Introduction: A-maize-ing Maize Bread.

About: I'm a biologist, and a professional geek. I can't believe they pay me to do science!

Why do I call it maize bread instead of corn bread?

When you think of cornbread, you are probably picturing either a yellow, sweet, cake like bread, cooked in a shallow casserole dish (northern or "yankee" cornbread), or a white, savory bread, cooked in a blazing hot cast-iron skillet (southern cornbread). This is neither of those. Cornbread purists, beware. This is a yeast bread, which uses both wheat and corn flour.

My goal was to create a bread with a rich corn flavor, a chewy, crunchy texture, and a touch of complex sourdough tang. It's dense and hearty enough to not turn to mush when dipping in soup, chili, or gravy. It would also make wonderful croutons or stuffing. I kept the loaf wide and flat, so it could be cut into narrow slices for dipping, much like a biscotti. You could bake it as biscuits, rolls, breadsticks, or in a loaf pan.

About the corn

The corn meal I used is not regular "cornmeal". It is a "nixtamalized" corn flour, which means the corn has been
soaked in lime. Not the little green fruit, this lime is an alkaline solution of calcium hydroxide, traditionally made by soaking hardwood ashes. This improves the nutritional quality, texture, and flavor. It converts carbohydrates and proteins into a gel that acts sort of like gluten, and allows the corn flour to form a dough. It's what gives corn tortillas and tamales their distinct flavor and texture. It's a centuries old method of preparing corn.
To get the proper nixtamalized corn flavor you should use Masa Harina, a corn flour used for tortillas, rather than regular corn meal.

I used a locally grown heirloom corn variety called "Iroquois White Corn". It has been grown by the Iroquois, in the finger lakes region of New York, for at least 1400 years.

About the "sponge"
In order to give it a complex flavor, I used the "sponge and dough" method. Sponge is a type of overnight sourdough starter, usually allowed to ferment at room temperature overnight. Sponge is not quite as tart as true sourdough, but has a much more complex than regular bread. If you happen to have a pet sourdough starter, then go ahead and use that as the base for your sponge.

Step 1: Ingredients

You will need:

For the sponge(pre-ferment)

  • 1 cup water (spring water if possible)
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup corn flour
  • 1/2 tsp dry yeast

For the rest of the dough ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water. (not hot, just warm, around body temp, ~100F 40C)
  • 1 1/2 cups corn flour, plus a few tablespoons for dusting the loaf.
  • 3 Cups flour, plus a few tablespoons for dusting the loaf.
  • 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp non-iodized salt

Step 2: Start Your Sponge

The night before you intend to bake this bread, prepare your sponge.

  • 1 cup water (spring water if possible)
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup corn flour
  • 1/2 tsp dry yeast

Warm the water to room temperature. Spring or purified water is best, or tap water that has been allowed to sit so chlorine can evaporate. Chlorine will interfere with yeast and bacteria that give the bread it's flavor.

Pour the dry yeast onto the warm water. Let it float on the water and dissolve for about 5-10 minutes, then stir.

Add the three types of flour, mix thoroughly. It will be a bit thicker than pancake batter.

Let it sit overnight at room temperature. Cover it with plastic wrap but poke a hole in it so the gas can escape. Use a large enough bowl to allow it to double in size to around 4 or 5 cups (1 quart).

Step 3: Mix the Dough.

Gather your ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water. (not hot, just warm, around body temp, ~100F 40C)
  • 1 1/2 cups corn flour, plus a few tablespoons for dusting the loaf.
  • fermented sponge
  • 3 Cups flour, plus a few tablespoons for dusting the loaf.
  • 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp non-iodized salt

Mix the water, honey, and yeast into the cornmeal. Stir well and let it rest for 5 minutes to allow the yeast to dissolve and the corn absorb the water. It should look like a bowl of foamy porridge.

Combine 2 1/2 cups flour, salt, sponge, and the corn mixture into a large mixing bowl. mix thoroughly with your (clean) bare hands. It should be quite sticky and loose.

Add the remaining flour a spoonfull at a time, gradually, and smush with hands until it reaches a stretchy "playdough" consistency. It should hold it's shape when you smush it with your hands, rather than sagging into a puddle, like batter. it should be somewhat stretchy, but don't expect it to stretch like pizza dough.

Let the dough rest for about 15 minutes.

Step 4: Let It Rise

Dust the dough ball with flour.

With well floured hands, pick up the dough and shape the dough into a ball. Place in a warm place to rise. I like to put it in a greased ceramic bowl, with a skillet lid covering it. I place this into a slightly warm oven.

you can also let it rise on a lightly greased and flour dusted pizza pan, with an upside down bowl covering it. then you can just leave it on the pan and bake it, without having to transfer it.

Allow the dough to rise for at least 2 hours. it should almost double in size, but it won't get very tall. if your house is cool, it may take quite a bit longer. Too long is better than not long enough.

Step 5: Bake It.

Dust the top of the dough with a mixture of wheat and corn flour. Turn the dough onto parchment paper or a well floured cookie sheet or pizza peel. Thoroughly dust the dough with corn flour. You will be flipping it over again, so the top will become the bottom of the loaf, so dust it well, or it will stick.

You have a few options at this point.

  • You can cook it as one big round loaf on a cookie sheet or pizza stone. this is what is shown in the pictures that follow.
  • You can divide the dough into two halves, and shape them into rectangles to be cooked on a cookie sheet or pizza stone, like foccacia.
  • You can divide the dough into two halves, and cook it in a bread pan. This will require slightly lower heat, and slightly longer cook time (around 400F for 40 min)
  • You can make rolls with the dough.

Flip the dough over again, onto a lightly greased, flour and cornmeal dusted cookie sheet or pizza pan. Let it rest for 20 minutes while the oven pre-heats.

If you have a pizza stone, you can use that. just be sure it's well dusted with corn flour.

While the dough is resting on the cookie sheet... Preheat the oven to 450.

  • Place a broiler pan or cast iron skillet on the bottom rack. When you place the dough in the oven, you will pour half a cup of water into this to produce steam.
  • Move the upper rack to the middle of the oven.

When the oven is pre-heated

  • Put half a cup of water next to the oven, where you can reach it.
  • Dust the top of the loaf with a bit more corn flour.
  • With a sharp knife, score the top of the dough. I did a corn-cob pattern.
  • Place the cookie sheet and dough on the top rack, pour the water into the broiler pan, and quickly close the oven door.

Bake For 35 Min or until the top is golden brown.

  • Remove from oven and test with an instant read thermometer. It should be around 210 in the center of the loaf.
  • It should look like a giant sugar cookie.
  • Let it rest on a cooling rack for an hour.
Bread Challenge 2017

Participated in the
Bread Challenge 2017