Friday, January 20, 2012

My two passions

Half of the second floor of our apartment is a music studio. I don't know if I have told you this before but S and I are both musicians. S plays electric guitar and writes music and I sing.

When I first met S, more than ten years ago, we formed a band with three other musician friends. We used to rehearse in our drummer's home studio and at those god forsaken rehearsal studios in downtown Athens, filled with cigarette ashes and smoke and crazy music coming out of every other door you'd pass by. Friends would come to our rehearsals and jam sessions and it would become one big party. Until the real party would begin. The real gig.

We'd play all around Athens, in small pubs and bigger clubs, sometimes just in front of friends and acquaintances, and others in front of crowds of total strangers who danced and clapped and sang along and drank and applauded and had a good time; all because of us, of our music. That was probably the most joyous, carefree and fun period of my life.

Through the years, the band changed members and it eventually broke up, but the music never stopped for S and me. It's impossible for anyone who loves music as much as we do, to just give it up. Instead, much like ourselves, our music grew and evolved, and when opportunity came knocking, we opened the door wide open.

S, among other music album collaborations, has co-written the soundtrack for three Greek films that were released in theaters all around Greece and I have contributed several songs in the soundtrack of two of those films. Our music and vocals for two of the soundtracks were recorded here, in our apartment in Holland, in our little home studio.

When we went to Greece two years ago for the opening night of one of the films, at the Athens film festival "Νύχτες Πρεμιέρας" (Opening Nights), and actually heard the music coming out of the big loud theater speakers, it was an otherworldly experience. I could not believe it was me that was heard singing when on the big screen an actual film was being played. It was extraordinary.

Getting paid to do something that you really love is like nothing else in the world. Granted, we can't actually make a living from music, but that's what our day jobs are for. Besides, like true romantics, we are not in it for the money but for the feeling that we get when we create music and share ideas.
It is when I sing that I'm truly happy.

Creativity for me equals happiness. It is impossible to say the word "happiness" without humming a tune or without having the desire to go into the kitchen and cook. My two passions, singing and cooking.

Making bread is perhaps the most primitive form of cooking. The kneading, the tucking of the dough, the warmth needed for it to proof, expand and grow, all that remind me of the process that I go through when I create a melody for a song, when I write lyrics and when I sing. I need my time, my space to feel the music. My mind travels wherever the rhythm takes me, my thoughts intertwine with my emotions and the warmth manifests itself in a song, coming from deep inside me.

From me to you; bread.

To S, Alex, Greg, Thodori and Ektora.

Dutch Corn Bread - Maisbrood

This bread is crusty on the outside and soft and springy on the inside. It has a subtle corn flavor and a little sweetness to it and the cornmeal grains give a gentle crunchiness to the crumb.

You may remember seeing it in this post featuring a savory French toast with poached eggs for which it is ideal, but it is also perfect for a sweet French toast, for a sandwich, to spread some homemade cashew butter on it, or to accompany any kind of juicy dish with lots of sauce that needs gathering up.

I invariably use a bread pan to bake the corn bread in, but you can certainly bake it free form, placing it straight onto a baking tray lined with baking paper. You can also bake it on a pizza stone, if you have one.

Not all flours were created equal so you may need a little more or less than the amount indicated in the recipe. Keep in mind that you can always add more flour but you can't take it out.
Also, it's best if the dough is a tad wet rather than it being stiff and hard.

You can either knead the dough in a stand mixer or with your hands. Below, I'm including instructions for both.

Yield: 1 large loaf, around 1.2 kg

60 g coarse cornmeal (or polenta) plus extra to sprinkle over the loaf
30 g demerara sugar (cane sugar)
7 g instant or active dry yeast
250 ml lukewarm whole milk plus extra to brush over the loaf
250 ml lukewarm water
15 g fine sea salt
700 g all purpose flour

olive oil for brushing bowl and bread pan

Special equipment: electric stand mixer (optional), bread pan 11 x 27 cm and 9 cm deep (optional), plastic wrap

In the bowl of your stand mixer or in a large bowl, add the cornmeal, the demerara sugar, the yeast and the lukewarm milk and water. Mix with a fork and let stand for 5 minutes until the mixture is frothy.

Add the flour and the salt and if you're using a stand mixer, attach the dough hook and knead for about 10 minutes, on the lowest speed, until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl, and it is elastic.

Note: if you're kneading the dough by hand, you will definitely have to knead it for more than 10 minutes, about 15 minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic.

Yes, that's all perfect when you read it huh? But sometimes, when you're actually making the dough yourself, either by hand or in a mixer, you see a big mess of sticky dough and you wonder what the heck the person who wrote the recipe was thinking. Well, it has happened to me numerous times. Here's the deal, at least for this type of bread.
If the dough is sticking too much, all around the bowl, then you definitely need to add more flour. A little at a time.
If it is sticking just a little bit, then it's ok. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead by hand to check the consistency. If it is sticking to your hands a lot and you see that you can't form it into a ball, add a little flour.
If it sticks a little to your hands but you can form it into a ball, then it's ok.

So, form the dough into a ball and place it back on the bowl of your stand mixer, or in another large bowl, that you have oiled all around with olive oil so that the dough won't stick as it proofs.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it in a warm place in your kitchen or anywhere around your house where it is not drafty. I always place it on the stovetop while the oven below is preheated, or right in front of it, on a chair.
The dough will need approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour to proof and double in volume.

Why cover the bowl with plastic wrap and not a kitchen towel? Because the plastic wrap prevents a crust from forming on the dough as it proofs.

In the meantime, brush with olive oil the bottom and sides of the bread pan, if you're using, and sprinkle with a little flour. Tap out excess flour.

Empty the dough onto a clean, lightly floured work surface and beat the air out of it. Knead for 1 minute, shape the dough into a rectangle, similar to the size of the bread pan, and place it in the pan.
If you're using a baking sheet, line it with baking paper, dusted with a little flour or cornmeal, and place the dough (shaped into a ball) on top.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and leave it to proof in a warm place until it almost doubles in size.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

Brush the top of the dough with a little milk and sprinkle with some cornmeal. Take a very sharp knife and slash the dough at an angle to 3-4 places. Place the bread pan (or baking sheet) on the middle rack of the oven and bake the bread for 30 minutes. Then lower the heat to 185 degrees Celsius and bake for further 5-10 minutes, until it is golden-brown on top.
It's a general rule that a bread loaf is ready when it makes a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom.

Take it out of the oven and leave it in the pan to cool for 10 minutes. Then take it out of the pan and if you're patient enough, let it cool completely on a rack.

Enjoy with some butter, or whatever your heart desires.


  1. Thank you for being a true romantic and making sure you have space in your life for your creative pursuits. You inspire.

  2. Wow Magda! You and S are my kind of people. Musicians! I played the drums during my college years in Egypt where I was born and raised. Belonged to various jazz groups and plaid around private parties and all but nothing as big and important as you guys. Congratulations and I would love to listen to your work please give me details. Your sandwiches look absolutely appetizing!! Not to say about the bread itself!!

  3. I can't believe I was missing such an important detail about you, that I never knew about your love for music. Now I feel like I know you so much better. My friends who are musicians cannot be divided from their music, it is so much a part of them. I cannot imagine them without it. So I feel like I know a whole new person now. I am so happy for you that you were able to get such satisfaction, even if you need a dayjob to be able to do what you love. My dayjob is exactly that, something that allows me to pay for the rest of my life.

  4. Ah, what lovely memories! I'm very impressed.

    Gosh that bread and toppings look divine!

  5. Oh this is such a wonderfully readable and visual post about your life as a musician and love of cooking. It is a nice image to think of you upstairs working on your music while your beautiful bread rises downstairs.
    Music is very important to me although I am not a musician. My partner is also passionate about music. Wouter's father was one of the directors of the Concert Gebouw in Amsterdam so he grew up in the concert hall listening to both classical music and the midnight Jazz series with greats like Miles Davis from childhood to adulthood. We both live in Nashville (Music City), Tennessee now and always have music on in our house while we work. It just seems natural.

  6. I did not know you were a singer and that makes me like you even more! So glad you are still at it, as it is a skill I really wish I had (to me the ultimate gift is that of singing). Love that bread too, I am thinking of using that same recipe and making it in a baguette shape.

  7. Music and food - it is a heavenly combination. My first career was as a classical bassist in the Albany (New York) Symphony Orchestra. I played for 14 years after attending the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. We would always gather a large group of musicians prior to each concert and make a feast - Italian, Chinese, Thai, Greek - and eat well, drink well and then (we hope) play well. Most musicians I know have a real appreciation for food - what is that strange and wonderful part of our brain that connects the two?

    Oh, and the bread is beautiful - I can't wait to try it! Have been lazy as of late and have been making a no-knead bread in the mornings to bake at night when I get home from my day job... ~ David

  8. Denise — I don't think I would be able to live if not for those creative pursuits. Thank you!

    Stelio — thank you for sharing a little more about yourself too. It's nice to see that we have one more thing in common, apart from food. The love of music.

    Zee — thanks

    Nuts about food — I'm revealing myself to you little by little :) Yes, sometimes that's all a day job can give you right? It's just a mean to an end.

    Anna — thank you!

    Teresa — growing up in concert halls? That's amazing. Your husband must have some wonderful childhood memories.

    taste of beirut — thank you :)
    A baguette-shaped maisbrood would be really nice!

    Cocoa and Lavender — heavenly combination indeed, David.
    I can imagine those feasts you're talking about!
    No-knead bread is a real time-saver.

  9. Magda! It's so lovely to know this about you, as song makes everything better. I am not a musician but I have a decent voice and sing all day long with Roman. I sing walking down the street with absolutely no shame because I'm singing with Roman, so it's my excuse to not look crazy. It always lifts my spirit.
    I would love to hear your voice, can you forward a clip or a link?
    Absolutely beautiful bread.

  10. Your bread looks perfectly fantastic, and that is very cool you played in a band, and still play. Good for you! I am going to try this recipe... your bread came out PERFECT!

  11. glad you are better and thanks for telling us a bit about you and S ,your bread looks fantastic !!

  12. It is great to hear someone so passionate about something! And your bread looks delicious!

  13. This bread looked so delicious that I decided to make it today (just found your blog yesterday through Smitten Kitchen). Really excellent--moist, nice crumb, I like the hint of cornmeal taste. I baked it this afternoon, and between the husband and kids its almost completely gone. Thanks so much!

  14. You are multi-talented Magda. I wish you had added a video with your music as well. I'd love to hear you. That bread looks amazing.

  15. Nice! Any old boring sandwich tastes SO amazing on homemade bread and yours looks fantastic :)


  16. Wow, I was planning on baking a few loaves of sandwich bread today but decided to catch up on my google reader first. I am so glad I did because this is being made right now!

  17. Nicole — singing with your baby, that sounds lovely!

    Banana wonder — thanks!

    linda — thank you very much :)

    PolaM — what/who are we without our passions...

    Risewind — hello! I'm so happy you liked the bread!

    Ivy — Perhaps in the future :) Thank you!

    We are not Martha — thanks!

    Nico — I hope you enjoy it!

  18. Oh I would love to hear you sing one day! Really!

    (And wow, the loaf of bread is WONDERFUL!)

  19. I want to hear you singing as well! I'm really jealous - I love music and singing but I don't have any talent for it. The bread is so tempting, such a perfect way to make up for my missing talents..

  20. Wow - to be able to carry a Athens and on the big screen - you should be damn proud of yourself, plus singing and baking bread, especially this bread which I remember from only a few months ago (sniff, sniff, miss you Holland).....Have a wonderful 2012. Here's to more singing

  21. I love how you have woven your two passions together in this post. It's also nice to learn more about your vast creative endeavors--With your music, cooking, writing, and photography, you and S are surrounded by all the arts. Brava.