When journalist Simon Thibault decided to explore his family's history, he knew just where he needed to start: the kitchen. Canada's Acadian people have a rich culinary tradition passed down through the generations in the form of recipes, storytelling, and hands-on demonstration, but there wasn't much documentation or celebration of the food outside the region. In his new cookbook Pantry and Palate, Thibault delves into a century-plus of family and local lore to craft an extraordinary homage to a uniquely delicious culture.
Breads made with grain porridges like the one used in this recipe are a great way to add fiber or bulk to bread, especially in places (or times) where refined flour would be scarce. The amount of flour required here is a little more open-ended than other recipes because of a few variables in making this bread. Depending on how long the cornmeal is left to absorb the water, you will need more or less flour for kneading. If you've never kneaded dough before, it's a pretty simple process, one which you will get the hang of faster than you think. Trust the dough, it will "tell" you how much flour it needs when you knead it. The nice thing with this dough is that you don't have to be gentle with it, so don't worry about overkneading it.
Photo by Noah Fecks
Find a video online for hints, or even better, ask a friend to show you how to knead. A dough scraper can also help you pick up all the loose bits of bread dough off of your counter and aid in cleanup. This is a great everyday bread that can be eaten on its own, used for sandwiches, or toasted.
¾ cup cornmeal, plus 1 tablespoon for dusting
2 teaspoons sugar
3 teaspoons lard (or vegetable shortening)
2 cups boiling water
1/3 cup room temperature water
2 teaspoons yeast
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup molasses
4−5 cups flour, plus 1 tablespoon for dusting
How to Make It
In a bowl, mix cornmeal, sugar, and lard. Add the boiling water and mix thoroughly to eliminate any lumps. Let cool for about 45 minutes. The cornmeal will expand and look somewhat like porridge. Just make sure that the porridge is cool enough for the yeast to become active, rather than too hot, which can kill the yeast.
In room-temperature water, thoroughly mix the yeast and baking soda. Add this to your cornmeal porridge, then add salt and molasses. Mix until well blended.
Stir in flour 1 cup at a time, making sure flour is completely incorporated before you add more. By the time you have finished incorporating the third cup of flour, the dough should start to come together, pulling away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and dust it with more flour to start kneading.
With flour-dusted hands, gather the dough into a large ball and begin to knead the dough. The dough will be slightly tacky at first; a good rule of thumb for this bread is to keep adding small amounts of flour as you knead it. Eventually the dough will become rather smooth and no longer tacky, and it will feel taut and less elastic as you knead it.
Place the dough in a clean bowl, cover it with cling film, and allow it to rest for about 45 minutes. Take the dough out and knead it gently for about 1 minute. It will feel very elastic compared to your previous kneading. Place back in bowl and allow it to rise for about 1 hour.
Grease your pans with a little lard, and dust with 1 tablespoon flour and 1 tablespoon cornmeal. Take the dough out of its bowl, and cut it in half. These will be your two loaves. Gently pinch the ends of the dough to shape the loaves. Place each loaf in a greased and floured loaf pan. Allow to rise for another hour.
Preheat your oven to 400°F. Place the bread into the oven and bake for 1 hour.
Remove the bread from the oven and remove the loaves from the pans. They should fall out quite easily. The bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. If not, return to oven for 10 minutes, without the loaf pan.
Allow the bread to cool for at least 1 hour before cutting into it.