Since I know that soup can impact my outlook as the days grow shorter, darker, and more damp here in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve been proactive about making it this fall. So far I’ve prepared chicken noodle soup, curried butternut squash-pear soup, and Cuban black bean soup. One lucky week, my friend Sharalyn dropped off some cheesy broccoli soup; I can attest that soup made by a friend has super-duper enhanced mood-lifting properties (and yes, that pun is intended.)
And so, despite the crummy weather, I found the energy – fueled, of course, by all this soup — to tackle bread bowls.
My first attempt resulted in failure. Ambition tempted me to shape far too many bowls from one batch of dough; instead of bowls, I ended up with dinner rolls. Since complaining about eating homemade soup with fresh rolls seems hypercritical, I counted it as a successful failure (notice the positive spin here, which I attribute entirely to soup).
Now I know that dividing the dough into four (not eight!) pieces results in generously-sized bread bowls. They bake into crusty, leak-proof vessels that, when hollowed out, provide plenty of room for a main course serving of soup. The soft, tender interior soaks up a thick, hearty soup without getting too soggy, making it nearly impossible to resist eating up the bread bowl once the soup has disappeared.
If you’ve prepared a large pot of soup to enjoy throughout the week, making bread bowls to serve it in doesn’t add much effort to your meal planning on a given day. And, as an added benefit, while you’re creating tasty vessels for your soup, you’ll fill your house with the comforting aroma of freshly baked bread.
If you really want to banish the misery of a cold, rainy day, make a double-batch of bowls. Go drop off soup and freshly baked bowls at a friend’s house. If that doesn’t completely transform your mood, nothing will.
Adapted from The Bread Bible. Makes four bowls.
2 cups warm water (105° to 115°F)
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
5 to 6 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1 tablespoon salt
cornmeal, for sprinkling
1 large egg beaten with 2 teaspoons water, for glazing
Pour the water in the bowl of a heavy-duty standing mixer. Sprinkle the yeast and sugar over the surface of the water. Stir until combined. Let stand at room temperature until dissolved and foamy, about 10 minutes.
Add 2 cups of flour and the salt. Beat hard with the paddle attachment until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add remaining flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until a shaggy dough that clears the sides of the bowl forms.
Switch to the dough hook and knead for about 3 minutes or until the dough is smooth and springy.
Place the dough in a deep greased bowl. Turn once to coat the top and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise in a cool area until tripled in bulk, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. If you have time, punch down the dough and let it rise again for about an hour.
Gently deflate the dough. Turn it out on a lightly floured surface. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle it with cornmeal. Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Shape the portions into tight round balls. Place the loaves about 4 inches apart on the baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until puffy and doubled, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Preheat oven to 450° F.
Make three 1/4-inch deep slashes on each loaf and brush the surface of each one with the glaze. After placing loaves in the oven, reduce temperature to 400° F. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until crusty and the loaves sound hollow when tapped with your finger. Transfer the loaves to a cooling rack.
To hollow the loaves, cut into the bread approximately one inch from the edge with a serrated knife. Continue to cut around the loaf, leaving about an inch of thickness on the outside edge all the way around. Do not cut through the bottom of the loaf. Using your fingers, pull the bread from the center of the loaf. Use the knife to cut away any hard to remove pieces until the bowl is cleanly hollowed out. Fill with soup and serve.