while eaten by almost everyone these days, traditionally this is the bread of peasants & "common people" — it is not a bread which is light and airy but rather one which is dense and substantial but in no way inferior. its heft comes from the ingredient which gives it its unique character: cornmeal (or traditionally corn flour).
according to my friend's mother, you can change to ratio of flour to cornmeal to suit your taste (how much?? big surprise she never measures! 'who needs a measuring cup?', she asks). this also applies to the amount of salt and sugar in the loaf. as a note, i have found that using too little salt/sugar leaves a very bland loaf of bread. that in mind, you'll need to fiddle a bit with the ratio of water if you do decide to change ratios of flour and cornmeal. some recipes for this bread also call for ingredients like rye flour or corn flour. when my friend ramon's parents first moved to canada, they could only find (italian) corn meal and therefore used that instead. his mother says to process or place in a blender and try to grind it as fine as possible. cornflour is more appropriate, yellow or white, if you can get it. cornmeal gives a heavier end result.
portuguese / galician cornmeal (cornflour) bread
yellow from the cornmeal or flour, this moist loaf is hearty and substantial on the inside and crisp and crunchy on the outside. it goes well with soups and stews or simply just with some salted butter. the loaf keeps well for a day or two. if you like, give it the brazilian twist by adding fennel seeds.
1 1/2 c super fine granulation yellow cornmeal*
1 1/2 - 2 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 - 3 tsp sugar
2 - 3 or even 4 tbsp olive oil (or melted margarine/butter)**
1 1/4 c boiling water
2 c bread flour (or if you have to, all purpose flour)
optional: 1 tsp fennel seeds (brazilian version)
1 tbsp regular active dry yeast (not rapid rise)
1 tsp sugar
1/4 c warm water
*the cornmeal should be superfine. place it in a blender or processor and get it as fine as possible; otherwise, use cornflour:
*you can use cornflour instead but don't add the boiling water to it. mix it with the AP flour and add lukewarm water instead. adjust as need as absorption rates will vary.
**if you add more oil/butter, you'll need to add a little extra flour
place the sugar and yeast in a small bowl.
add the warm water and let the yeast prove for 15 minutes.
in a large bowl, place the cornmeal, salt and sugar and mix. you can add the oil to it also or add it to measured boiling water.
add the boiling water (and oil) to the dry mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until well mixed.
set aside and let cool for 10 minutes.
this is done because of the granulation of the cornmeal. if using cornflour do not do this step. just blend it with the flour and proceed below.
the yeast mixture should be fully proved by the time the cornmeal is ready.
mix the yeast mixture into the cornmeal and stir well.
add 1 cup of flour and stir.
add the next cup of flour and stir again and, with your hands, mix it until you get a ball of dough.
place the dough on a surface and knead it for about 8 to 10 minutes. you may need to add a little more flour while kneading. it will be slightly tacky.
place the round of dough in a greased bowl and in a warm place, well covered, for 1 hour.
punch down the dough and make into a round. the dough will be soft.
preheat your oven to 400F. i use a clay baker which is made to cook bread and put it in the oven for the full hour before baking. if you want, you can approximate the same thing with a cast iron (le creuset type) pot with a lid that is safe to go in the oven.
otherwise, cook as you would any other bread and place in the oven on a baking sheet when the dough has proved.
if cooking the regular way, place the dough on a parchment lined baking sheet which has been sprinkled with cornmeal. cover the dough and let rise again for one hour. i use a bowl to cover the dough and give it a shape while it rises; if you do this, make sure that the insides of the bowl are well oiled so the dough does not stick to the bowl when you remove it. it will be fairly flat.
if you are putting the bread in the clay baker or cast iron pot (more difficult as it has high sides), place the parchment on a sturdy cutting board so as to make the transfer simple. cut around the proved loaf to rid of excess parchment before placing in oven.
before putting in the oven, you can finish it off in the following ways:
*rub some flour over the loaf and bake (the loaf will crack on top);
*use water to coat the surface and then slash (use an X or # or + design);
*sprinkle a mixture of kosher salt with a little sugar over the loaf.
bake the loaf (covered if using the clay baker or le creuset) for 45 minutes, approximately.
let the loaf cool completely before cutting.