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Polenta Bread

Polenta Bread
If you have found bread making intimidating or too much work, try baking this simple loaf. The richly textured bread is especially delicious warm or toasted, for breakfast or with soups, salads, meats or seafood.

Purchase a fast-acting dry yeast sold in most food stores. It's much stronger and quicker than conventional active dry yeast; under ideal conditions, rising time can be shortened to less than 1 hour.

When you are ready to put the dough in a bowl to rise, warm the bowl first with warm to moderately hot tap water. Then dry the bowl, brush lightly with oil, add the dough and cover. The dough starts rising much faster because of the warmth of the bowl, decreasing total rising time. If you have one, an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook can be used to knead the dough.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 1/2 cup finely ground, quick-cooking Italian
      polenta, plus more for baking sheet
  • 2 tsp. quick-rise yeast
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/3 cups warm tap water
  • 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 Tbs. water

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine the flour, the 1/2 cup polenta, the yeast and salt. Using a wooden spoon, stir to mix well. Add the warm water and olive oil and stir until all of the flour has been absorbed and a dough has formed.

Using your hands, gather the dough into a ball and transfer to a well-floured work surface. Knead the dough until soft and elastic and no longer sticky, about 10 minutes. Work more flour into the dough if needed to reduce stickiness; be sure to keep the work surface well floured. The dough should remain in a rounded shape and not flatten out when left on a work surface for a minute or two. If not, work a little more flour into the dough. Place the dough in a warmed, lightly oiled bowl, turning several times to coat it with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 45 to 75 minutes.

Sprinkle a little polenta on a baking sheet and set aside. Punch down the dough, return it to the lightly floured work surface and knead a few times. Form the dough into a round ball or an oval shape and place on the prepared baking sheet. The dough should retain its shape and not flatten out. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 30 to 40 minutes. While the dough is rising, position a rack in the middle of an oven and preheat to 425°F.

When the dough has risen, using a very sharp, thin-bladed knife or single-edge razor blade, carefully make a slash 1/2 inch deep across the top. Brush the surface with the egg mixture. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F and continue to bake until golden and crusty, 30 to 35 minutes more.

Transfer the loaf to a wire rack and let cool.
Makes 1 round or oval loaf; serves 6 to 8.
Adapted from Chuck Williams Collection, Simple Italian Cooking, by Chuck Williams (Time-Life Books, 1992).