Hearty loaf is full of flavour!
I was excited to experiment with the heritage corn flour from Barkley’s Apple Orchard that I found in the Holiday Farmers’ Feast basket from the Ottawa Farmers’ Market. Corn flour is finer than corn meal yet not as powdery as cornstarch, with a slightly gritty texture that softens when soaked or left to rise in a dough. It produces bread that has a perfect balance of taste and density, and is much more substantial than all white flour bread. The method described below of making bread using a sponge starter (sometimes called a ‘poolish’) is a little more time consuming but definitely makes for a superior loaf. I served this bread up with Classic Baked Beans for a brunch gathering and it was a big hit. We discovered it also made excellent toast the next day. If your friends or family are lucky, you might even make a few extra loaves for gifting.
For sponge starter:
- 1 3/4 cups (435 mL) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (250 mL) warm water
- 1/8 teaspoon (.65 mL) instant dried yeast
- 3/4 cup (185 mL) warm water
- 1 cup corn flour (not cornstarch nor corn meal)
- 5 teaspoons (7.5 mL) instant dried yeast
- sponge starter (see above)
- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt
- 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 cups (625 – 875 mL) all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons (45 mL) olive oil
- The evening before you plan to mix the bread dough, combine the sponge ingredients in a non-reactive container.
- Cover with a tight lid or plastic wrap and let the mixture ferment for about 12 hours. Note that the temperature where the sponge is fermenting should be about 20C or 72F; if you house is cooler than that, consider putting the sponge in the oven and turn on the oven light.
- The next day, prepare the dough by putting the water, corn flour, yeast and sponge starter in a large bowl (use a stand mixer if you have one) and stir to combine. Let sit for ten minutes to allow the corn flour to hydrate, then add the salt, 2.5 cups of the all-purpose flour and olive oil.
- Mix at low speed for several minutes, adding in additional all-purpose flour until you’ve achieved a dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
- Turn out dough onto a lightly floured counter and knead for 5 minutes, sprinkling with additional flour if needed to keep it from sticking, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
- Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 90 minutes.
- After the first rise, remove the dough from the bowl and shape into a round or oval loaf. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cover with a clean towel. Let rise for 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 425F.
- Place a clean baking dish filled with ice cubes on the bottom rack of the oven when it has finished preheating. This will add steam to the oven and help your loaf develop a crisper crust when baking.
- With a sharp knife, make several shallow, diagonal slashes across the top of the risen loaf. Immediately place the bread in the hot oven.
- Bake for 30 minutes, removing parchment paper from under the bread after 20 minutes to allow the bottom crust to crisp up.
- Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack at least 10 minutes before slicing.
- When completely cooled, store in plastic bag at room temperature for up to three days, or slice and freezer (also in plastic) for up to three months.
Makes 1 large loaf.