I was a dud, an absolute dud, at math and science in school. I can remember just a few things, the way my 6th grade math teacher's nicotine-stained teeth looked, the way my chemistry teacher in 9th grade tried to teach us about electrical currents by sticking two razor blades connected to a generator into a raw hot dog, the shiny red sports car that my 12th grade physics teacher drove to school every day, so incongruously matched to his balding head and waddling gait. I was much better in English class, in French, in theater practice and in the library, with words and books and song. So the amount of pleasure I get from the simple forms of chemistry I practice today, armed with packets of yeast, sprinklings of sugar, and lashings of warm water is always and again a bit of a mystery.
But, truly, there is little as satisfying in the kitchen as a well-risen yeast dough. It can be topped only by the glory of a burnished loaf emerging from the oven, I think. And perhaps topping that is the first slice after the loaf has cooled. Yes, all in all, I'd say, bread baking is one of the most rewarding kitchen acts.
And as nice as no-knead bread may be, there is nothing like spending time at the kitchen counter kneading bread, slapping it down, feeling it swell and grow smooth. You can be in a trance, thinking about everything else going on in your life, or focused simply on the act of kneading and it will, just like a boxing class or a very good yoga session, release some of that nasty tension that always ends up building right between your shoulder blades.
I found this recipe from an article Florence Fabricant wrote all the way back in 1987 about maple syrup. I'd recently received a package of maple syrup products (including, oh my goodness, creamed maple syrup which looks like honey and is divine and a bag of maple sugar that is a pale, creamy brown and smells just exactly what I imagine a sylvan field in heaven to smell like, which is to say, sweet and toasty and totally bewitching) and was wondering how to use them up. I would have nearly skipped over the recipe for maple bread, if my eye hadn't been caught by Florence's description of what to do with it, once baked.
Let's see if you're able to resist this: cut thick slices of freshly baked maple white bread, sprinkle each slice heavily with that miraculous maple sugar, then cover the slices with a heady mixture of whipped cream and sour cream. Oh, and then call that baby tartine au sucre.
I mean, seriously? Are any of you still standing? I just fell down all over again. All I remember from my trip to Quebec 15 years ago, foodwise, was the gravy-soaked poutine. No offense to any poutine fans, but I think I'd prefer tartine au sucre over poutine Any. Day. Of. The. Week. (Note to self: Book travel to Montréal, stat.)
The nice thing is that this bread is wonderful even without all that glorious whipped cream-maple sugar business (although, seriously, I might need to start a Maple Sugar Appreciation Society. Any takers? Also, any suggestions for other things to make with my precious sack of the stuff?). It is a joy to bake, the yeast proofing happily in its sweet water bath, the dough puffing up agreeably, both in the proofing process and in the oven, its browned and fragrant top literally towering over the top of the bread tin. It makes your house smell like the most archetypically cozy home ever and if you bake it just before bedtime, you'll have fresh bread to wake up to, the only problem being that the anticipation for breakfast is then so great it might mess with your sleep quality.
The bread toasts up beautifully and is delicious buttered and honeyed, which is good, because tartine au sucre does seem like a rather indulgent way to eat the whole loaf, though goodness knows I wouldn't judge you if that's how you decided to work through it. In fact, I'd rather expect you to call me up and invite me over so you could at least have a companion in your gluttony. One really shouldn't to suffer this kind of thing alone. I'd be doing you a favor, really. That's it, a favor. Okay? Pretty please?
Maple White Bread
Makes 1 large loaf
1 cup milk
1/4 cup maple syrup
4 tablespoons sweet butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 teaspoon sugar or maple sugar
1 egg beaten
4 cups (approximately) unbleached all-purpose flour
1. Place milk, maple syrup, butter and salt in a saucepan and scald. Allow to cool to lukewarm.
2. Dissolve yeast in warm water along with the sugar. Set aside for five minutes until the mixture becomes frothy. Transfer the milk mixture to a large bowl, stir in the yeast mixture and then stir in the egg.
3. Stir in two cups of the flour. Then add more flour about one-half cup at a time until a ball of dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead for about eight minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic, adding more flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. Place dough in an oiled bowl, turn the dough to oil on all sides, cover lightly and set aside to rise until doubled, about an hour.
4. Punch down dough, turn onto a lightly floured board and knead for another minute or so. Roll dough into a rectangle about nine by 12 inches, then roll tightly, jellyroll fashion, starting from the narrow side. Pinch the seam and ends closed. Fit the dough seam side down into a greased 9-by-5-by-3-inch baking pan.
5. Cover and set in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place bread in the oven and bake about 45 minutes, until well browned. Remove from pan and allow to cool freely on a rack before slicing.