Monday, January 23, 2006

Semi-Rustic Masa Bread

When I think of a rustic bread, I picture long, slow rises and large holes punctuating the chewy interior of a dark, crispy loaf. It has to be hand-shaped, too. I don't generally think of short rises and a fine crumb or texture. I chose to call this bread semi-rustic because it seems to have properties of both categories.Both the feel and flavor of the bread give it a sense of rusticity. There are no large, chewy holes here, but the bread does have a medium, fairly open crumb. It is a darker loaf with a crisp crust, and cutting it into wedges gives it a very casual edge when it comes time to serve it. Of course, it is still fairly quick to put together, with no overnight rises and the use of active dry yeast.
The secret to the bread is that I added some masa harina - the finer, lime-treated type of cornmeal used in tortilla making - which gave the bread a slightly coarser texture than most breads and a hint of corn tortilla flavor. The hint of lime (as in limestone, not the citrus) is what really makes the bread different.
Rustic or not, this bread is unusually tasty. It is particularly good with butter or used to sop up soup (try a spicy soup with it). You will get the best results with bread flour, as the higher protein content will help the bread to rise .

Masa Bread
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1 ½ cups water, divided, warm (110F)
2 tbsp sugar
½ cup masa harina
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
2 cups bread flour, plue more if necessary
coarse cornmeal, for baking

In a large bowl, combine yeast and 1/4 cup of the water. Allow to stand for 5 minutes, until slightly foamy. Add sugar, masa harina, olive oil, salt and 1 1/2 cups of the bread flour. Mix well. Add remaining flour gradually until the dough pulls together, away from the sides of the bowl. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. Place in a lightly oiled bowel, covered with plastic wrap, to rise until doubled - 1 1/2 hours.
After the rise, turn the dough out onto your lightly floured surface and gently deflate the dough. Shape into a round loaf and place on a baking sheet that has been well covered with cornmeal. Cover dough with a clean dishtowel and let rise for 35-40 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425.
Brush loaf gently with water before putting it into the oven.
Bake at 425 for 25 minutes, until dark gold and hollow sounding when the bottom is tapped. Cool completely on a wire rack.
Cut into wedges to serve.
Makes 1 round loaf, 10-12 servings.