Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Something New, Something Old - Crusty Cob

Lately I've been getting a bit nostalgic about 'the old days', back in Nova Scotia where I lived as a child. There is a great ethnic diversity there, something that is a bit surprising to some. There is a long history of different groups struggling to survive in a climate which can be downright wicked. The winters are sometimes very cold (-20 F), and frequently very rainy or snowy in the winter. One year we had about 20 ft. (yes 20 feet) of snow over the winter season. I remember going to school in June with snow still on the ground. My mother remembers the Canada Day (July 1) parade being cancelled for snow!

All this means that Nova Scotians work hard to make a living, and the agriculture is typical of areas with harsh climates. That said, Nova Scotia is famous for its apples, and there is even Nova Scotian wine. Most crops, however are root-type vegetables since they can grow in the ground protected from the elements. Since the province consists of a peninsula and an island, fish and seafood dishes predominate.

The three largest ethnic groups are the Scots, the English and the French, in that order. Each has its own linguistic and culinary traditions. But all are heavily influenced by the harsh environment they live in.

Crusty Cob, is a simple (but delicious) bead that is typical of English homemade breads both in England and in Nova Scotia. The recipe is ancient. Food historians trace it back, in England, to the Middle Ages. It is a 'bottom bread', meaning it was baked on the bottom of the great stone ovens. Although this was where the poorest citizens got to bake their bread, the thick crust and soft crumb (perfect for sopping up thicks soups and gravies) make for a wonderful 'peasant' bread.

Here's what you'll need:
500g (1 lb 2 oz) bread flour
1 Tbs (15g) salt
30g (1oz) yeast
40g ( 1 1/2oz) butter, at room temperature
300ml (1/2 pint) water

Here's what you'll need to do:
1. Mix together the flour, yeast, salt and butter in a large bowl. 
2. Add most of the water, mixing to form a shaggy dough. Gradually add the rest of the water and continue mixing for a few minutes until the flour is completely hydrated and the dough starts to become smoother.

3. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface, and knead, vigorously for about 5 minutes. Finally, place the dough back in the bowl, and let it rest for about 2 hours.
4. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Punch down  the dough then place it on the tray, shape into a ball and let it rise for an additional 1 hour.
5. Preheat the oven to 220 C (425 F). Just before placing in the oven, slash the dough with a sharp knife and dust with a bit of flour.

6. Bake for 30 minutes until a deep golden brown. Cool on a rack.
7. Yum!!!

* If you want to more closely approximate the look of the traditional bread, use a baking stone placed on the bottom of the oven. Bake the bread directly on the stone either right on the stone, or by placing the bread with the tray on it. 

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