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After a long hiatus I baked fresh bread for Thanksgiving this year. A flood of memories from my baking days gently washed over me. Snapshots of a peaceful island life flitted before my mind’s eye. My first ever encounter with an oven, my bread perfectly timed to go into it as the baby stirred from an afternoon nap …….
We were living in the tiny island country of Nauru, just a mere 21 sq miles of a speck in the South Pacific. It was also my first experience with survivalist type of living, only I didn’t know it at that time. The island was so tiny and cut off, we had to import every necessity. We were dependant on ships for our goods and the few weekly passenger flights that brought in our perishables. Lore had it that there was a time just before we arrived, that there was no milk for several months, all the hoarded UHT milk hard run out and I was advised to stock up as I had a baby. I remember stocking 12 cases of milk [144, I liter cartons!] and buying large 10-20 pounds of bags of flour! So you see bread making became an almost necessary daily ritual.
I used to bake with a recipe that came either with the bag of flour or the yeast packet and this is the same recipe I used this Thanksgiving. The slow focused meditative kneading, the quiet satisfaction of seeing a fully risen dough and the wonder of pulling a freshly baked bread out an oven, it was as if nothing had changed.
For some years now a ‘bread stuffing’ has been the only constant item in our TG meal, but this time I decided to experiment with a ’stuffed bread’. I made rolls from the same bread recipe and stuffed them with sautéed apples and craisins. Well let me not ramble on any more.
Stuffed Pull-Aparts Rolls
For The Rolls
4 cups unbleached bread flour
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 and 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 and 1/2 teaspoon butter
1 and 1/2 cups lukewarm water
Put all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix it so that the yeast is distributed evenly. Then add the butter and rub into the flour. Make a well in the center and add the lukewarm water and pull the flour in and mix till you get a dough ball. The dough will be sticky in some parts and dry and flaky in others.
Here is how I knead the dough, again according to the tips in my little booklet.
Make the above dough into a ball. Then place both hands on dough and gently roll back and forth till you roll it out into a cylinder.
Gently flatten and rotate 90 degrees and start rolling the dough, starting from the corner farthermost from you and rolling towards you, like this till you get a ball of dough.
Cover with a damp cloth large enough to allow for the dough to double in size. Set this in a warm place, undisturbed for about an hour. This is how it will look.
After the dough has risen, gently knock the dough to let the gases out and portion out about 16 -18 rolls.[About 70 grams each] Knead each roll a couple of times and let them rest for about 10 minutes under a damp cloth. Now these rolls are ready to be stuffed.
For The Stuffing
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup finely diced onions
1/4 cup finely diced celery
1/4 cup of [apple cider + cranberry juice mixture]
1/2 cup chopped Granny Smith apples with skin on
1/4 cup craisins
Herbs of your choice [I used 10 purple sage leaves]
Salt and pepper to taste.
For The Glazing
A little mixture of butter and milk for brushing the tops of the rolls.
Melt butter and sauté celery and onion on a low flame till soft. Add the apples, herbs, salt and pepper and saute some more. Keep adding the juice mixture to prevent the stuffing from drying out and cook till the vegetables are of a moist spoonable consistancy. Add the craisins and adjust for seasonings and turn the heat off. Cool to room temperature.
Stuffing The Rolls
Now take each roll after it has rested for 10 minutes and knead them again 3-4 times [use the same technique as before]. Then flatten out each roll and stuff about 1/2 a tablespoon of the stuffing. Close over the filling, roll to form a nice ball.
Brush a baking pan with melted butter and dust with flour. Place the rolls seam side down with a little room to grow between rolls. Brush tops gently with the butter and milk glaze. [I decorated with some rosrmary] Cover with damp cloth and let the dough rise once again in a warm place till doubled in size, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.
Bake in a preheated 450 degree oven for 17-20 minutes. The rolls are done when they sound hollow when tapped and the crust is golden brown.
It is as if the flood gates have opened since I made these rolls for this Thanksgiving. I have made lots more rolls and breads, stuffed them with olive cheese mixtures, brown butter raisins, dolce de leche and I am dreaming of new fillings everyday! Thankfully for me and others around me, I will move on to some other cooking related frenzy or project and return to a more normal bread making schedule.
- There are many no knead recipes which require a lot less elbow grease but this is the recipe I started with when I baked my first ever bread and here I have used it to make rolls. Please experiment with other recipes and different types of flour. The kneading technique is also from the booklet where this recipe came from, again you can knead it any other way but I was enjoying the whole experience of reconnecting with those early bread making memories.
- Generally you have to proof your yeast, which is putting the yeast along with the sugar in some warm water. The yeast gets activated and froths up and this helps the bread rise. In this recipe the results are similar with or without proofing.
- The dough needs a temperature of about 80 degrees F. The best way to create this temperature is in the oven. I turn the oven on and let it get warm enough[determined by the hand test], then turn it off and put the dough in. This creates a warm draft free environment for the dough to rise.
Thanks for dropping by.
Submitting this to Yeastspotting
For our simple Thanksgiving meal I wanted to make a corn based dish as a nod to the long and interesting history between corn and The Americas. Corn or maize was native to the Americas. It is thought to have been domesticated by the people living in the region of present day Mexico about 8000- 10,000 years ago. It was originally a wild grass plant and the natives of this region cultivated and developed it or in other words domesticated it for their consumption. From this region it spread to the rest of the American continent and to Europe through trade contact and exploration around 15th century and from there to the rest of the world. Today the U.S. is the biggest producer of corn.
Corn is believed to have been on the menu of the first [officially recognized] Thanksgiving. The pilgrims who left England in 1620 to flee religious persecution in their native England harvested their first corn crop in America in 1621 with the help of native Americans who taught them how to cultivate it. Thanksgiving was basically a harvest festival of giving thanks to having a successful crop in the ‘New world’.
Incongruous as it may sound, my mother used to make ‘Corn au gratin’ way back when everyone else around us was eating traditional South Indian fare. So it was an easy dish for me to pick for our meal. W W N A D [ what would Native Americans do] if they had to make this dish in their time. Use buffalo milk, probably corn flour to bind the gratin and kept it simple. I used 1% milk + buttermilk, Masa flour, salt and pepper and cooked it in an oven instead of a pit in the ground. So here is my ode to the corn.
Corn au Gratin
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk [I used 1% milk]
2 tablespoons Masa flour [see Food Notes] or substitute flour
2 cups of mixed white and yellow frozen corn kernels
1/4 cup buttermilk
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a pan over medium flame. Add the milk and the Masa flour and whisk continuously till it thickens, about 3-4 minutes. Turn the stove off. Add the corn, salt, pepper and buttermilk. Incorporate everything together. Pour into a baking dish and bake in a 350 degree oven for about half an hour to 40 minutes till the gratin is bubbling nicely. Turn the oven off and turn the broiler on and broil the gratin till you get nice black spots on the surface. Remove and let it sit for a few minutes before serving. You can skip the broiling step, but I think it gives the dish great visual appeal.
Stove Top Version
You can also make a stove top version like my mother used to. Just continue cooking once you’ve added the corn till it is cooked through. You may need to add a little bit more milk so it dosen’t get too thick. Wait for it to cool down, it will set nicely. We used to spread it over toast.
Masa is flour made from corn that has been treated with lime. The native Americans learned to treat corn this way in order to make more readily available, some of the amino acids that would have otherwise been inert to the human digestive system. Another way they learned to compensate for the lack of these amino acids in untreated corn was to combine it in their diets with beans, fish, amaranth etc to get the complete range of amino acids required for a balanced diet [See here for more on protein for vegetarians]
Thanks for dropping by