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Pan de comino (Cumin bread)

May 19, 2013

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As far as I know, this is not a traditional bread of Mexico or the U.S.,  but  I’ll guess that it’s been done countless times before.  Comino,  a staple in Mexican cooking,  is used for flavoring soups, bean dishes, and sauces, usually  in conjunction with other herbs and spices.  It is also widely used in India,  the Middle East,  Mediterranean region,  and parts of Asia.  It is a common ingredient in some Moroccan breads. If anyone knows of a traditional cumin bread, please let me know.

The seed comes from a plant that was originally cultivated in the Mediterranean areas and is mentioned in the Old Testament.

I intended this to be a soft, slightly enriched dough to balance the warm pungent quality of the comino seeds.  I was careful not to overdo it with cumin.  I use milk,  honey,  and butter for the enrichment and some cornmeal for a little flavor and texture.  I meant this bread to be used for sandwiches or to accompany Mexican soups and other dishes.  (Teleras and bolillos are the breads traditionally used for tortas,  the Mexican counterpart to sandwiches).  It is not a sweet bread at all,  but the comino bread works fantastically with apricot preserves and I’m sure fig preserves or orange marmalade.  Toasted comino with sweet preserves is a new sensation for me.

This is a 2 day bread involving a pre-ferment and a cornmeal soaker.  Soaking the cornmeal overnight softens it and helps release flavor.

 

For 2 medium size loaves:

Pate fermentee (French for “old dough”):

2 1/4 cups bread flour

1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

3/4 teaspoon table salt

3/4 cup water

 

Cornmeal soaker:

1/2 cup cornmeal

1/2 cup water

 

Final dough:

All of the pate fermentee

2 cups bread flour

1 teaspoon instant yeast

4 tablespoons softened butter

2 tablespoons honey or sugar

1 teaspoon table salt

1/2 cup scalded and cooled milk (you may not need every bit of it)

2 tablespoons whole cumin, toasted and ground

 

For the cornmeal soaker, combine the 1/2 cups cornmeal and 1/2 cup water in a small bowl and stir thoroughly until well mixed. Cover with plastic and let it sit overnight at room temperature.

To make the pate fermentee,  mix together the bread flour,  yeast,  and salt in your mixing bowl. Add the water and stir to make a loose shaggy dough.  Using the hook attachment of your mixer, mix on the recommended speed for bread dough.  My 6 quart Kitchenaid recommends speed 2.  Mix together until a smooth elastic dough forms, about 5 minutes. You may need to adjust with more water or flour. Remove it from the bowl and form it into a ball. Place it in an appropriate size bowl that has been lightly oiled.  Roll the dough around so that the entire surface is lightly oiled.  Cover with plastic and let it ferment until it is about 1 1/2 times the volume.  Gently degass the dough.  Even though it is ready to be used, storing it overnight in the refrigerator will develop more flavor.

When you are ready to make the final dough,  scald the milk by putting it in a small pot over medium heat.  When you see small bubbles forming on the edge and small wisps of steam rising, it is ready. You will also see a film begin to form on the surface of the milk.  If you have a thermometer handy, take it to about 190 degrees.  Take the pot off the heat and let cool to room temperature.  To speed up the process the cooling process, pour the milk into another container and put it in the refrigerator.  I don’t know what is going on chemically, but milk contains some kind of protein that works against gluten development.  Heating the milk denatures the protein.  I learned this from Jeffrey Hamelman’s “Bread, a Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes”.  Get a copy if you can.  I has  just been released as a 2nd edition.

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Lightly toast the whole comino in a skillet over medium heat until aromatic.  Don’t let them go too far.  Your kitchen will begin to take on a new ambience with the aroma.  With a mortar and pestle, crush and lightly grind the seeds. This will imbue your dough with freshly released oils. Don’t bother to finely grind them. It’s nice to see the small fragments inside the baked loaves.  Let me recommend that you use store bought ground cumin only as a last resort!

Put the pate fermentee,  bread flour,  cornmeal soaker,  yeast,  honey and salt in your mixing bowl and stir well together.  Add most of the cooled scalded milk and stir to begin to form a dough.  Mix with the hook attachment of your mixer at the recommended speed so that it starts to form a dough.  Don’t worry if it seems a little dry.  The butter will add moisture.   Slowly add the softened butter in bits until it is all incorporated.  Add more milk or flour if necessary to form a smooth elastic dough.  It will take about 6 minutes.  Finally add the comino and continue mixing until it is evenly incorporated.  My final dough slightly sticks to the bottom of the bowl. Remove it from the bowl and form it into a ball.  Place it in an oiled bowl  making sure the entire surface of the dough is lightly  coated with the oil.  Cover with plastic and ferment until it grows to double in size. ( About an hour depending on the temperature of your kitchen).

Remove it from the bowl,  lightly degass it and divide it into 2 portions.  Form them into 2 rounds or other desired shape and let them proof until nearly double in size.  I place them each on parchment paper so that I can easily transfer them with a peel to the baking stone in the oven. If you don’t have a stone, place them on a baking sheet.  Meanwhile preheat the oven to 500 degrees with your baking stone in place if using one.

When they are ready,  lightly dust them with flour or cornmeal and score them. Place them in the hot oven and reduce the temperature to 400 degrees. I spritz the oven with water 3 times in the first 10 minutes. This helps the development of the crust and lets the dough rise to its full capacity.  They will bake in about 20-25  minutes to a golden brown.  I use a thermometer to make sure they have reached 200 degrees.  Let them cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

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