My foray into baking has been a rocky trail, and slightly bruising to my cooking esteem. But then again, what’s the point in cooking without making the mistakes that teach you? Here’s a perfect example of a notable disaster, my first sourdough (which was just fine lathered with green tomato marmalade), followed by a notable improvement: sun-dried tomato and rosemary polenta bread.
I’ve been shy to make my Superbowl snack public. How silly of me. How will we ever learn to feed ourselves if we only ever see the perfect pictures and recipes we struggle to imitate in our kitchens?
With a blob of my friend’s sourdough starter, I fed my culture for a week, trying to cultivate my own yeast. I’ve been taking a free fermentation class, which made it very clear that bacteria, yeast, and mold are all free! Don’t buy them. Hm.
All was looking swell. Where did I err? My suspicion is the pan. I have no baking stone, traditionally used for making a loaf. A pan seemed a reasonably round substitute, but the result suggests that there was no room for the loaf to grow and take shape. The result: a flying saucer, split around the middle. A dense, hearty loaf that tasted like cooked dough.
Alas, there are always clever ways to disguise the vehicle…
I will try again! On to bigger and better things, and some aid from a packet of yeast.
Adapted from a recipe for "Polenta and Bell Pepper Bread" in Vegetarian: Over 300 healthy and wholesome recipes chosen from around the world (The vegetarian's bible).
- 1/4 ounce packet organic instant yeast
- 1 cup water
- 1 1/2 cup polenta
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting pans and counter
- 1 teaspoon granulated organic cane sugar
- 1/3 cup unsalted/uncured sun dried tomatoes, purchased stiff or soft, but make sure there are no preservatives, sulfites or other funky ingredients
- 1 teaspoon rosemary, crushed
- 1/4 cup sun-dried tomato water
- 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, plus a little extra for greasing
- butter, plus a little extra for greasing
- Prepare your sun-dried tomatoes if needed.
- Mix the yeast thoroughly (dissolving essentially) with 1 cup of warm water. Let sit for ten minutes. You will begin to see bubbles form on the surface - this is the yeast waking up!
- Meanwhile, mix together the polenta, salt, flour, sugar, sun-dried tomatoes and rosemary in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the mixture with your fist.
- Mix together the yeast and warm water, sun-dried tomato water, and olive oil.
- Add the liquid ingredients to the well in the center of the dry ingredients. Using a spoon or spatula to mix the ingredients into a soft dough until you cannot mix anymore with your utensil.
- Dust a clean surface with flour, and keep the flour on hand. Turn out the dough onto the counter and begin kneading. This video is a great "how-to knead" demonstration. Knead for about ten minutes, adding more flour as kneaded to the counter and dough surface to keep from sticking. Knead until smooth and elastic.
- Grease a bowl with oil. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with a damp tea towel or plastic wrap. If it's cold out, I wouldn't suggest a tea towel as it will be cold as opposed to moist and humid and warm - which is what the yeast needs to grow. Then, to ensure there's enough warmth, since I'm assuming you're also making this in the winter, cover with a down jacket and plop in a sunny spot if possible. (In the summer or warm weather, just let it be with the plastic wrap.) Let sit for about two hours, or until doubled in size.
- Grease the pans with butter and dust with flour, coating the sides and bottom.
- When the dough has doubled, punch it down lightly to release some air. Divide it in two pieces, avoiding working it too much. Shape each piece into a very thick sausage, and place one in each pan. Cover again with plastic wrap and leave to rise for about 45 minutes. (Tip: you can oil the plastic wrap in case you're lucky and the dough rises high enough to tap the ceiling).
- Preheat oven to 425.
- Bake for 30 minutes or until a golden crust forms. Leave for 5 minutes, then cool on a wire rack. The loaves should sound hollow when tapped underneath.
- See, that wasn't so hard, was it? Load on some fresh mozzarella, melt, and drizzle with balsamic.