Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Tartine Polenta Bread for the Babes

Seems like a long time since I've posted, but until the day before yesterday I've not been cooking or baking anything that warrants posting...boring! That has changed!!

Fortunately, Elizabeth of 'blog from OUR  Kitchen', the Bread Baking Babes Kitchen of the Month, chose a Tartine bread for our enjoyment. Tartine is an artisan bakery in San Francisco. They make slow-rise natural yeast breads with attention being paid to the crust and to a soft, moist, somewhat holey interior (think Swiss cheese). The extra holes are created by both using a high-hydration dough (lots of water) and careful handling so that air from the expanding yeasts is retained in the dough during shaping.

I was fortunate to find a copy of the Tartine Bread book at the library. It has many, many photos to help with understanding the methods described so well by Chad Robertson. The polenta version, which is what we made, adds toasted pumpkin seeds, soaked polenta, oil, and fresh rosemary to the basic recipe. It is a wonderful bread and smells delicious, but the taste is what takes it over the top. I highly recommend that you get a copy of the book and make this bread.

The thing to know is that this is a bread that takes time. Time to create the leaven, time to let the dough sit after water and flour and salt are mixed, time to combine the additions of the seeds, polenta, oil and herb, time to do the bulk fermentation, time to let the slightly shaped dough sit, time to let the shaped dough sit in the basket or brotform, and, finally, time to bake it, both with and without the cover. The good news is that most of the steps don't take much time on their own. You go to the dough, wet your hand, do the turns in a minute or less, and you are good to go on with other things for a half hour...this is during bulk fermentation.

I started with my own sourdough starter to make the leavener. I also used the recipe directly from the Tartine Bread book, not the one below, although they are almost identical. It makes two large loaves. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the leavener sat in the fridge for a few days until I had a day free to take the time needed to finish the dough. Even so, I only baked one bread loaf and finished that at 10 pm. Mostly that was poor planning. If I had done everything up to the brotform stage and then put it all in the fridge overnight, I could have baked two loaves the next day. Of course part of the reason I did it the way I did was because even in the rising stage, the rosemary called my name and I wanted to bake it right away. The good news is that because I baked it late at night, by the morning it was very slicable and I made an outstanding avocado toast with smoked salmon tartine for breakfast. (A tartine is an open faced sandwich on toasted artisan bread.)

I didn't read the instructions at first and made the basic dough with only 600 gm water instead of 750 gm, so it was a tight, dry dough (remember, this is the full two-loaf recipe). While Sweetie and I took the dog for a walk, that dough sat in the fridge and the polenta sat in it's boiling water and soaked. Since I shorted the water at the beginning, I kept all of the water used to soak the polenta (200 gm) and added 1/4 cup additional whole wheat flour when I added the polenta, seeds, oil and rosemary to the original dough. Once it was all squeezed together, it made a dough that felt right and, indeed, it turned out right, too.

For the first loaf I used a basket with a tea towel liberally spread with a mixture of flour and rice flour. That ended up on the top of the bread, which gives it the craters of the moon appearance. The top of the dough also had some whopper air bubbles, which expanded and those are the blackened bits. I baked the first loaf in a cast iron skillet with a large round and tall cake pan over it in my very large toaster oven. It gets hotter than my regular oven and browns nicely.

The second loaf is slightly smaller. I let it rise on a sheet of parchment and then slide all of it into the preheated oval Dutch Oven that was in the regular oven. Less flour and different environment gave it a different look. It has a thinner top crust, too, than loaf number one.

Be sure to check out the other Bread Baking Babes to see their versions and to become a Buddy, by baking it yourself and then posting about it. Send Elizabeth the posting URL and a photo by January 29th and she will send you a Buddy Badge. Her email is on her website.

Thanks for continuing to join me on my cooking and baking journey. I'm hoping to put a little more of my thoughts about non-cooking/baking things in posts this year, but this one is long enough!

Elizabeth's recipe, based on the recipe for 'Polenta Bread' in "Tartine Bread" by Chad Robertson

makes one round loaf:


  • dessert spoonful of bubbling wheat starter from the fridge
  • 75gm (~2/3 c) 100% whole wheat flour
  • 75gm (75ml) water at body temperature
Polenta mixture

  • 70gm (.5 c) raw pepitas (shelled dried pumpkin seeds)
  • 61gm (.5 c) grains for polenta (coarse grind) - I used medium-grind  cornmeal  millet
  • 240gm (1 c) boiling water
  • pinch salt
  • 21gm (1.5 Tbsp) sunflower oil (Robertson calls for unfiltered corn oil)
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped

  • 100gm floating leavener (stir the rest into the jar in the fridge)
  • 500gm flour:
       » 375gm (~3 c) unbleached all purpose (no additives) flour
       » 125gm (~1 c) 100% whole wheat (no additives) flour, sifted (reserve the bran - should be approximately 4gm)
       » 4gm (~1.5 tsp) wheat germ
  • 350gm (350ml) water, at body temperature
Adding the Salt

  • all of the Dough mixture
  • 10gm salt (approx 1.5 tsp table salt - but please see Salt is salt, right?)
  • 25gm (25 ml) water at body temperature

  • rice flour
  • brot-form (or bowl)
  • reserved bran from sifting whole wheat flour

  • parchment paper
  • cast iron frying pan
  • large stainless steel mixing bowl

  1. Leavener and refreshing the starter: On the evening before baking the bread, put the leavener ingredients into a medium-sized bowl. Using your dough whisk (use a wooden spoon if you don't have a whisk), mix the leavener ingredients until all the flour is incorporated. Leave 100gm in the bowl. Mix the extra into the jar in the fridge. Cover the bowl containing the 100gm with a plate and leave in the oven with only the light turned on overnight - until it becomes bubbly and frothy like mousse.
  2. polenta mixture:Spread pumpkin seeds evenly in one layer into a dry cast-iron frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring from time to time with a wooden spoon, until the seeds begin to pop, changing from light green to brown (Robertson says this takes about 10 minutes but for me, it took about 5 minutes). Set aside and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes.
      1. Pour boiling water into a bowl and stir in cornmeal (or whatever grain you are using). Set aside for about 10 minutes. Put the raw grains into a pot over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally until they are turning gold and smell toasty (not more than 5 minutes). Add the water and a pinch of salt. Turn up the heat, stir and bring the mixture to a rapid boil. Turn the heat down to very low, cover the pot and allow the grains to simmer for about 15 minutes. Avoid the temptation to lift the lid. When the water has absorbed, remove from the heat and allow to cool.
      2. Add oil, rosemary and pumpkin seeds.
    dough: When a small spoonful of the leavener floats in a small bowl of room temperature water, you can go ahead and mix the dough. (If the leavener does not float, stir in a little more whole wheat flour and water - even amounts by weight - cover with a plate and leave for about 30 minutes more. Chances are that it will now float.) Put all the dough ingredients into a large mixing bowl along with the now bubbling leavener. Mix as well as you can with a wooden spoon. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave on the counter to rest for about 40 minutes. Chad Robertson says Do not skip the resting period. Working with the nature of the dough, the resting perod allows the protein and starch in the flour to absorb the water, swell, and then relax into a cohesive mass.adding the salt: Pour the 25gm water over-top of the mass of dough. Sprinkle on the salt, making sure that it goes onto the water. (Alternatively Chad Robertson recommends adding the salt to the Dough Mixture for Polenta Bread, rather than waiting until this step)
  3. kneading:Use one of your hands to squoosh the salt and water into the dough; use the other hand to steady the bowl - this way you always have a clean hand. At first the dough might be a bit messy. But persevere. Suddenly, it will seem more like dough than a horrible separated glop. Keep folding it over onto itself until it is relatively smooth. Cover with a plate and leave to rest for about 30 minutes.
    stretching and folding (part 1): About 30 minutes after adding the salt, run your dough-working hand under water. Reach down along the side of the bowl and lift and stretch the dough straight up and almost out of the bowl. Fold it over itself to the other side of the bowl. Turn the bowl and repeat until it's a little difficult to stretch the dough up any more. You'll notice that the dough feels significantly smoother. Cover with a plate and leave on the counter (or if the kitchen is cool like ours in winter, in the oven with only the light turned on) for about 30 minutes.
    Repeat the above step
    adding the polenta mixture: Add the polenta mixture to the dough. Run your dough-working hand under water and use it to squoosh the polenta, pepitas and rosemary into the dough. Allow to rest for 30 minutes
  4. stretching and folding (part 2): Repeat the stretching and folding step 1 or 2 more times (Robertson says it should be done 4 times in all). Robertson writes [N]otice how the dough starts to get billowy, soft, and aerated with gas. At this later stage, you should turn the dough more gently to avoid pressing gas out of the dough. [...] A well-developed dough is more cohesive and releases from the sides of the bowl when you do the turns. The ridges left by the turn will hold their shape for a few minutes. You will see a 20 to 30 percent increase in volume. More air bubbles will form along the sides of the container. These are all signs that the dough is ready to be [...] shaped
  5. prepare the brot-form: Put rice flour into a brotform and distribute it as evenly as possible. (If you don't have a brot-form, you can line a bowl, basket or sieve with parchment paper. You can also use a liberally rice floured tea towel (but then you have to deal with a floured tea towel once the bread is baked). If you do not have rice flour, you can use wheat flour. However, it makes it significantly more difficult for the bread to be released from the basket....
  6. shaping: Scatter a dusting of wheat flour on the board and gently place the dough on the flour. Using wet hands, stretch the dough into a longish rectangle, then fold it like a letter, gently patting off any extra flour that might be there. Continue folding until the dough is shaped in a ball. Place it seam side UP in the well floured (rice) brot-form. Evenly spread the reserved bran on and around the seam. Loosely wrap the basket and bread with a clean tea towel and enclose the whole thing inside a plastic bag and leave it in the oven with only the light turned on for 2 or 3 hours (until it has about doubled). You can also refrigerate the shaped bread overnight. Just be sure that it is in a large enough container.
  7. baking: To know when it's time to bake, run your index finger under water and gently but firmly press it on the side of the bread. If the dough springs back immediately, recover the bread with the plastic bag and leave it in the oven with only the light turned on. If the dough gradually returns back after being pressed, put the cast-iron frying pan and stainless steel bowl into the oven and preheat all to 425F.
  8. About fifteen minutes later, put a square of parchment paper on the counter (the paper should be large enough to cover the bottom and sides of the frying pan). Overturn the shaped bread onto the parchment paper. Using a lame (or scissors, or serrated knife), score the bread. Take the pan and bowl out of the oven (wear oven mitts!!) and place the frying pan on the stove (to prevent burning your countertop...). Transfer the bread to the middle of the frying pan and immediately put the stainless steel bowl overtop like a hat. Put everything into the oven and immediately turn it down to 400F. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the hat and bake for a further 30 minutes or so, until the crust is a nice dark brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
  9. cooling: When the bread is done, remove it from the pan and allow it to cool on a footed rack before slicing and eating; the bread is still baking internally when first removed from the oven! If you wish to serve warm bread (of course you do), reheat it after it has cooled completely: To reheat any uncut bread, turn the oven to 400F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread into the hot oven for about ten minutes. This will rejuvenate the crust and warm the crumb perfectly.
  10. Notes::: salt I urge you to weigh the salt. For more raving about this, please see Salt is salt, right?

    Leavener- The leavener is a 100% hydration and takes about 5 days to make. (Please see our take on Jane Mason's Natural Starter made with Wheat Flour.)

    If you're too afraid (or don't have time) to take five days to make a natural starter and still want to bake this by using commercial yeast, I think what I'd do is create a poolish - say 50gm water, 50gm flour and a few grains (not more than 1/8 tsp) yeast stirred together, covered, and left overnight. And then proceed as written. I confess I haven't tried it but don't see why it won't work. If you're really worried, you could probably add few more grains of yeast into the dough itself as well.


  1. Well done! Your crust and crumb are both beautiful, and you describe the goal of using a high hydration dough poetically!

  2. Your bread turned out fabulously!!

    Ha. I did not notice the photos of the polenta being squeezed out. That certainly would have help me with the first version I made.

    I'm so glad you enjoyed this bread, Elle! (I sure hope we have some left for the avocados that are languishing on the counter. Avocado toast for breakfast is one of my all time favourite things! But I never thought of adding smoked salmon too. How brilliant!

    This section "Pour boiling water into a bowl and stir in cornmeal (or whatever grain you are using). Set aside for about 10 minutes" in the recipe above should be crossed out or completely deleted to avoid confusion.

  3. Beautiful loaves! Thanks for the heads-up: all links have been corrected.

  4. Now that is totally lovely crumb! You got two beautiful results from this recipe, bravo!

  5. Well done having baked this bread twice, even though the first one already looks very good to me.

  6. Yes, please... I'll have the one with smoked salmon and avocado.

  7. Both of your loaves look great! I agree, the taste is what takes it over the top!