I’ve been baking a lot lately. It’s just something about the wintertime, I think. Baking is an activity I enjoy, so it cures my boredom on days when I’m cooped up inside the house. It warms up the apartment and makes everything smell delicious. However, for some reason, I’ve recently lost some patience and planning when it comes to baking. I’ve just been waking up and deciding that today is a day I’d like to have some fresh bread. Then I spend some time looking through all of my books to see what I can bake that day. Any two-step breads that require an overnight soaker of any kind are usually not an option, because I haven’t planned ahead very well. Sourdough isn’t really an option either, because I always forget to refresh the starter. As a result, I’ve been baking a lot of sandwich, pan-baked loaves of bread. Which has been delicious and practical.
Today, however, when the urge to bake struck, I found a recipe that I’d been thinking about for a while – and today seemed like the perfect afternoon for polenta bread. After all, I had cornmeal in the pantry, and a small block of parmesan in the fridge, so the stars seemed aligned for polenta bread. For the record, I know that the recipe says that the cheese is optional, but if there’s an option for cheese, I take it. It’s just how I live my life.
Recipe from Bread, by Nick Malgieri
- 340 grams room temperature tap water, approximately 75 degrees
- 7 grams instant yeast
- 400 grams bread flour
- 120 grams stone-ground yellow cornmeal
- 45 grams finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, optional
- 9 grams fine sea salt
- Pour water into a bowl, whisk in yeast. Wait 30 seconds, whisk in again.
- In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal and cheese. Use a rubber spatula to stir this into the water and yeast a little bit at a time. Make sure there is no dry flour left on the edges of the bowl.
- Mix on a stand mixer on low (or knead by hand) until the dough comes together, about 1 – 2 minutes. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
- Increase the speed of the mixer to medium and sprinkle in the salt. Continue mixing (or kneading by hand) until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 2 – 3 minutes. The dough should be very soft and sticky.
- Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, and turn over so that the top is oiled. Allow it to ferment and rise for 3o minutes.
- Fold/turn the dough, and allow it to rise for another 30 minutes.
- Shape the dough into a boule loaf.
- Place the dough on a heavy cookie sheet, lined with parchment paper or dusted with cornmeal. Cover with a towel or oiled plastic wrap, and allow it to rest until it starts to puff, about 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Once the dough has proofed to about 50% of it’s original size, flour your hands and gently press it to flatten to about 1 inch thick. Use a razor blade or knife to score the bread in a cross. Be careful to not cut too deeply into the loaf – you don’t want it to spread too widely in the oven while it bakes.
- Spray the loaf with water, place pan in the oven. Wait 5 minutes and spray the loaf again, and reduce the temperature to 425. Bake until it is well risen and deep golden and the internal temp is 200 degrees, about 20 – 30 minutes.
- Cool on a rack. Store the bread loosely covered at room temp on the day it is baked, wrap and freeze for longer storage. Reheat at 350 degrees for 5 minutes and let slightly cool before serving.
- A great boule shaping instructional video, from an excellent bread blogger, Wild Yeast: Video and blog.
- When letting dough rest, I recommend covering it with oiled plastic wrap instead of a towel – this prevents the dough from drying out and forming a skin. This is especially important if you happen to live in a drafty apartment.
- I hesitated to flatten this dough as much as the recipe recommends, in step 10. It’s not typically a step that is taken after the final bench rest of the dough. I was feeling adventurous and rebellious, so I simply skipped this step, and didn’t press down the dough. I’m glad I didn’t – there wasn’t much oven spring, so if I had flatten the dough, the loaf would have been even more compact. Anyway, the crumb was fine and even, so as far as I can see, you don’ t have to flatten this bread unless you really feel like it.
I liked this bread – I was looking for something a little bit different, and this bread definitely was. The crust is thin, and didn’t come out particularly crisp. It has a closed, delicate crumb, with a good texture – I liked that. It tasted primarily like the cheese though – I didn’t get much of a sense of the cornmeal in this bread, and to look at it and taste it, I certainly wouldn’t know that it was any variety of polenta bread. That said, a nice soft loaf of bread that tastes like Parmigiano Reggiano, well, that’s a good thing to have around the house. I had a few slices with a little bit of butter and honey as a sweet and savory dessert – delicious.