Last night we had a Mexican Black Bean Soup. Fresh warm corn tortillas are really the most appropriate accompaniment for this soup, but corn bread will probably always be my bread of choice for almost any bean soup—whether the very American Ham & Bean Soup or an Italian-style White Bean with Greens.
I have been making the same corn bread for over twenty years. My best friend from college introduced me to it (alongside a nice parsley soup, if memory serves). I have never found one that I like better—even though I have made many different corn breads during my professional career. This one is from The Fanny Farmer Cookbook and if you have that book you might have overlooked it because it isn't called corn bread. It is called "Rich Corn Cake". And while it is true that the resulting corn bread is rich and has a cake-like crumb, I think calling it cake is misleading. It is not overly sweet and would never be mistaken for dessert. The original recipe just calls for cornmeal, but I always prepare it with stone-ground cornmeal. This gives the bread a wonderful flavor and adds a very subtle, pleasant crunch. The next time you make a pot of bean soup (of any kind), give this corn bread a try.
Tonight we are having Cream of Watercress Soup. There are many breads that would be good with this soup—the aforementioned baguette for example, or maybe some buttermilk biscuits—but I associate this soup with the British Isles...particularly Ireland. Since we are nearing St. Patrick's Day, I naturally thought of soda bread as the perfect partner.
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. stone-ground cornmeal
1/4 c. sugar
1 t. baking soda
2 t. cream of tartar
3/4 t. salt
1 c. sour cream
1/4 c. milk
4 T. unsalted butter, melted
Combine the first six ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and set aside.
Combine the remaining ingredients in another bowl. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and stir just to mix.
Scrape the batter into a buttered and floured 9-inch square baking pan. Bake at 425° until golden and springy to the touch and a skewer comes out clean—about 15 to 20 minutes. Cut into squares and serve.
Golden Raisin Irish Soda Bread
2 c. (8 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional for sprinkling
1/4 c. toasted wheat germ
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 oz. cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 c. golden raisins
3/4 to 1 c. buttermilk, sour milk or plain yogurt
In a large bowl whisk together flour, wheat germ, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add butter and toss to coat with flour. With fingertips rub in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add raisins
and toss until coated. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add 3/4 cup of the buttermilk or yogurt and stir until dough is moistened evenly, adding more liquid if the dough seems dry. The dough should be soft. Unless you are using sour milk, you will probably need to add extra liquid.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead briefly (no more than a minute), sprinkling lightly with additional flour to prevent sticking (dough should remain soft). Shape the dough into a ball.
On a baking sheet lightly sprinkled with flour, pat the ball of dough out into a 6-inch round. Sprinkle the dough with additional flour and with fingertips spread lightly over the round. With a sharp knife, cut a shallow (about 1/2-inch deep) X in the top of the loaf.
Bake the bread in the middle of a preheated 400° oven until golden brown—about 30 to 40 minutes. Wrap the finished loaf in a kitchen towel and cool on a rack for 1 hour. Unwrap bread and cool 1 hour more before slicing.
(Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, March 1994 . The original recipe did not use any baking powder and used a full teaspoon of baking soda. The resulting bread had a more open crumb. I go back and forth as to whether I prefer the original recipe, or my slightly altered version...both are very good.)