just ate breakfast but thinking about that is making me so hungry now...

Thanks for a wonderful post and for all of this amazing blog! I hope everyone is healthy and happy at home.

Molly said...

As someone who has consumed a large quantity of this cornbread (both made by you, and by Hi-Rise) (well, the first time I tried this bread it was made by you, and then, because I loved it so much, I began purchasing it at Hi-Rise) I can attest: This is the best.thing.ever. Ever! Toast away!

olga said...

Oh gosh, not one, but TWO sick parents? Initiated, indeed!! I am glad you're feeling better and this bread - is just the thing to get me out of slump. I've been in a cooking slump lately, no doubt, because I feel so run down. I will have to try to knead this by hand - I have no idea what happened to the bread hook (i think a few roommates ago it went somewhere, maybe a nice, tropical island) - and we registered for a new mixer with lots of wattage... still, i can't wait for a mixer to make this, so hands it is. or in my case, for the moment, hand!

Rosiecat said...

Wow, yum! Jess, you never cease to amaze me with your delicious ideas. I don't think I've got toast-worthy cornbread at home right now, I do have some skillet cornbread, and your post is reminding me to do something with it. I'm thinking a sweet cornbread pudding, maybe with some raspberry jam tucked in there? Mmm.

Also, Fannie's ideas for toast toppings are totally making me hungry.

Happy Friday!

Suzi Banks Baum said...

So happy to hear you are better. And, seeing that sweet face makes me forget toast or corn scones...but I will get hungry again soon. Thanks for the definition of 'polish' too. xo S

Kasey said...

Glad your little one is all better, and you are, too! I must say that toast is one of the great wonders of the world: so simple yet so delicious. It solves many, many problems. A happy weekend to you, Jess! xo

Molly said...

Have you ever read Nigel Slater's memoir? It's called, ahem, "Toast."

I have a friend that lives near Hi-Rise on Mass Ave, and at some point last year I took on the daunting task of trying everything in their case. Right now I'm working through the cookies and have yet to try any of their breads or corn-based goods. Come to think of it, I've taken on the same task at Flour, also on Mass Ave. It's a tough job but I think I'm up to the challenge.

Happy to know Miss Mia and her parents are feeling much better. Leg warmers? So much deliciousness I can barely handle it.

Amy said...

Glad you all are feeling better and you are back to posting and toasting. By the way, according to Bill Cosby you are not a real parent until you have 2 kids. With one you always know "who did it" but with 2 let the games begin :)
Aunt Amy

Nicole said...

Glad to hear you and your family are feeling better! First off, that is the sweetest picture of Mia, she looks like she's going to be a heartbreaker! Secondly, this post made me so nostalgic, as I grew up in the Harvard Square area (I now live in San Francisco) and really miss Hi-Rise! I haven't been there in years, but next time I'm in Massachusetts I clearly need to make a stop.

I'm guessing this is old news, but in case you haven't been to any of these gems my other favorites in the area are Darwin's (I can't tell you how many of their cookies and sandwiches I ate as a kid, since my best friend lived down the block on Brewer and we were allowed to walk there - such freedom!) Cardullos (among other things, I love their selection of imported candy/marzipan) and L.A. Burdick (chocolate mice, fantastic lemonade, great pastry, nomnomnom).

Rogue Unicorn said...

Oh, poor Mia! Poor parents! I'm glad everyone is feeling better. Reading your posts always makes me kinda wish I lived in Boston if only for the food (and I have a feeling that the people and babies aren't that bad either:)
xo T

la domestique said...

Toast is of utmost importance in our house, so I love this post! My favorite homemade loaf is Pain de Mie, a white loaf enriched with butter and milk from Richard Bertinet's book, Dough. I've been baking this bread for years, and every time my husband proclaims it makes the best toast. :) I've never considered a cornbread loaf, but it looks wonderful.

Jess said...

A Plum By Any Other Name - Ha! Poor poolish. I wonder how it got such a bad name. Maybe it's because we think of it as an extra, and therefore complicating, step. But I promise: It really is as simple as stirring together water, flour, and yeast. Do it! I so enjoyed the flavor and texture of this bread that I'm thinking of working a poolish into a couple of my other bread recipes.

Fannie – I have some post-it notes like that around here. Usually, I start off thinking that I have just a few words to jot down, but then the words keep coming, and my handwriting gets smaller and smaller… Anyway, how frustrating to lose a favorite recipe! I’m happy that this recipe takes you a step back to it. I haven’t tried adding aromatics to this bread, but I can just imagine it with rosemary, as you suggest. And toasted, with ricotta, walnuts, and honey?! Yes, pul-ease. I think you’ve hit on one of the things that makes this bread so special – how gracefully it pairs with the sweet and the savory. Thanks for your note, and for your kind words.

Molly – Thank you kindly for your endorsement. Share a loaf with me soon, okay? xo.

Olga – A missing bread hook, an injured hand… This slump sounds serious. I have an idea: the next time you’re in Boston, give me a ring, and I’ll make this bread for you. Feel better soon.

Rosiecat – Sweet corn bread pudding? Please do say more. Suddenly, I’m ready to abandon these loaves altogether and pick up a skillet…

Suzi – Hello! Something tells me that this bread and your jam would be a perfect match. Perhaps we could get them – and ourselves – together this summer…?

Kasey – Yes: the eighth wonder. Definitely. xo.

Molly – Ah yes, a very tough job. Surely that should earn you some kind of certificate, or at least another round of cookies. You know, as much as my eyes wander from treat to treat, I usually end up going with my tried and trues. (I wonder why that is…) So, tell me, what are your favorites? (Oh, and by the way, I just picked up Toast from the library last week!)

Aunt Amy – Ha! No pressure, right? xo.

Nicole – I hear you. Hi-Rise is definitely part of what makes Harvard Square feel like home to us. I imagine you don’t find yourself lacking in San Francisco, though, right? (Tartine, Tartine, Tartine!) Thank you for your list of Harvard Square favorites. They are mine, as well! My favorite sandwich at Darwin’s is the Hubbard Park on pumpernickel, with cucumbers instead of apples, and Swiss instead of cheddar. I ate that sandwich so many times when I was pregnant that I actually needed to take a short break from it for a while. (I’m back on it, now.) The one thing you mentioned that I haven’t tried is the lemonade at L.A. Burdick. It is now officially on my list. (Other star lemonades in the area: The ginger lemonade at CafĂ© Crema, which opened just a few years back. And Hi-Rise, of course.)

Rogue Unicorn – Yes, I’d say that the food and the babies here are equally delicious. You really should come see for yourself... (Hey, T!)

La domestique – I’ve actually been reading up on bread lately, but I haven’t looked at Dough. Thank you for the recommendation. (Also, the bread that you describe sounds exceedingly toast-worthy. I wish I had a slice right now.)

Monica said...

I am in the middle of Artisan Baking right now (working on the sourdough starter at this point) and JUST acquired a stand mixer, so this is perfect timing! Glad you are better!

Nicole said...

Yes, Tartine is pretty fantastic, and lucky for me, my boyfriend lived right around the corner til last year (when we moved in together) so it was a frequent treat, but even as good as Tartine is, I think its hard to top the flavors remembered from childhood (such as High-Rise). I wasn't the biggest chocolate fan as a kid, so the lemonade was my main indulgence from L.A. Burdick, but luckily in years since I've grown to appreciate their chocolates. My mom is such a fan that her dad mails her a box at least once a year, and lucky for me it's usually a Christmas treat so I get to snag a few. I will definitely have to check out Cafe Crema (I just added it to my yelp bookmarks) next time I'm in the area, I LOVE ginger lemonade; thanks for the recommendation.

PS If you're a regular at Darwin's chance are you've at least rubbed elbows with my Grandpa, he's there at least once a day. If a tall roughly 80-year-old gentleman wearing a heathered V-neck sweater with elbow patches (yes, his outfit choice is this predictable) ever tries to strike up a conversation, chances are its him (and chances are, he might, he is very chatty, I got my gift for gab from him). So keep an eye out for Bruce while you're enjoying your Hubbard Park (I'm so jealous!!!). Also, I highly recommend their chocolate peppermint sandwich cookies.

Nishta said...

1) I feel famous.
2) I love toast so much.
3) I love Mia more.
4) I'm so glad everyone is well again!


zeese said...

I love your recipe. I will be using for a party which I am preparing. Tried it at home and it was amazing

kelsey said...

Toast is one of the most essential, humblest comforts I think. Bad day. Toast. Slow morning. Toast. Sick as a dog. Toast. Simple Dinner. Toast. Hope you're all on the mend by now. Oh, and MIA. She's gorgeous.

Jess said...

I'll keep an eye out for your grandpa!

Jess said...

Monica - I haven't tried my hand at sourdough yet. Soon, soon... Congratulations on the new stand mixer. Oh the fun to be had!

Nishta - You are a total star, my dear. xoxo

zeese - I'm so glad you're enjoying the recipe. I like the sound of your party...

Kelsey - Amen, Amen, Amen. And on behalf of Mia, thanks!

petoskystone said...

Dear Eli, After one daughter & in the midst of three grandchildren, let me assure you that every bug your child will come down with, you will also. Sometimes, the illness makes a (seemingly) eternal loop between mom, dad, & child. When Your Angel begins school, she will come home with every illness every classmate comes down with...although there will be times when she exhibits no symptoms *until after you do*. Before such times become overwhelming, perhaps you should sound out your mom & grandma on how they survived. ;)

Cookie and Kate said...

Your baby is so beautiful. I hope she's well now. I'm generally scared off by yeast but this bread looks and sounds doable. I like that little poof on top, it gives it some pizzazz!

Unknown said...

I love this blog! My hi rise corn bread is in the oven and smells divine. I am eagerly waiting for the finished product.

Hannah said...

Jess I have been reading your blog for a long while now (practically since the first toast post you reference :) ) but this bread is the first thing that made me feel compelled to comment. Spectacular recipe! I am so glad it makes two loaves! I was planning to give one to a friend (we play 'bread fairies' here - drop a loaf off with someone, and the next time they make bread they have to pay it forward, not back!) - but the first one was so loved that we kept the second. Now I have to make more.

Also, related to Fannie's comment - we ate toasted slices with lavender-infused honey drizzled over top. You would not think corn-lavender would be a moan-worthy combo, but it is. I'm now jiggering around a shortbread cookie recipe I love to see if I can get lavender and corn both in it. Seriously.

Glad to hear you all survived the sick. We have two little ones here, and when they are sick it is tolerable - when we are sick, it all goes out the window. Keep fortifying yourselves with toast, and be glad flu season is past :)

I do love your blog. And now I feel that much more a part of :)