The real challenge in bread making is to be on point every step of the way, pushing the limit at times, showing restraint at others and always mindful and adaptable. And have fun, too. Well, isn’t that true about life in general? Tartine basic country loaf is a master bread recipe that spans about 40 pages in Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson. Those pages in my book are heavily underlined, highlighted and marked throughout. Every time I read them, I seem to pick up more nuances about the recipe. So, I am eager and ready to take on BBB’s challenge of the new year hosted by Elizabeth’s blog from OUR kitchen. I made a Tartine blue corn polenta bread.
Early on day 1, I refreshed the sourdough starter. After two feedings and thirty hours later on the next day, I was ready to make the leaven. In the evening on day 2, mixing the final dough was underway. These are the usual steps.
However, I had to make a decision whether I wanted to use the blue cornmeal, the only kind I had on hand for the polenta bread. First of all, it’s a medium ground corn meal, not the coarse yellow polenta called for in the recipe. Importantly, I’ve never cooked the blue cornmeal before. I bought it because I was attracted to its bright and unusual color.
Yes, use the blue corn meal. Why not? I soaked 1 cup of the medium ground cornmeal with 2 cups of boiling water on day 1. The cornmeal mixture was still very wet in the morning on day 2. In my mind, nothing good will come out if I add that to the bread. So I proceeded with placing the mixture in the oven with the light turned on for hours. It was still quite wet after eight hours. I was running out of time since the leaven was ready to be combined with the rest of the dough ingredients in the evening on day 2. The other alternative was to dehydrate the cornmeal mixture and I did. Meanwhile, I started to mix the final dough.
The cornmeal mixture looked clearly wetter (see picture below) than the dough (77% hydration) when I added it, together with the roasted pumpkin seeds, fresh rosemary and oil after the second turn. In perfect hindsight, I’d have wanted the cornmeal to be dried more.
These are the changes or adaptations to the Tartine polenta recipe I’ve made along the way:
Used medium ground blue cornmeal. Soaked and somewhat dehydrated.
Retarded the dough at the end of bulk rise in the fridge overnight for about 12 hours. I tend to get more open crumb with this method.
Divided and shaped the dough into three loaves instead of two the next morning.
Preheated the oven together with three cast-iron Dutch ovens to 500°F (according to Robertson’s newer book Tartine Book No. 3). Reduced temperature to 460°F when the loaves were loaded.
I met the challenge, on the whole, by staying focused without messing up during the lengthy three-day process. I can’t say that happens consistently. That’s the real challenge and an endurance test by all measures. Mindful while weighing the leaven and the ingredients, working and resting the dough, getting the polenta’s texture right, building gluten strength with turns, giving the dough enough time to rise and rest in the fridge, taking care not to deflate the dough when shaped, proofing the dough completely until it passes the finger-dent test…. So many potential pitfalls!
In retrospect, slashing can be done more cleanly and forcefully. Wonder why there are so many tears and cracks on the base of the loaves. Any suggestions?
Love the twirls of the blue corn on the white bread like a painter’s strokes on a canvas. The crust is shatteringly light and crunchy. The tender custardy texture of the bread is fantastic. The bake turned out more beautiful than I’ve expected.