Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tea Ring

I never thought I could do it, but here it is! A tea ring made in my very own kitchen. I've admired them in bakeries and have long wanted to make one. I never believed that I could.

Now, I have some cooking experience, but I am timid when it comes to anything I perceive as fancy. Tea rings with their beautiful twists looked too complicated. However, after reading the how-tos, I decided to cast my fear and insecurity aside, and go for it.

I found a cinnamon roll recipe that I've been wanting to use for a while, and decided to try it as a tea ring. I didn't care for the frosting, so I used this frosting. So far, so good, right? Yes. Well. Maybe.

The dough is very wet and additional flour has to be added judiciously. Thank heavens the blogger said that the dough was sticky. I was about to give up in despair until I reread the directions and saw that fine detail. Sticky, okay; wet, not okay. The dough smelled divine with the addition of the vanilla pudding. YUM! My confidence was rising with the dough.

What I didn't see (all right, I saw it, but the words didn't sink in) was that the recipe made 24 LARGE rolls. I dismissed that detail, thinking that more dough would be needed as it was going to be in a ring. That all changed, however, when I saw how big the roll actually was on the cookie sheet. I mean, it nearly took up the entire sheet, and it wasn't even on its second rise.
I debated about making two rings and finally decided that might make them too small. After the second rise, the dough was right to the very edge of the sheet. I patted it back. I should've gone with my first instinct and made two rings. I forged ahead and put it in the oven. Set the timer. Okay, next time I'd make this into two rings. Not a big deal. Lesson learned.

Then the oven started smoking. I mean, smoking! The dough was slightly dripping off the edges of the pan, melted butter and cinnamon were charring on the oven floor. I raced around and opened a door to let in freezing cold air so that the five cats and I wouldn't asphyxiate. Thank heavens Sweetie-Pi was downtown; he can be so endearingly excitable at times. I'm pretty sure there would've been a fire extinguisher involved somewhere and frantic rushing about. I'm much more calm than that -- no flames, no fire extinguisher.

So, the timer goes off, it looks all nice and golden brown. The house didn't burn down. I make the frosting and decided to go with just a drizzle as there is so much sugar already. The flavor? Both Sweetie-Pi and I agree that this is recipe is a winner. The rolls are so light and fluffy; they almost melt in your mouth. However, be forewarned these rolls are very sweet. A small piece goes a long way. I think this recipe will feed you, your family, your neighborhood and quite possibly a small nation. And you still might have leftovers.
As I reflect on today's adventure, I think, not bad. I've redefined my limitations.

Vanilla Pudding Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese FrostingThe Kitchen Cafe
½ cup warm water
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
3 ½ ounce package instant vanilla pudding
½ cup butter, melted
2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
6+ cups flour

In a small bowl combine water, yeast and sugar. Stir until dissolved. Set aside. The yeast will begin to bubble. That's okay, it's supposed to, because it's alive. If it doesn't, you need new yeast.
In large bowl, prepare pudding mix according to package directions. Add butter, eggs and salt and mix well. Then add yeast mixture. Blend.
Gradually add flour stirring well between additions until a manageable dough is achieved. Then knead until smooth. Do not overflour the dough. It should be very soft but not sticky.
Place in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled, maybe an hour to an hour and a half.
Place risen dough on a light floured surface. (I find that letting the dough rest for five minutes or so makes the dough easier to manage.) Roll to 34 X 21 inches in size.
Take 1 cup soft butter and spread over surface. In bowl, mix 2 cups brown sugar and 4 teaspoons cinnamon. Sprinkle over the top. Roll up very tightly.
Place on lightly greased cookie sheet. Bring the two ends of the roll together to form a circle. With a sharp knife put a notch every 1 1/2 inches. Cut with thread or knife but not all the way to the other side of the roll. You want to leave a "hinge" of dough. Take one of the "hinged" slices and slightly turn it on its side so that the cut side is facing you. Do this with all the slices.
Cover and let rise until double again, perhaps 45-60 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees about 20 minutes or until this starts to turn golden (don’t overbake).
If you opt to make this into rolls, it will make 24 HUGE rolls. I made one massive tea ring, HUGE mistake. Should have divided the dough into two and made two tea rings, grins.
Sliced maraschino cherries and chopped pecans for decorating
Favorite white glaze
1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
2 cups brown sugar
4 teaspoons cinnamon

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Stuffed Mushrooms with Cream Cheese & Sausage

Tonight was a movie night for Sweetie-pi and me. We're addicted to a British who-dun-it series called "Midsomer Murders." Proper English manners, beautiful estates, sweeping English countryside, innuendos, murder, suspects galore, what more could we ask for. It's so tasteful and proper --can murder be proper?

Anyway, it's not a real movie night without some sort of tidbit, and since we didn't have a proper (there's that word again) lunch, I made something with a little more substance. I made Stuffed Mushrooms with Cream Cheese and Sausage. They work up pretty easily, and they look a little festive and fussy, which they are not (fussy that is).

I followed the recipe as written, with the exception of adding maybe 1/4 to 1/2 cup of Italian bread crumbs. I just eyeballed it and stirred, then tasted for texture and flavor until I thought it was enough. Then with my impeccably clean, damp fingers, I smoothed and patted the stuffing in and on the mushroom caps. (My fifth grade teacher, Miss Williams, always said that neatness counts. I've always remembered that, but I think in her case she was referring to my handwriting not stuffed mushrooms.)

I'm going to be honest here. I thought these were just okay. However, Sweetie-pi swears they're the best stuffed mushrooms he's ever put in his mouth and that they are party worthy! They are very rich, he says. He can only eat a few, he says. Oh? An accolade from a man who only likes iceberg lettuce? The day can't be more gratifying, I think.

Unless I figure out who-dun-it early on in the movie. Now I feel complete.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sour Cream & Lemon Pound Cake

The wind chill is below zero; not even the cats will venture outdoors for more than three nanoseconds. I don't blame them one whit. When the thermometer starts dipping to single digits, a little citrus reminds me that somewhere the yellow sun is shining and it's warm.

Yellow, citrus. Lemons! See how my mind segues. (I know you are awed.)

I love just about lemon anything. For me, this pound cake has just the perfect amount of lemon flavor: the lemon makes its presence well-known but isn't overbearing; it's not competing for attention. I would describe this cake as "heavy" with a fine, tight crumb. If you're looking for light and fluffy, this isn't it. My photo doesn't show it, but the top cracks, like banana bread.

Some lemon pound cakes have a lemon glaze, but in my opinion, this cake doesn't need it. The fresh lemon aroma and lemony-lovely flavor stand on its own. So I give myself a nice thick slice, a few raspberries, a cup of hot tea ....I stare wistfully out my kitchen window....

...Do I hear robins?

Sour Cream & Lemon Pound Cake

3 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon rind
1 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 325F.

Grease a 16-cup tube pan, making sure to grease the center tube very well; dust with cake flour (shaking and rolling the flour inside the pan); tap out the excess flour. Or you could use one of those baking sprays that contain flour; they work well, too.

Using a zester, microplane, or small-holed grater, grate the lemon peel, reserve. (If you have a little more than the 1 tablespoon called for, don't fret, just toss it in.) Next squeeze (or ream) the lemon into a small custard or measuring cup and set aside. You want these ingredients waiting for you until you need them. (One good sized lemon will provide about 1/4 cup juice. You can obtain the optimal amount of juice by microwaving the lemon for several seconds, or you can firmly roll the lemon between the palm of your hand and the counter top, before juicing.)

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl, or onto a sheet of waxed paper. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter in large bowl at medium speed until fluffy. Gradually add sugar and beat 5 minutes, until light and creamy in color, another 3 or 4 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating just until combined after each addition. Beat in lemon juice and peel.

Using rubber spatula, mix in dry ingredients. Add the sour cream, and continuing to use your spatula, mix until well blended, but do not beat.

Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake cake until tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 1 hour 30 minutes. Let cake cool in pan on rack 15 minutes.

Using a thin-bladed knife, cut around the cake in pan to help loosen it from the sides (although if you did a good job with greasing the pan in the beginning you may not need to do this). Turn out cake. Carefully turn cake right side up on rack and cool completely.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Swiss Chard with Currants and Pine Nuts

Do you like the bitter? I do (though I confess to a very sweet tooth as well). Swiss chard is a vegetable for grown-ups, don't you think -- in the same category as broccoli, asparagus, brussel sprouts. Just look at those gorgeous red and green jewel toned colors of the stems and leaves. It's a party in a bowl.

Ordinarily I cook Swiss chard in a huge pot of salted water, drain, add butter, and enjoy, but for you, my esteemed reader, I felt I should do something a little more special. So I did a Google search and found this recipe in the New York Times.

I had some qualms, as I've never eaten pine nuts and I wasn't too sure about the currants cooked with Swiss chard. It just seemed a little too haute cuisine for this country girl, but change and growth can be good, right? So, bravely I went to my little grocery store, saw that they actually sold pine nuts in a bulk bin (so somebody in town besides me must be eating them) and decided to go with it. I'm a risk taker like that.

Let me tell you, this Swiss chard is so darned good that I ate it for three meals and still could've eaten it again. I discovered I love pine nuts. I'm talking true love here! They are buttery wonderful, like the way a macadamia is buttery wonderful. They added a nice crunch and a bit of color. And the currants were a nice little sweet surprise (satisfying my sweet tooth, always important) and balanced nicely with the bitter Swiss chard.

I followed the recipe with one minor change; I do like a pat butter. I can't help myself. As much as I liked this, my sweetie pie wouldn't go near it. Then again, he doesn't like broccoli, asparagus, or brussel sprouts either. Come to think of it, he mostly only likes iceberg lettuce. What's up with that?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Temperatures have been hovering near the freezing mark. It's been so cold that if you breathe deeply, you can feel the individual nose hairs in your nose stiffen up and your lungs pinch in rebellion. Really, that does happen. Finally after a brief cold (freezing!) spell, the temperature actually rose to 27 degrees, and it felt warm! People were scuttling about, bare-headed, gloveless and scarfless because because of the springlike weather.

For most of us, however, reality does, sooner or later, prevail, and we recognize cold weather for what it is, and we sink back into our woolens and flannels. However, the one good thing I can think to say of cold weather is that it makes me think about warm spices. Warm spices makes me think of gingerbread, and gingerbread makes me think of this recipe.

This recipe has long been on the back of the Grandma's Molasses jar, for eons it seems, although I noticed on the last couple of jars I purchased it wasn't there anymore, and it's not the same recipe on their website. So for posterity (and myself) I am posting it here. It is my absolute favorite recipe, redolent with spices, moist, perhaps a bit heavy. Just a slice of heaven with a good dollop of real whipped cream.

Back of the Grandma's Molasses Jar Gingerbread

8 tablespoons (1 stick butter or shortening)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup Grandma's molasses
1 egg

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 cup boiling water

1 teaspoon grated orange zest (optional)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Let me start off by saying, I do not use the orange zest or the chopped nuts. Never had them in gingerbread and probably never will. They just don't seem to belong in a gingerbread, in my opinion. Same goes for lemon sauce. For the life of me, I don't see why folks do that. I want to taste every molecule of those wonderful spices. You can add lemon sauce if you want; please just don't tell me if you do.


Have ready a greased 9-inch square baking pan. Heat your water so that it's ready when you need it. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl beat butter with sugar and molasses until well combined. Mix in eggs.

Sift in dry ingredients to above wet mixture, alternating with water, until just combined. (What they're saying here is , 1/3 of the dry ingredients, 1/2 cup of water, 1/3 of the dry ingredients, the rest of the water, and then the rest of the dry ingredients.)

Pour into your prepared pan and bake about 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool.

This cake tastes better the next day; the spices have a chance to bloom and ripen and deepen in flavor. It could almost make me forget that there is a winter.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Country French Bread

I found this recipe on the Fleischmann's Yeast site, Bread World, and have made it a couple of times. It is very good--soft, with a good tight crumb on the inside. Gorgeous, crispy, golden crust on the outside. Smaller loaves would make fantastic submarine sandwiches.

Now, the two times I've made this, the dough didn't completely rise in the fridge. When I peeked at those two naked loaves the next morning, they were still, well, undersized. I glowered at them, to no postive effect, and took the loaves out and put them on the kitchen counter to let them come to room temperature with hopes that they would continue to rise. (My kitchen temperature though is pretty cool. I live in New England with high heating costs so the heat stays down.) In a moment of angst, I then put them on top of the stove, covered with a damp cloth, while the oven was heating; that seemed to help, but really, the loaves finished rising nicely in the oven, as you can see.

Want to know something funny? I didn't read the directions carefully enough to see that the yeast called for was RapidRise Yeast. I was using ActiveDry. Coincidentally, I have enough experience to notice that the recipe didn't ask for the yeast to be proofed, and me being who I am, naturally thought the nice folks at Fleischmann's made a mistake! So, I proofed the yeast (as you must do with ActiveDry; RapidRise is added in with the dry ingredients, no proofing) and carried on as usual. I am hanging my head here. Perhaps the key is reading all the words and following all the directions?

I used my Kitchen Aid mixer with a dough hook to mix the dough to a nice smooth, soft texture. However, before forming into loaves, I kneaded the dough a couple of minutes by hand. I think bread dough needs the personal touch to give it that homemade flavor. I read somewhere that it's a transfer of energy thing. I don't know about that, but I do think you can taste the difference.

Some bakers may be intimidated about slashing the dough to give the loaf its classical look, and I'll admit, it is a tad tricky. Start by using a sharp knife, like a paring knife, or sharp, single-edge razor (I wouldn't recommend a serrated knife unless you have a lot of experience). Now, hold your knife at a 45 degree angle to the dough; then, quickly, with confidence, make a slash about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep, starting at the opposite end from you and pulling the knife diagonally towards you. If you hesitate, you will run the risk of having raggedy edges, or worse, deflating your dough. It just needs to be a nice smooth action. Depending on the length of your loaf, you'll probably want three to five slashes. Please add the egg white wash; it will be the finishing touch that will make your loaf beautiful.

So, I'm chagrined at my arrogance over the yeast thing. But ignore that. This I do know: There's some work involved in preparing this, but the effort is greatly rewarded. This is good French bread!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Jam Shortbread Squares

One of the dearest, truest women I know is my friend, Michelle. Now only does she grace me with her friendship, but she also shares her favorite recipes. Her nephew, who was in the Boy Scouts, presented these cookies to her when he was trying to earn his cooking badge. Michelle, knowing a good thing when she sees and tastes one, quickly copied the recipe for herself and fortunately for me, made a copy for me. I cannot tell you how many times I've made these cookies or how many times I've handed out the recipe. Its simplicity belies the fact that it is a treasure. It's like shortbread with pizzazz; linzer cookies without the cookie cutters; thumbprint cookies without the thumbprint. However you want to describe them, people are wowed by how delicious they are!

Jam Shortbread Squares

1 cup butter (2 sticks) (absolutely no substitutes or the shortbread won't work for you)
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 jar (12 oz or so) jam or preserves (apricot, raspberry, strawberry, or experiment!)

Preheat your oven to 350F. You'll need a 9x13 baking dish, ungreased.

Soften (do not melt) the butter. Add the sugar. With a pastry fork or using two knives in a criss-cross cutting motion, combine the two ingredients. Add the flour and continue to combine in the same manner. The mixture will be very heavy and raggedy looking. That's okay; that's what you want. From this mixture, take out 3/4 cup and set aside.

With your impeccably clean hands, pat the remainder of the dough into the pan. Pat up the sides to create a slight ridge around the edge as you'll want to create a border to hold in the jam. You're going to have to use some judgement here. If you pat the dough too hard, it will be like concrete; too light a hand and you'll have crumbs.

Drop big spoonfuls of the jam over the crust and spread in an as even a layer as you can. It may help to slightly warm the jam in the microwave for about 15 seconds or so to help it spread more easily. Just remember to remove the cap before microwaving.

Sprinkle jam layer with the reserved crumbs.

Bake at 350F for 20 minutes or until the edges are a light golden brown. Allow to cool completely before cutting.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Spanish Cake

My beloved grandmother often made Spanish Cake for dessert and this is very first cake that I learned how to bake. It's humble, not anything like today’s lofty, three-tiered, mousse -filled, marzipan decorated confections we've come to know as cake.

It's a single loaf, aromatic with a full tablespoon of cinnamon, nutty, frosted with a simple buttercream frosting. This little cake was meant to be served as a little sweet after dinner--it was dessert, when desserts were a common part of the family dinner. As we've become busier, this tradition has faded, like the yellow pages of my grandmother's sole cookbook, Rumford Cookbook (my grandmother’s copy was published in 1933 but there have been numerous reprints over the decades by the Rumford Baking Powder people). But it is no less well-loved.

For me cooking is about tradition; it's a connection with our past, a link to our future. I am richly blessed with two beautiful nieces, Hilliary and Laura. When they were wee girls, they used to come and stay with me and we used to talk, play, learn things together. One afternoon, I brought out my grandmother's treasured cookbook (now yellowed, fragile, pages crumbling, repaired binding falling away). I started by saying, “When I was little, this was the very first cake your great-grandmother taught me…”

We proceeded together, laughing, sugar and flour in the air, in our hair, about the counter, even some in the huge ceramic mixing bowl. We took turns, measuring, mixing, reading the directions. Laura, the youngest, was chosen to fold in the egg whites.

That day I could see my grandmother's hand. I felt her soft, wrinkled hand holding mine. In my heart I also felt her approval as I now held Laura's hand, guiding her: cut, sweep, fold over; cut, sweep, fold over. Someday, if my nieces choose to have children and if I'm fortunate enough to cook with them, I'm going to teach them this recipe. And I’m going to start by saying, "When I was little, this was the very first cake your great-great grandmother taught me..."

You'll notice there's no salt, and that's the way I've always made it. Similar recipes on the web add 1/4 teaspoon, which I think would be fine, too. I leave that up to your tastebuds to decide.

Spanish Cake
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened but not melted
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup milk
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon (yes, that's right, an entire tablespoon)
2/3 cup chopped nuts
2 egg whites, beaten to stiff peak

Grease and set aside a 9x5 loaf pan. Chop the nuts and set aside. Preheat oven to 350F.

Cream the butter and sugar until a nice, light creamy consistency is achieved, about three minutes.

Add the milk, mix well.

Sift together all the dry ingredients and add gradually to the wet ingredients. Stir in the chopped nuts.

Whip the egg whites to a stiff peak. This means that when you lift the beaters from the beaten egg whites they will stand up straight, not fold over (which is soft peak). The egg whites will go from soft to stiff peak pretty quickly so take the time to check your progress. Overbeaten egg whites will break down and you'll have to start over.

Add the egg whites to the batter by folding them in. Folding is not stirring! The best tool is a sturdy spatula. With the side of the spatula, cut into the batter, sweep that portion towards you, turning the spatula over to bring the bottom of the batter up over the top of the egg whites. Turn the bowl, repeat the motion. Continue to repeat until there are no more egg whites showing. Doing this to add loft and tenderness to the cake. Stirring will break down the air that you're trying to add.

Bake in a 350F oven for about 45 minutes, using a wooden toothpick to test the center for doneness. Depending on your oven, you may need a little less or a little more time. I peek at 40 minutes and give it a little poke and then start adding minutes. Cool completely on a rack. Frost.

Really Good Buttercream Frosting

1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup butter (try not to use margarine or shortening; it just won't have the same delicious flavor), softened but not melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon whipping cream (you could substitute milk here, but the cream is heavenly)

Measure the sugar and butter into a medium bowl. Mix until well blended; you're looking for a nice creamy appearance where the sugar has lost its grainy appearance.

Add the vanilla and cream and continue to beat. Add more cream, in small drops, as necessary to achieve a desirable spreading consistency. If you became heavy handed with the cream, just add in a little confectioners' sugar.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Potato Chip Cookies

Some while back, I purchased a cookbook at a second-hand store written by Marcia Adams, entitled Heirloom Recipes, Yesterday's Favorites, Tomorrow's Treasures. Now, there are any number of good sounding recipes in there, but this one caught my eye because of the unusual addition of potato chips. It's a nifty way to use up those last few, broken, unloved chips that no one seems to want. The flavor of this cookie is very similar to a pecan sandie, but the cookie is much more delicate. This is just the ticket with a cup of tea and some big band music.

Potato Chip Cookies

1 cup butter (no substitute), softened, but not melted
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup crushed potato chips
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped

Preheat your oven to 350F. Lightly grease your cookie sheet(s) and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugar and beat for about three minutes; you're looking for a nice creamy color. Add the egg yolk and vanilla; mix well. Gradually add the flour. Scrape the sides of the bowl if necessary to ensure that all the ingredients are well incorporated. Then, using a wooden spoon or a sturdy spatula, fold in the potato chips and pecans.

Using a teaspoon, scoop the batter into little mounds on your cookie sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Take a little peek around 12 minutes because these can brown very fast when you're not looking and the cookie will be very crumbly. Remove from the oven and gently transfer the cookies to a cooling rack. While the cookies are still warm, using a sifter or a sieve, sprinkle a little extra confectioners' sugar on the tops of the cookies.

When completely cool, store the cookies in an airtight container. You should have about 40 cookies but when I made them I only had 30. Guess my teaspoonful is a little bigger than Marcia's!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

English Muffin Batter Bread

This English Muffin Batter bread is easy enough for a novice to make and delicious enough for an experienced baker to want to whip up for breakfast. It makes a great foundation to hold up your Eggs Benedict for a special occasion breakfast, or for any occasion for that matter. The homemade flavor is incomparable and worth the effort. I don't think you'll miss the stale, cardboard taste of store-bought muffins. And just take a look at all those nooks and crannies to hold your melted butter or preserves!

This morning when I was mixing this up, I did not have to use all the flour called for in the recipe; I think I ended up using only 4 1/2 cups. This is supposed to be a batter bread, meaning that the dough will quite goopy, not at all smooth and silky like regular bread dough (or the pizza dough you might've purchased from your local pizzeria or supermarket) when you spoon it into your prepared bread pans. If you've never made bread before, it will take some judgment on your part when you've added enough flour, but do not despair. You will get the feel for it. One of my first forays into breadmaking resulted in the loaves coming out so hard and heavy that when my husband dumped them into the aluminum trash cans stored outside, I distinctly heard them clank (okay, crash!) from the inside of our second-story apartment.

I happened to find this recipe at the King Arthur Flour website, but it's in other places on the web as well. I'll credit KAF because that's where I saw it first.

English Muffin Batter Bread
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups milk
1/2 cup water
Cornmeal for sprinkling inside your baking pans and on top of the uncooked loaves
First off, prepare two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 baking pans by greasing well and then sprinkling a couple tablespoons of cornmeal around the inside. Shake and roll the pans about to spread the cornmeal across the bottom and around the sides. By doing this first, your pans will be waiting for you when you want them.

In a large bowl, combine 3 cups of the flour, yeast, sugar, salt and soda. I take a whisk and give the dry ingredients a good stir to ensure that they are well intermingled.

Heat milk and water until very warm, 120°F to 130°F. An instant read thermometer is a good kitchen tool to have for this. You don't want the liquid so hot that it'll kill your yeast, or so cool that it won't do its job and make your dough rise properly.

Pour liquids into dry mixture, and beat well. Mix in the remaining flour. Spoon the dough into the pans. Sprinkle additional cornmeal on top of the loaves. I have a kitchen scale and I weigh my pans with the bread dough to ensure that there is an equal amount of dough in each. This makes for better, more even baking and certainly a prettier presentation. The dough is heavy and goopy; you may have to stretch it out a bit by holding it at opposite ends and tugging it into place. In the end, it won't be perfect, but what you're trying to avoid is having the dough all in one big heap at one end of the pan.

Cover and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes, or till the dough is just risen over the rims of the pans. Depending on how long it takes your oven to preheat and how fast your dough is rising, you're going to want to preheat the oven to 400F during this time.

Bake at 400F for 25 minutes. Lightly thump the loaves with the back of your knuckle. If the bread sounds hollow, it's done. Remove loaves from pans and cool on a wire rack. Makes 2 loaves.