Sunday, November 20, 2022

A Star Bread

Sometimes you need a bread that is a showstopper, but isn't actually too difficult to make. This star-shaped braided bread seems to me to fit that description. Check out the recipe and see if you agree.

It's useful to have a working kitchen scale for this one, although I tend to use my scale for baking as much as possible. Baking is all about the proportions of one ingredient to each of the others, so weighing the ingredients is a sure way to keep the proportions solid. In this recipe it also makes it easy to keep the dough amounts for each of the five star points even so that you end up with a nice shape.

This dough is a classic Anadama Bread, which is a bread with cooked cornmeal, molasses, some whole wheat flour and some regular flour. It has lots of flavor and the dough is easy to work with, which is a must when you are making a shaped bread like this. Best of all, it's delicious! A bonus is that with this recipe you also get a loaf, so you can have the shaped bread for a special occasion and still have slices for toast. It makes great toast!

You start by cooking some cornmeal and water. If you use coarsely ground cornmeal or stone ground whole meal cornmeal, you'll want to cook it until the grains soften, so just keep stirring and be patient.

Never a good idea to add really hot cooked grains to a yeast mixture, so let the mixture cool down, but be sure to add in the butter first. I forgot to do that, so I had to warm up the mixture in the microwave a few seconds so that the butter would mix in well.

Take your time with the kneading, too. Any time that you are going to braid bread dough it helps to have plenty of gluten developed...which is the whole point of kneading as far as I know. This bread is an old New England favorite but in colonial times they had to do all the kneading by hand. We can use a stand mixer, if we desire, to do some of the work.

After the dough rises and it's time to shape it, use your scale and a bench scraper to divide the dough into six pieces that all weight within a couple of grams of each other. You can pinch off a bit from a heavy lump and add it to a light lump of dough if you need to adjust to even them out. Use the same process when you divide each lump into three pieces. The closer in weight that each piece is, the easier it will be to make a nicely shaped star.

When you are braiding the dough for each arm of the star, roll the dough pieces in a tapered long cone shape. You'll gather each pointed tip end of the cone together and braid towards the fatter end. That way the three fatter ends will create a great 'upper arm' for that point of the star. When all five are done, you place them so that those fat ends barely touch and each point is pointing out; it becomes a star shape. The final part is to roll the sixth piece of dough into a long snake, with the whole length the same thickness. Once that is formed in a spiral over the center, it ties all five arms together. Here is a photo of mine at that point. I shaped mine on a 12-inch pizza pan, which worked well. 

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of the finished star, but it was a bit puffier and much browner but otherwise looked the same.

Anadama Bread and Star
Star shaping from Festive Baking by Sarah Kelly Iaia
makes two loaves or one loaf and one big star

1/2 cup regular corn meal
2 cups water, divided
1/3 cup molasses
6 tablespoons butter, softened,
1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup whole wheat flour
3 1/2 cups (about) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
oil for greasing
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash

In a bowl, whisk together the cornmeal and 1 cup of the cold water. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring another cup of water to a boil. Add cornmeal mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is very thick, about 3 - 4 minutes. Stir in the molasses and the butter.
Add the whole wheat flour and stir until all is combined. Transfer mixture to bowl of an electric stand mixer and cool to tepid. (Or transfer to a mixing bowl large enough to mix the dough by hand and then knead in the rest of the flour.)

Add the 1 cup sourdough starter to the mixing bowl with the tepid cornmeal mixture. Mix on low speed with dough-hook attachment ( or a wooden spoon) for several seconds. With dough hook in place on the stand mixer add flour 1/2 cup at a time, mixing for several seconds after each addition. Sprinkle in the salt, and continue mixing until dough completely comes away from sides of bowl, about 7 minutes.

Lightly oil a bowl. Form dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Oil a sheet of plastic wrap and loosely cover dough. Allow dough to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until it has doubled in size. (At this point I punched the dough down, recovered it, and put it in the fridge overnight. The next day I let the dough warm up and then did the shaping.)

Lightly grease 1- 9 x 4 inch loaf pan. Line a sheet pan with silicon mat or parchment for the star. Press down dough and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Shape one piece loosely into a loaf and place in the prepared pan pan. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise for 30 minutes, or until loaf has doubled.

For star, take second half of dough (all the dough remaining) and divide it into six equal pieces (using a scale really helps with getting the pieces about the same size). Set one piece aside. Each of the other five pieces is used to make one of the star 'arms'.

Take one of the pieces and divide it into three equal pieces. Roll each of those three pieces into a rope about 8 inches long, with a taper at one end. Join the three ropes at the tapered end and braid the ropes. Repeat with each of the next 4 pieces.

Place the braided pieces on the prepared baking sheet with the tapered end pointing out, to shape a five-point star. The ends at the middle should touch and so pinch them together.

Take the last piece of dough and roll into a long rope, about 20 inches long. Starting at the center of the star, wind the rope around in a spiral over the center of the star. Tuck the end under the spiral.

Cover the star with oiled plastic wrap and set aside to rise, until doubled in bulk. When almost to that point, preheat the oven.

When oven is fully preheated, brush the star and the loaf with a wash of 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water. Make sure that the wash goes into the crevices of the star. Slash the top of the loaf.

Bake in preheated 350 degrees F oven. Bake loaves for 35 minutes to 1 hour, or until bread is dark golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Star may take a shorter baking time than the loaf. That's OK.

Allow bread to cool in pans for 5 minutes, then turn out onto wire cooling rack. Serve warm if possible.

This bread is mellow and soft, barely sweet from the molasses and makes really good toast.

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