“A cold spring:
the violet was flawed on the lawn.
For two weeks or more the trees hesitated;
the little leaves waited
carefully indicating their characteristics.”
– from “A Cold Spring” by Elizabeth Bishop
“Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth.”
– Philip Larkin
We thought spring was here a few weeks ago, but we may have been jumping the gun. Our May long weekend is usually considered the unofficial beginning of summer fun, but this weekend has been chilly, just like so much of the spring. Too cold to plant the annuals, too cold to take a long walk by the Humber river – and it’s been close to freezing at night.
Some of us are particularly eager for the the warm weather. My daughter’s friend told her in excitement that next week would start warm, and get one degree (Celsius) warmer every day. “Look!” she said. “It’s going to be 19 degrees on Monday, 20 on Tuesday, and by Friday they’re calling for 23!” Upon re-examining her iPhone, though, she said, “Oh, sorry, I wasn’t looking at the temperatures, I was looking at the dates.”
If the warmer weather never does come, you can warm up your kitchen by baking a loaf of bread. I tried another recipe from my favourite bread cookbook, Kneadlessly Simple, and the results were as great as always. Although I found this loaf a bit sweet to use as sandwich bread, it was perfect buttered lightly and eaten as is. And the directions say to cool it thoroughly before slicing, but I bypassed that step and was rewarded with a blissfully warm and delicious slice shortly after it came out of the oven. Warm enough to forget for just a few minutes that we’re still waiting for spring.
Four Grain-Honey Bread
(from Kneadlessly Simple, by Nancy Baggett)
2 cups unbleached white bread flour, plus more as needed
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup yellow or white cornmeal, preferably stone-ground, plus more for garnish
1/3 cup rolled oats, plus more for garnish
1/3 cup cooked and cooled brown rice
Generous 1 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp instant, fast-rising, or bread machine yeast
1/2 cup mild honey
1 1/4 cups ice water, plus more if needed
Canola oil or other flavourless vegetable oil for coating dough top and baking pan
First rise: In a large bowl, thoroughly stir together the bread flour, whole wheat flour, cornmeal, oats, brown rice, salt and yeast. In another bowl or measuring cup, thoroughly whisk the honey into the ice water. Vigorously stir the mixture into the bowl with the flours, scraping down the bowl sides and mixing just until the dough is thoroughly blended. If the ingredients are too dry to mix together, gradually add in just enough more ice water to facilitate mixing; don’t over-moisten, as the dough should be stiff. If necessary, mix in more bread flour to stiffen it. Brush or spray the top with oil. Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap. If desired, for best flavour or for convenience, refrigerate the dough for 3 – 10 hours. Then let rise at cool room temperature for 12 to 18 hours; if convenient, stir once during the rise.
Second rise: Vigorously stir the dough. Using a well-oiled rubber spatula, fold the dough in toward the centre, all the way around the bowl. Dust an oiled 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with 1 Tbsp each cornmeal and rolled oats, tipping it back and forth to coat the pan sides. Turn out the dough into the pan. Brush or spray the top with oil. Smooth out the top and press the dough into the pan with oiled fingertips or a rubber spatula. Sprinkle 1/2 Tbsp each cornmeal and rolled oats over the top. Press down to imbed. Cut four or five 3-inch long, 1/4 inch evenly spaced slashes diagonally across the loaf top. Cover the pan with plastic wrap that’s been brushed with oil.
Let rise: For a 2 to 4 hour regular rise, let stand at warm room temperature. (Alternatively, for a 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hour accelerated rise, let stand in a turned-off microwave along with 1 cup of boiling-hot water.) Remove the plastic when the dough nears it, then continue the rise until the dough extends 1/2 inch above the pan rim.
15 minutes before baking time, put a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat to 350 degrees.
Bake on the lower rack for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the loaf is well-browned and firm on top. Cover with foil if necessary to prevent over-browning. Continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes longer, testing until a skewer inserted in the thickest part comes out with just a few particles on the end. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes more to ensure the centre is done. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn the loaf onto the rack to cool thoroughly.