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Polenta Bread

Polenta Bread |
This beautifully rustic bread is speckled with bits of yellow polenta throughout, has a slight tang from preferment, and is surround with a thick and pleasantly chewy crust. It also happens to be this month's Bread Baking Babes bread of the month, as chosen by BBBabe Elizabeth of blog from OUR kitchen.

And I'm late. Thirteen days late. I blame it on school starting this month. I was so preoccupied with back-to-school shopping and preparation for the kids, that the 16th came and went without blip on the radar. But, I'm making up for it now. I actually took my time and went nice and slow on these loaves. Every thing about making them felt right, and I think that's because I didn't even glance in the direction of my bread machine.

What's a bread machine got to do with it (or rather, the lack of)? Well, I've become pretty dependent on mine. Here's the story: years ago, I discovered how convenient it was to let my bread machine do all of the mixing and kneading, and subsequently the first rise, for me when I was busy. So, during the holidays, the bread machine came out. It freed up time and precious counter space. Once the madness subsided, it was tucked back in its place on the basement shelf.

Polenta Bread |
Somehow, the last twelve months were uninterrupted madness. My helper became my crutch. I found myself being pulled and stretched, almost to the point of breaking. Fortunately, humans are resilient. I'm resilient. I stepped off that speeding train, and for the first time in as long as I can remember, I took a deep breath. It was like throwing open all of the windows on a late spring day following a long, hard winter.

When I was finally ready to make this bread, I didn't rush the starter. I didn't will it to get a move on. With a nod to my renewed spirit, it bubbled up slowly over the next two days. Once it did, I did something that I hadn't done in so long. Something that I'd momentarily forgotten was tied to my soul's well-being. I plunged my hands into the dough and started to knead.

So, thirteen days late—or right on time?

Polenta Bread
This beautifully rustic Polenta Bread is slightly tangy and dotted with polenta on the inside, surrounded by a crusty and pleasantly chewy crust.
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Polenta Bread
by Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez
Prep Time: 48 hours, mostly unattended
Cook Time: 35-40 minutes
Keywords: bake bread nut-free soy-free vegan dairy-free flour cornmeal

Ingredients (2 loaves)
    for the tiny biga:
    • 9 grams lukewarm water
    • 1/16 teaspoon active dry yeast
    • 11 grams unbleached all-purpose flour
    for the starter:
    • 60 grams water
    • 1/16 teaspoon active dry yeast
    • all of the Biga
    • 100 grams unbleached all-purpose flour
    for the polenta:
    • 35 grams polenta (coarsely ground cornmeal)
    • 175 grams cold water
    for the final dough:
    • 390 grams lukewarm water
    • 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
    • all of the starter
    • 600 grams unbleached bread flour + more for work surface
    • 18 grams kosher or coarse sea salt
    • reserved polenta
    to finish:
    • polenta (coarsely ground cornmeal), for dusting
    tiny biga (48 hours before you want to make the bread):
    In the early afternoon two days before you are baking the bread, whisk the yeast with warm water in a smallish bowl until it has dissolved. Using a wooden spoon and/or your hands, mix in the small amount of flour until it is smooth. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave on the counter, out of drafts, to ferment.

    starter (40 hours before you want to make the bread):
    In the evening, two days before you are baking the bread, whisk the starter yeast with warm water in a medium-sized bowl until it has dissolved. Add the tiny biga that should be bubbling nicely. Using a wooden spoon and/or your hands, mix in the starter amount of flour until you have a smooth lump of dough. I let this ferment for about 48 hours.
    starter after 2 days
    polenta (2 hours before you want to make the bread):
    In the morning of the day you are baking the bread, pour cold water into a small pot on the stove at medium high heat. Add the polenta and using a wooden spoon, cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is thick - about 5 minutes. Once the polenta is made, remove it from the pot to a plate or shallow dish, cool to room temperature. (yield: 137 grams cooked polenta)

    making the bread (finally):
    In a large mixing bowl, whisk the yeast with warm water until it has dissolved.

    Add the starter (that should have doubled and be quite bubbly). Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flours and salt until you have a shaggy dough.
    combine all ingredients to make a shaggy dough
    Lay the cooled polenta on top of the dough. Plunge in with your hands to turn and fold the dough in the bowl, kneading until it's combined. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead until you have a tacky, but not sticky dough, 5-10 minutes; add a little more flour at a time as you're kneading if it is extremely sticky. Set the dough back in the bowl, cover, and let rest for 20 minutes.
    dough is smoother and easier to work with after 20 minute rest
    Turn and fold the dough a few times, it will be noticeably stronger and smoother. Wash the bowl, lightly oil it, then place the dough back in. Cover the bowl again and set aside to rise at a warmish room temperature until has doubled in size, 60-90 minutes.
    dough after first rise
    When you are ready to shape the bread, turn it out onto a lightly floured board and divide it into 2 pieces. Trying not to disturb the bubbles too much, shape into two rounds. Liberally spray the tops of the shaped loaves with water. Cover them with cornmeal (or turn them top side up into a pan of cornmeal).
    dividing and shaping the dough
    Put each loaves seam-side up into a small banneton, brotform, tightly woven basket, or  mixing bowl. Cover each with plastic or a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise on the counter until almost doubled in size, ~60-90 minutes.
    dough after a dip in polenta
    Place a baking stone on the middle rack of the oven and preheat to 425° F (220° C).

    Turn each loaf out of its container onto a square of parchment paper. Using a very sharp knife, razor, or lamé, carve a spiral into each loaf, starting at the center (holding the blade almost horizontally). Liberally spray the tops of the loaves with water.
    fierce spiral slashes
    Slide the loaves (parchment and all) onto a peel, then slide them both onto the hot stone and bake for about 35-40 minutes, turning them around once half way through baking. The crust should be quite dark and the internal temperature should be around 205° F (96° C).

    Allow the baked bread to cool completely (because it is still baking inside) before cutting into it.

    -adapted from Artisan Baking Across America: the Breads, the Bakers, the Best Recipes by Maggie Glezer (Della Fattoria's Polenta Bread)
    Polenta Bread |

    The Bread Baking Babes (current dozen) are:

    The Bread Baking Buddies are: YOU!

    So which Babe is the hosting kitchen this month?  That would be Elizabeth at blog from OUR kitchen, if you'd like to join in, simply make Polenta Bread (yes, you may adapt) - and then send Elizabeth your link (info in her announcement post).  Submissions are due by August 29th.  Once you've posted, you'll receive a Buddy badge for baking along.  I hope you'll join us this month!

    I am also sharing this Polenta Bread with Susan's Yeastspotting!