I love corn, even though straight off the cob it gets completely stuck in your teeth and therefore is just about one of the worst things you can eat if you don’t want to get embarassing looks thrown at you. I love cornbread too; there’s just something about that sweetness that tastes so “yummm”. But I don’t have much experience using cornmeal as an ingredient. The first time I ever used it was not that long ago when I made Virginia Spoon Bread. This is the second time, for a recipe called Portuguese Corn Bread, which is nothing like typical cornbread but still a good eat.
This bread has a nice, crisp exterior and a very textural interior. For those of you who really enjoy the texture of food, I think you’ll like it. I used white corn meal, although you could use white or yellow. Also, keep in mind that the final product is large but not very tall, so don’t freak out when you take it out of the oven and it doesn’t look like it rose that much!
Portuguese Corn Bread
(makes 1 loaf)
2 1/2 tsp rapid-rise yeast
1 cup water, lukewarm
2 cups corn meal
4 cups unbleached white bread flour
2/3 cup milk, lukewarm
2 T olive oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
cornmeal (or polenta), for sprinkling
Initial Oven Temperature: 450 F
1. Put the yeast in a large glass bowl, and slowly mix in the lukewarm water until the yeast has mostly dissolved into the liquid. Add 1 cup of the corn meal and 1/2 cup of the flour to this mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until all ingredients are incorporated. Cover the bowl with lightly greased saran wrap (to prevent sticking) and leave the batter to rise for about 30 minutes, until bubbles appear on the surface. The warmer the surroundings, the faster this process will take place.
2. Add the lukewarm milk to the batter, followed by the olive oil, stirring to combine. Then, mix in the 1 cup of corn meal, 3 1/2 cups of bread flour, and salt until a workable dough has formed. Add more milk or water if the dough is too stiff. From my experience, it isn’t the friendliest dough, so don’t be afraid to use your hands to work the ingredients together.
3. Place the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, making it as pliable as possible. Then, put it into a clear greased bowl, cover it up with the saran wrap again, and leave it to rise in a warm place (if possible) for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. The dough should be doubled in size when this process is complete.
4. Return the dough to your floured surface and push it down once. Form a large round that is flat on the bottom, and place this round on a lined baking sheet sprinkled with corn meal. Generously sprinkle corn meal (or polenta) on the top of the loaf as well. Cover and let it rise once again for an hour, letting it double in size.
3. Once the rising process is almost complete, preheat the oven to 450 F with a boiler tray on the bottom shelf, if possible. Bake the loaf for ten minutes at this temperature. If you are using a boiler tray, CAREFULLY add 1 cup hot water to the tray at the beginning of the baking process. Otherwise, you can just spray the oven with water a couple of times during the first ten minutes of baking. This helps to achieve that crusty exterior. After ten minutes, reduce the temperature to 375 F and bake the loaf for another 20-25 minutes. When it is done baking, it should sound hollow if you tap it on the base.