Friday, March 4, 2011

Bread to go with Soup

I am in the middle of testing recipes for an upcoming class on soups. This means that in addition to eating a lot of soup, I get to eat lots of different kinds of bread—soup seems incomplete without bread. Bread with soup can be as simple as a chunk of crusty baguette, but more often than not, I take the opportunity presented by a dinner of soup to make an interesting quick bread...savory muffins, cream biscuits (a cousin of cream scones), corn bread, soda bread and the like.

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.

I have two favorite recipes for Irish soda bread—both from an old issue of Gourmet Magazine. Last year I posted the recipe for Brown Soda Bread. The other recipe that I particularly like is a richer, white soda bread that is loaded with golden raisins. I think it makes a fine pairing with the simple straightforward flavors of the watercress soup, but since it is in all likelihood more often eaten for breakfast or as an accompaniment to afternoon tea, you don't really need to wait until the next time you make soup to make this bread.

Corn Bread

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
2 eggs
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.

 (From The Fannie Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham)

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.)


Jennifer said...

HEY I know this corn bread! It is truly delicious. I haven't made it in years but will make it with your black bean soup if you've posted that recipe.

Paige said...

YES, you do! Thanks for sharing it with me. Unfortunately, I haven't posted the black bean soup....maybe a future post....

Amanda Loughlin said...

Why do you use baking soda with cream of tartar instead of baking powder?

Paige said...

Hi Amanda,

The short answer is that this is a recipe that I have been using for years and I like it a lot, so I have never thought too much about why it works. I do know that I tend to like the flavor of baked goods that use soda and cream of tartar together (snickerdoodles come to mind). This may have something to do with the fact that most baking powders are aluminum sulfate based--lots of people think this leaves an aftertaste. I don't notice the aftertaste...maybe I just notice its absence...

If you have a copy of Shirley Corriher's Bakewise, she charts the reaction times of the various leavening acids in common use in baking powders. In glancing at her chart, it appears that the reaction time of Rumford baking powder is similar to cream of tartar. However, I have always heard that the reaction of cream of tartar and soda is more like that of a single acting baking powder--so most of the action occurs when the dry ingredients are moistened. This too may be part of the reason Cunningham chose to use it.

If you don't keep (and don't want to purchase) cream of tartar, you could try replacing the cream of tartar and baking soda with 4 t. of Rumford baking powder. (1 t. of soda has the leavening power of 4 t. of b. powder.) I have not addressed the fact that this recipe is really appears to be...but, works, so I don't change it....

Finally, as I think about it, Cunningham's reason for using the cream of tartar/soda combo may be the same as mine. Her Fanny Farmer Cookbook was a revision of an old cookbook. The recipe may date from an older version when baking powder wasn't in use (I don't know when double acting baking powders came into common use). It worked...and she liked she kept it.

Paige said...

Hi Chris,

Yes, I remember Tippins cornbread...rumor had it that it was made with a mixture of yellow cake mix and cornbread mix. It was very sweet and dessert-like. I don't think this one is that sweet or that the crumb is that cake-like. But please give this one a try anyway...It think you'll like's very good.

Katrina said...

Great post, Paige. I just passed this on to someone who asked me for a good cornbread recipe. Funny, tomorrows TWD is corn muffins. Wish I could compare both. I'm the only one (and one other kid) who eats cornbread around here.) Excited to come to your class next week!

Paige said...

Hi Katrina, I'll have to check out your TWD post. I think I have made this recipe as corn muffins, but I don't remember if I liked it or not. I think most cornbread recipes come out a bit dry in muffin form. I'm so sorry you live in a household of people who don't like cornbread...I can't imagine....

It will be so nice to see you in class again! I'm looking forward to it.