Bread.

Bread. There is not one country that doesn’t have its own variation on it. Flatbread, Pitta Breads, Naan Bread, Tortilla, Ryebreads, Sourdough, Sweet Breads, Beer Bread, Breads made with vegetables, breads made with fruit.
It is one of the oldest food sources, dating back to Neolithic times, indeed to many early civilisations it was their only source of food. It is probably because of this limited diet that we now have bread in so many different variations. The Iberians and Gauls used Wine and Beer to get a successful rise, whilst earlier breadmakers relied on airborne yeasts. Honey was used to produce a sweet bread (and to help the rise) and seeds would have been added. The idea of a starter, made several days in advance was one of the earliest methods of producing a light, tasty bread.
Of course, over the years it has evolved. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Ancient Egyptians suffered from bad teeth due to the stones and grit in the poorly milled flour chipping their teeth. Thankfully, bread milling methods are somewhat more sophisticated nowadays and the only extras you find in bread are welcome ones.
It seems to me that there is, and always has been, a triumvirate of uses for bread: to have with soup or broth, made into sandwiches, or eaten with butter. It is the ultimate fast food and there is nothing more pleasurable than sinking your teeth into a freshly sliced loaf, thickly buttered. It never fails to send me, temporarily, back to my childhood when, off school feeling poorly, my mum would bring me toast and marmalade to eat. I also have fond memories of eating toast sprinkled with sugar when we couldn’t afford Golden Syrup or jam. My teeth ache at the thought of it but as a sugar craving 12 year old, I loved buttered and sugared toast.
My husband reconnects with his American culture by seemingly wrapping almost anything and everything that resides both inside and outside the fridge in bread or tortillas. He finds it a constant source of amusement that us Brits butter our sandwiches, even those with jam or peanut butter; I find it amusing that he drinks milk with peanut butter and jam sandwiches and at no other time.
Because of the simplicity of bread, it is intrinsically woven into our memories. Even in our poorest days we can afford bread, and it offers us a comforting respite from our woes. Who hasn’t eaten slice after slice of toast and jam because they’re feeling particularly down?
To draw this article together cohesively and not just ramble on endlessly, here's the point: Andrew at Spittoon Extra, along with Johanna at The Passionate Cook and Jeanne at Cooksister! have declared that their next "Waiter There’s Something In My"....is to be, of course, bread!
The difficulty here is not merely finding a recipe but instead deciding which recipe. There are literally millions of variations of bread in the world and everyone of them deserves to be tasted, and preferably by myself.
Regular followers of our blog will remember those hedonistic days when Paul used to write a ‘weekly’ baking article. Obviously, as is so often the case, he felt he was stifled by the ‘baking’ tag and wanted to spread his wings and write about other food sources. So, despite my commissioning him to provide the piece for this particular event, he was much too busy with his own food blogging event, The Big Burger Ballyhoo 2007, to take part.
So, the onus was on me to come up with the goods. Bearing in mind I usually leave the bread making to Paul and he leaves the bread eating to me, it was a slight reversal of roles. However, I felt suitably buoyed by the event (and I was also incredibly bored and boredom breeds creativity in the kitchen) and decided to make something with an Italian feel. The Italians make marvellous bread. From Ciabatta to Focaccia with Pizza in between, it is always deeply flavourful. I had previously made Ciabatta using a Biga Starter and that took four long days of breeding a starter, knocking it back down, adding half a cup more flour and waiting another day. The loaf I chose to cook on Sunday had just 4 hours proving time. Positively a walk in the park compared to Ciabatta.
"Ahh, but what is the bread made?" I hear you all cry. It was the perfectly delicious Italian Polenta and Pine Nuts Bread.
The method is slightly unusual. You make a mini starter with the cooked polenta, some flour, yeast and honey which you leave to prove for 2 hours. Then you stir in some more flour, pine nuts toasted in butter, plus the butter itself, knead for 10 minutes and then leave that to prove for another hour. Split the dough in half, roll out into two thin sausages which you vaguely plait together. Leave this artisinal shaped loaf to rise for 45 minutes, then bake for half an hour. Apart from the initial starter being incredibly difficult to knead (it is really wet from the cooked polenta), the rest of the process is a breeze and ideal for anyone wanting to try something a little different. The unexpected crunch of the toasted pine nuts is really good and I don't generally like pine nuts that much. Do make sure you trust the source of your pignoli though because there is nothing worse than biting into rancid nuts.
To adapt the recipe, you could use chopped walnuts instead of pine nuts and try adding some chopped herbs (rosemary would be wonderful) to the dough. I also have a hunch that a sprinkling of Parmesan could be pretty good too.
So, the recipe is as follows:
ITALIAN POLENTA AND PINE NUT BREAD makes 1 loaf
(adapted from Baking by Martha Day)
Ingredients:
50g Polenta
300ml Lukewarm Water
15g Fresh Yeast (two packets)
1/2 Teaspoon Runny Honey
225g White Bread Flour, separated into two halves
25g Butter, melted
3 Tablespoons Pine Nuts plus extra for sprinkling
1.5 Teaspoons Salt
1 Egg Yolk mixed with a Tablespoon Water for the Glaze
METHOD:
Mix the polenta with half of 250ml of the lukewarm water. Simmer gently for 2-3 minutes until thickened and cooked. Leave to cool.
Meanwhile, dissolve the yeast in the remaining 50ml warm water, along with the honey.
In a bowl, mix the yeast mixture with 115g of the flour, sifted, then beat in the cooked polenta.
Turn this mixture out onto a well floured surface and knead for about five minutes until elastic. You will need to add extra flour if you mixture seems very wet, or it will just stick to your hands and everywhere else. A dough scraper comes in very handy here too.
Once you have got a cohesive dough, place into a lightly greased bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise for 2 hours. It should double in size and look very bubbly and airy, like the middle of malt balls.
Sometime before the two hours are up, melt the butter and mix in the pine nuts, cooking until they are golden brown. Leave to cool.
Once the two hours are up, add the remaining flour and salt to the polenta/flour/yeast starter and mix with a wooden spoon until well combined. Mix in the pine nuts and butter and turn out onto a floured surface.
Knead well for 5 minutes until smooth and elastic.
Return to a well oiled bowl, cover and leave for another hour, until doubled once again.
Finally, knock back the dough and split into two. Roll each half out into a long sausage shape, about 15" long. Roughly plait together and place on a well oiled baking sheet. Cover and leave to rise for 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 200c.
After 45 minutes, brush the plait with the egg wash, sprinkle with pine nuts and bake for half an hour, or until golden and fragrant. Your nose will tell you when it's ready.
Leave to cool if you can bear it, or split straight away and eat with butter, melting and running down your chin.

23 comments:

breadchick said...

Freya I was just starting to think about an interesting bread to make this weekend. I also noticed last week I had a small package of pine nuts I need to use and 1/2 a box of polenta. I think I know what my bread will be for next week...

Anonymous said...

This bread looks and sounds delicious, the combination of polenta and pinenuts must produce such great flavor and texture!

Ari (Baking and Books)

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

OMG ... that is fabulous! Just the kind of unusual that is so fun to try. And polenta is always so good in a bread! So glad you took over for Paul on this one!!!

Cheryl said...

Looks and sounds so good and the picture of it sliced with the butter on it....oh my, so unfair at this early in the morning.

Susan said...

No one on the planet can wait for bread to cool, one of the chief pleasures of home baking. A nicely twisted, artsy loaf. How much is left of it? You KNOW good bread has to be eaten up quickly lest it go stale. It's for its own protection.

pom d'api said...

Wow ! I love bread with butter or nutella. HUM! I'm hungry now
Thank you for this recipe Freya

Pille said...

A combination of polenta and pinenuts in a bread sounds delicious - a lovely entry!

Ulrike said...

I agree Polenta is good in bread, I had to duplicate a bread from our bakery for the children, that contains also polenta. And: Germans butter their sandwiches too ;-)

Andrew said...

Oh, what a lovely sounding bread - I must give it a try out.

Many thanks for taking part in Waiter.

valentinA said...

Freya,
my mouth's already watering at the sight of your homemade bread.
I flat out love it!

Little Foodie said...

Okay I'm drooling! Men are like that. My hubby insists on drinking milk when eating chocolate, never drinks it at any other time - weirdo!

Kelly-Jane said...

Mmmm, that looks fab, like the idea of polenta and pine nuts in it too.

KJxx

Kathryn said...

YUM! I love bread. And pine nuts. It looks soooo good!

Paul had better watch out or you'll be knocking him off his throne:).

Kathryn x

Linda said...

with polenta? im intrigued!

Katie said...

Great post on bread!
I hate to contradict, but, I'm from Wisconsin, and my mother would never consider making a sandwich of any kind without buttering the bread first.
I can't imaging peanut butter without butter first... (of course, I never understood the jam thing, so...)

Patricia Scarpin said...

Freya, you must confess right now - you made this bread to torture me, right? I love recipes with polenta! :)

Callipygia said...

Ah polenta and pinenuts- they do sound heavenly together, especially hot out of the oven.

Jeanne said...

How glorious that looks Freya! I am a sucker for pinenuts but I must admit to being an infrequent user of polenta... Maybe time to change that?? Thanks for sharing!

gilly said...

Ooh, polenta bread sounds so good!

Claude-Olivier said...

Salut this bread looks really good ! THe pictures are also very nice, I like the second espacially, cool!

Cheers
Claude

Kristen said...

This is such a unique recipe. I bet it is quite delicious. Love the slice with the butter....mmmmmmm!

T.W. Barritt said...

I think polenta is a miracle grain for its sweet and nutty flavor -- I love your history of bread from the dawn of time!

Gattina said...

I love any bread requirea biga and/or slow rising process, including this one! I don't generally like polenta, but the whole idea (and love pine nut too...) sounds wonderful! Will try it out, replacing polenta with semolina. Another fantastic post Freya!