Saturday, August 13, 2011

Corn Porridge: An Honest Bread

If you think the grass is greener on the other side, you can bet your eye teeth that it's brown. An elementary nugget of wisdom that should be stuffed into the breast of every woman and man upon entry into this life.

I have nothing against striving, but to do so while devaluing what you presently have is an affront to the Gods.

These are the things I think during long walks with the dog, while I'm elbow-deep in dough, when I'm trying to understand what all this is meant to be about, because in my view, the experience of living is not supposed to be one-dimensional, superfluous, or artificially constructed. And it's definitely not something meant to be glazed over or labored through. This, otherwise known as stagnation and denial, ill regard for reality.

People suggest, often, that I live in my head. My response: And whose rather should I? I can't imagine such vast territory willfully left unexplored.

I always wonder about people who run away from the contents of their very own head. Like messy attics, these, buzzing about metropolitan areas and those pastoral alike, sucking up more bits of self-deception to stuff into the dark little pockets, some endless feet deep. If ones attic is not fit for thine own self, how then can one expect another to willingly have a visit, or furthermore, to find it pleasant enough to stay a while? And here's a luxurious bit of information for those who may not be privy to the damp little places inside: It is only dark if you don't open the door of discovery and let in at least a sliver of light. The boogie man in our brains has been given unfettered reign, and it's high time that it be exposed for what it is: A tricky little self-deception whose sustenance is the shadows that we willingly supply.

Listen, I know that this is difficult to hear, that our own mind holds the power to move us unto a more liberated existence, and that the trade for such is that one must be willing to live in self-honesty, and 100% of the time. But t
here is no integrity in deceiving oneself, and there is no other way to achieve such freedom. Of this I am certain. It seems elementary, that one be honest with themselves, and that there should not be a great struggle in this rudimentary pursuit. The truth is, it takes a great deal of effort to be consistently self-honest, because self-honesty is the recognition of life as it is, wholly lacking the bells and whistles and embellishments that we have so become addicted to.

These embellishments have the glamour of such pacifying ease, promising fulfillment if one manage only to wade over the surface of life's waters, never asking for explanation of that which lies below in the deep. 
But the horrifying reality is that one must constantly fight to stay afloat. These embellishments ask for us to go against our intrinsic nature to explore our immeasurable depths. For, we are categorically drawn to explore the whole of our existence. Divers, we are, and naturally so. To fight this congenital inclination only wreaks havoc on the spirit. It is like denying a bird the privilege of flight, a fish, ample waters in which to swim.

Inevitably, the pursuit of a superficially embellished existence perpetuates a stealthy gloom that when left to seep, can perfume one's life with such a dismal funk that it is hard to see beyond the miasma. And when one is blinded by the empty promises of self-deception, it is impossible to live a life of pure intent. It is true that dishonesty is the bell that lulls us into the womb of delusive complacency, and fantasy is the whistle the provides the ensuing and consuming undercurrent of discontent.

Which brings us to bread. How so?

Today, ours is made with a porridge of ground corn, a food of the humblest origin, an honest one that fed our predecessors who never had the luxury of self-delusion. This did not turn out the most lofty bread I've ever baked, and at first I was skeptical about posting its review. But here we are, meeting at the Tartine Bread Experiment after all, and experimentation begs thorough contemplation rather than snap judgments. Experimentation asks us to be honest, so that we may grow within that which we are trying to understand.

While this loaf did not have exhilarating oven spring, the flavor was wholly addictive. And as the days went on, my friends and I all found that we could not stop eating it. We ate it plain, we ate it with figs, we ate it with with arugula and slices of chicken roasted the night before. It was a dense loaf, but not disagreeably so, and one that was uber moist. The flavor was nutty, corny, serious and casual all at once, and as you can see, it turned out to be oh so pretty in a rustic way. Once I let go of suppositions, I understood its merits and saw its beauty until it was simply this gorgeous bread that mysteriously grew more and more pleasing every day. It also turned out to be more complex than many of the other loaves I've ever baked, and allowed me to alter my idea of what good, sound bread truly is. This is indeed a loaf of peasant heritage, one without the luxury of lofty delusions.

Whatever the outcome, and against whatever standard it is measured, one thing is certain: I do not know a more honest bread than this, and I certainly cannot think of one that I've made that has begged as much contemplation and challenged my own illusions.

Porridge Bread with Sunflower Seeds & Rosmarino

Gather together these humble things:

200g ripe levain
900g bread flour
100g whole wheat flour
700g + 50g water (50g optional, see notes)
25g salt
1 cup sunflower seeds, toasted, plus 1 - 2 cups more, raw, for coating the proofing 
1 cup coarse polenta
2 cups boiling water
3 TB extra virgin olive oil
1 heaping TB fresh rosemary leaves, chopped fine


The night before: 1 TB ripe 100% hydration starter mixed with 100g water and 50g each whole wheat and AP flour. Left to ferment overnight.


The day of: toasted 1 cup sunflower seeds, set aside to cool. Soaked 1 cup coarse polenta with 2 cups boiling water. Set aside to absorb the water, and cool.


Dissolved the levain with 700g water, then mixed in 900g KA bread flour with 100g whole wheat flour. Autolysed 40 minutes.


Mixed 25g of salt, 50g water, and 3 TB olive oil into the dough. I use this as my opportunity to work the gluten, because with subsequent turns, I handle the dough more gently to maintain the aeration that it develops over time. Let rest for 50 minutes.

After this 50 minutes, performed a series of turns every half hour for the first two hours. The first turn is where I added the cooled polenta, the toasted seeds and 1 rounded tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves chopped fine. The last turns were performed with a more gingerly hand. The dough was pretty intense. It was like a huge bowl of corn jello, and I was a little nervous.

This amounted to 2 hours and 50 minutes of fermentation and turns at room temperature. 

Immediately after the last turn, popped the dough into the fridge for 1 hour 10 minutes, for a total fermentation time of 4 hours.


The dough was a beast if ever there was one. It took on a life of its own. It was heavy, not as much slack as it was...energized and lacking structure. I divided it in half, shaped this half for a full-sized boule, then I divided and shaped the remaining half into smaller boules. I did not give the dough a bench rest.

I rolled the dough in raw sunflower seeds, and placed it face down into a linen-lined bannetonThe dough then proofed in the fridge for 4 hours, and I baked the boules right from cold.


Preheated the oven to 500 degrees, along with two combo cookers, then inverted the loaves onto a piece of parchment waiting on the peel. I slid the loaves into oven, popped the lids of the combo cookers in place, then turned the oven down to 450 degrees. The small loaves roasted for 15 minutes covered, then another 25 uncovered. The medium loaves took 50 minutes, 30 covered, then another 20 uncovered. The largest took about an hour, maybe even an hour and 5. Again, 30 covered, and the remainder of the time uncovered.


Crust: A little thicker and chewier than I thought it would be. But still pleasant. Definitely not difficult. Crumb: Dense, but tender due to the high hydration. Definitely not rubbery.Very moist. Flavor: Outstanding. Substantially improved with age. Rich with toasted seed and corn flavor. Very earthy. Rosemary lent lovely floral highlights. This loaf is best when left to mature for a day, even two, sort of like Germans mature their ryes for one or two days before eating. Temperament of dough: A beast. It swelled to incredible proportions. It was gelatinous, unruly, very, very hydrated. It was like working with rye. It was a little frightening, actually, during the turns. My hand would totally disappear in the dough. I didn't think this bread was going to work, and I refrigerated it partially to tame it, because I knew it was going to spread if I did not. Notes/changes that I might make: I must say that I love this bread. And I didn't at first, but my reasons why are explained above. Now that I've experienced it, I would make it again and again as is. Though even if I changed nothing else, I would definitely not shape the boules into anything smaller than a normal-sized boule, because the crust was very bold and required a greater proportion of crumb to compensate for its chewiness. For experiment's sakeI think it would be interesting for experiment's sake to try: soaking the polenta overnight next time. I might experiment with finer grinds. I might not add the 50g of water that I added to disperse the salt, or/in addition, I might drain the polenta before adding to the dough for a bit. I might experiment with decreasing the amount of polenta too, or, fright of all frights, maybe even adding a touch of vital wheat gluten, though I would be cautious of this. Part of this bread's charm is its density, and the assertive, earthy flavor given the high hydration and the addition of corn and seeds. The flavor was incomparable. So, any changes that I might make would be isolated and small, with every effort to maintain the charms that kept me nibbling on this bread for many more days than I have any other.

To the staff of life!

This porridge bread post was humbly submitted to Wild Yeast Blog's Yeast Spotting.


  1. please open an honest bakery!!!

  2. It sounds delicious!

    I spend a lot of time "in my own head," as well. I'm an only child, so I like the "aloneness" of it!

  3. Lauren, I feel like an only child sometimes. I have one brother. People are wired the way that they are. Some people require a lot of external stimulation, some of us like to climb on in and scout around our own heads to move us along our path. The bottom line is that we must honor who we were born to be, and without exception. PS, I love your brioche. I'm steadily moving toward the Tartine Brioche. I think I am going to bypass the pizzas and get right into the earthier breads, and then finally into baguettes and fortified loaves. Here's to blogging. Keep up the good work, your blog is splendid!

  4. Your bread looks delicious... I spend a lot of time in my own head too, really love been alone. Great photos.

  5. thanks tres delicious! i think that so many of us live in our heads :)

  6. I'm so happy to have stumbled onto your blog. What a fabulous experiment and exciting adventure. There is really nothing quite like the art of bread-making to get you in touch with the earth, our hearts, and one-another. I love this "...But here we are, meeting at the Tartine Bread Experiment after all, and experimentation begs thorough contemplation rather than snap judgments. Experimentation asks us to be honest, so that we may grow within that which we are trying to understand." I love your candor, your imagination, and honesty. Can't wait to follow along. This is a special space :)

  7. Hi! I've included your amazing bread in my post Mis Favoritas - Especial Pan, you can see it here:

    I hope you to like it!

  8. Thank you Kelsey, for your kind words. It's rare that one comments about the writing in blogs. How encouraging to know that the posts are actually being read (I feel that as writers, we use the pictures to lure people in, in hopes that the post will be read!)

    You have a gorgeous blog as well, I just had a look. I look forward to following along!

    Friends in blogosphere,

    - Frankie

  9. Salome, what an honor! Your breads are gorgeous as well. I plan to keep checking in on your baking habits. I am always thrilled when I meet someone in some corner of the world whom I have never met, who is also making bread, the staff of this lovely life.

    - Frankie

  10. Wow. What an awesome site! I love your musings here and I am excited to take a try at this recipe. I am a relative novice at baking but love homemade breads of all kinds. I am in the USA and was ignorant of some of your ingredients/terms. Imagine my relief when a dictionary search revealed that levain is a sour-dough starter. I have that! And a combo cooker - I think my cast iron dutch oven would do for that, don't you? Anyway, I'll give it a go. Thank you for sharing your experiment, honest results, and most of all, your time and thoughts.

  11. I am curious why there is only 1 Tablespoon of sourdough starter when most sourdough bread recipes call for at least a cup. Thank you.



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