Friday, September 19, 2008

Polenta bread

At the end of my last baking post I promised that my next loaf would be French butter loaves, but since, on closer inspection of the recipe, those loaves are actually rolls I thought I go one step at a time. I've left the no-knead long rise behind, but I'm not quite ready to give up the enclosed baking method. On the other hand, I am curious to see how it works with breads containing milk and fat which normally call for lower baking temperatures. So I thought I'd try polenta bread. This is another recipe from Rustic European Breads From Your Bread Machine, but it's actually a full-fledged bread machine recipe (there are a few in the book) so while the ingredients were from the recipe, the methodology was all up to me.

Those aforementioned ingredients are:
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1/3 cup polenta
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons lard (I save bacon drippings so I used that)
2/3 cup milk
2 Tablespoons water
1 large egg

You may recall in my earlier baking posts complaints about the copious extra flour I end up adding to bread recipes to make them work out. My theory was that modern flour is somehow formulated to not need sifting and this change happened so long ago that it's no longer sufficiently notable to mention on the packaging. So, no sifting this time. I didn't even fluff the flour up before measuring. I even packed it down a little bit. The result was a seriously dense and stiff dough. I'm used to seeing my mixer's dough hook whipping up a wet dough; this time it was beating the heck out of a solid lump. The dough would sit up against the side of the bowl and the dough hook would come along and whack a dent into it, sometimes so hard the bowl would come loose from the mixer. The dough hook was actually kneading the dough; I think that's what it's supposed to look like. I did decide to add one extra Tablespoon of water to loosen it up a little and I think that worked out right. Some instructions I saw for using a dough hook said to stop when the dough climbed up the hook and I didn't really understand what that meant as my doughs started out doing that, but this time I could really see a transition going from the aforementioned lump to this:

It wasn't sticky at all so it was easy to peel off the hook and roll into a ball.

I was concerned that the dough would be too stiff to rise right, but I did just fine. After an hour I punched it down and let it rise again.

Then into the pre-heated clay cooker. This would have been a good time to have either a rectangular rising container or a round 500 degree-oven safe cooker. As it is, the dough ended up slightly deflated as it stuck to the sides and folded up in the center.

Thirty minutes cover on and another thirty cover off and it looks like this:

The lighting's not great. It doesn't really look burnt.

And inside like this:

That a fine-grained tender crumb, lightly scented of pork fat and corn and slightly sweet. It is better scented than it is flavored; I should have added more salt. The crust is rather thicker than I'd like and not really crunchy the way my previous loaves turned out. I think the former is due to the high baking temperature and the latter due to the milk in the recipe. The polenta gives the loaf a slightly gritty texture that I'm not sure I like. Next time I might use a more finely ground cornmeal to keep the corn flavor without that texture.

It's not great bread for snacking, which means I may end the day without having eaten half a loaf for once, but I can see this as a good bread to accompany stews and any dish with sauce to sop up. Barbeque definitely. It's fairly cuisine-neutral as is, but I could see adding some ham, peppers, cheese and/or whole corn kernels to make it Southwestern.


kat said...

Definitely sounds like a good bread to go with chili

billjac said...

I think you're right with that. Green chili in particular would make a nice match. However, since I saw your savory bread pudding post I think the remaining half of this loaf is destined for a southwestern variation of that instead.