This month, I'm cooking from David Leite's The New Portuguese Table for Cookbook Countdown, an opportunity to cook from a book that has languished on my shelves for far too long but more importantly, a chance to make and eat some great Portuguese food.
I decided to try my hand at Corn Bread, a rustic, everyday Portuguese bread commonly served with soup. Described as "dense, with a thick, crackly crust", it intrigued me most because it was yeast-raised and made with a high proportion of cornmeal.
The recipe was fairly basic and instructions were clear but things did not progress as smoothly as I'd hoped. First, there was the salt. The recipe called for an enormous amount (2 tbsp) that I felt certain was a typo. I used only half but was concerned that it was still too much.
Then there was the cornmeal. "Fine" was required. I pulled out the 4 (??) types I had in my pantry - why I have this many, I couldn't say - and settled on the grind that wasn't labelled but was somewhere between the "medium" and "extra fine". It also happened to be a Portuguese brand. My first inkling that all was not well was the cornmeal mush that resulted from mixing it with water rather than the dough I was expecting.
My next clue was the perpetual stickiness of the dough which never cleared the sides of the bowl regardless of the extra flour I added. But I still had hope: the dough was elastic, and the boules had good surface tension, proofed in the allotted time, had good oven spring and developed a crisp crust.
And then I sliced into a loaf. The bread was extremely dense, which wouldn't have been an issue if it hadn't also been quite dry. Comparing it to the photo in the book which shows a flatter loaf with a more open crumb, it was clear that the dough should have been much looser and more hydrated than the one I'd made. The extra flour had definitely been a mistake, and I think my "extra-fine" cornmeal might have been the better choice. It had a really nice corn flavour but it was a little too salty for me. It's such an interesting loaf, I'd like to try it again, correcting my errors and reducing the salt even further.
Until then, I had some to deal with: it wasn't good enough to serve with soup as I'd planned but if I've learned anything from my bread baking experience, it's that a failed loaf usually makes excellent croutons.
And the book offers an even better way to repurpose it:
More to come on this dish....
I'm linking this post to Cookbook Countdown hosted by Kitchen Flavours and Emily's Cooking (Makan2) Foray.