Sunday, May 13, 2007
Saffron Bread with Sea Salt - A Taste of Yellow
Walking past the bread stands at the greenmarket this morning, I was reminded of why the great food historian Piero Camporesi called supermarkets “food morgues.” The smoky, sour smell of fresh loaves filled the air in a way the finest gourmet supermarket bakery can only replicate in rounded, dampened tones.
Camporesi wrote much on the folklore of food in pre-industrial Europe, and he detailed how bread has always been a powerful symbol of fertility and regeneration in that part of the world. Bread served as a magical talisman against the evil eye, protection against the underworld’s dark forces, and, ultimately, a swelling sun or pregnant belly – perpetual spring in one’s own kitchen or communal oven.
What more fitting dish, then, to commemorate May 16? LiveSTRONG Day is the Lance Armstrong Foundation's (LAF) grassroots advocacy initiative to unify people affected by cancer and to raise awareness about cancer survivorship issues on a national level and in local communities across the United States.
Barbara Harris, author of Winos and Foodies, the New Zealand food blog, has pledged to post entries to A Taste of Yellow, an official LiveSTRONG Day event for food bloggers. If you check out that website on Wednesday, I’m sure there will be an incredible collection of recipes from food bloggers around the globe, and I’m posting my Saffron Bread with Sea Salt now as a show of support for this all-important cause.
The trick to success with this recipe is to very slightly burn the bread – take it over the edge. The infusion of smoking cornmeal, and the scent of burnt saffron and caramelized crust will express to you in an instant the power of bread and it’s historical symbolization of life itself.
Makes 1 loaf
Not imperative but helpful special equipment:
1 packet active dry yeast
½ tsp sugar
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
¼ cup warm water
large pinch saffron
¾ cup boiling water
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the bowl
1 cup cornmeal
good sea salt
Mix together the yeast, sugar, ½ cup of the flour, and the ¼ cup warm water in a small bowl. Cover with a warm, damp cloth and set aside in a warm place until spongy and sour (1 -1 ½ hours).
Crumble the saffron into another small bowl and pour on the ¾ cup boiling water. Leave to steep and cool to warm until the sponge is ready.
In a large bowl or electric food mixer, stir together the 2 ½ cups of flour and the salt. Add the sponge, the olive oil, and the warm saffron-water infusion. Process with a dough hook for 10 minutes on low speed, or stir to combine with a wooden spoon and then knead by hand for 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface.
Lightly coat a large bowl with olive oil. Form the dough into a ball and turn it in the oil until coated.
Cover the bowl with a warm, damp cloth and set aside in a warm place until doubled in size (1 – 2 ½ hours).
When the dough has risen, sprinkle a pizza stone or baking sheet liberally with cornmeal. Place in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 F.
Next punch down the dough and knead lightly for a few seconds. Form into a ball, tucking under the edges to create a smooth, taut surface on top. Sprinkle another baking sheet with cornmeal and place the ball of dough onto the center. Cover with a warm, damp cloth and set aside in a warm place until the loaf is close to doubled in size again (about 1 – 1 ½ hours).
Using a very sharp knife, slash three slits across the top of the loaf. Spray or dab with water and then sprinkle liberally with sea salt. Set aside to rest for 10 more minutes.
Slide the loaf onto the toasted cornmeal on the pizza stone or baking sheet. Spray or sprinkle with more water and bake for 30 minutes until golden.
Spray or sprinkle with more water, raise the oven to 500 F, and bake for 15 – 25 more minutes until the loaf is deep brown, smells floral with burnt saffron, and sounds hollow when you rap the bottom with your knuckles. Cool before serving.