The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

dried tomato

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Savoury Polenta Levain


This summer our garden provided us with a bumper crop of little cherry tomatoes , so many in fact that we, or rather my wife Marie, ended up putting a large portion of them in the dehydrator so we could make use of them through the winter time. The tomatoes were cured briefly in a mix of salt, olive oil and fresh oregano before going into the dehydrator. When they were finally ready to eat we were amazed at how well the pure tomato flavour had been retained. I've eaten a lot of the sun dried type that you can find at the grocer or deli over the years, but I've never had any with quite as intense a flavour as these little gems. At last count we had just over a half pound of dried cherry tomatoes , which made me think that we could spare a few to make a bread with. The idea of using them in a loaf with polenta came from remembering an excellent grilled polenta with a sun dried tomato, garlic, parmigiano and olive oil dressing that I'd had years before at a pot luck BBQ with some friends.

Searches on TFL and the web in general didn't turn up much that I was interested in as most them called for eggs and milk or other ingredients I wasn't keen on, so I thought a little experimentation was in order to make the bread I had in mind. It had to be made with natural yeast, polenta -(more accurately, a hot cornmeal soaker), and the dried tomatoes, other than that I was pretty open to using whatever I felt would help compliment the flavour of the tomatoes. Thinking about the grilled polenta dish that I'd had, I decided to just go with some roasted garlic and parmigiano as the flavour additions and see how that worked. Well it worked just fine! The tomato flavour came through as the main player, the garlic and cheese offering subtle support, and the polenta adding a soft texture to the overall loaf. The sour sort of plays around in the background, which is what I was hoping for since I wasn't going for a tangy or sharp flavoured bread. The polenta gives it a soft crumb, and the wheat provides a good chewy crust, making for a pleasant contrast while you're eating it. This bread is great for panini sandwiches and toasts up quite nicely as well, but to me this is what I call a 'cocktail bread' , or something that you might make to take to a friends for dinner, or to have with some olives and cheese and a glass of wine as your waiting for the main course to finish cooking. There are a number of other things you could add to it such as toasted pine nuts, various herbs, or a different type of cheese but if you're looking for the taste of the tomato to shine through I'd recommend using a light hand. The recipe is included below as well as some photos. If any TFL'rs are interested in giving this one a whirl, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on it.


All the best,



                      SAVOURY POLENTA LEVAIN













Mature liquid Culture




Bread Flour
















Water-144 F




Yellow Cornmeal




Butter/olive oil *








Final Dough




Bread Flour



















Parmigiano Cheese
















Dried Tomatoes











*drizzle a little olive oil over the tomatoes to soften before starting the mix.

sundried tomatoes packed in oil and drained can be used as well -all or in part

* either butter or olive oil work well, use butter if a richer flavour is desired


  • Mix the levain 16-18 hrs before making the final dough and keep at room temp.


  • Make the polenta at the same time as the levain. Pour boiling water over the cornmeal and butter/oil and stir well then heat in microwave on high for 1 minute, stir until it begins to thicken, then heat for another minute or less and stir again till the polenta is very thick. Pour into a shallow container and let cool overnight. The polenta should be soft and slightly granular, not gelatinized or rubbery.


  • Break the polenta up in the mixer using the paddle attachment on 3rd speed for 1 minute, then add and mix all the ingredients except the salt and tomatoes on 1st speed until combined in a rough mass. Add the salt and mix on 1st speed for 3-4 minutes then on 2nd speed for 7-8 minutes. Adjust the water if needed to attain a medium soft dough. The dough should be soft enough to incorporate the dried tomatoes easily.


  • Mix in the dried tomatoes on 1st speed until thoroughly combined. Knead the dough by hand on the counter for 4-5 minutes using minimal dusting flour and a scraper until it's developed and the dough is smooth and elastic.


  • 1st stretch and fold after 1 hr, then again after the 2nd hr.

  • Retard at 45F or less for 18 hrs. Allow the dough to come to room temp of 70-75F for 1-1/12 hr before shaping.

  • Lightly round the dough, cover and rest for 15-20 minutes, then shape as desired and roll the loaf in semolina. Try to tuck any tomatoes poking through the suface back inside or underneath the loaf to keep them from scorching. Let rise for 2-1/2 to 3 hrs, then slash and slide on to a stone in a preheated 500F oven with normal steam and lower the oven temp to 460F. Bake for 15 minutes then rotate the loaf for even baking if using a non convection oven and bake an additional 20-25 minutes, rotating the loaf once more.

  • Cool the loaf on wire racks for 8hrs wrapped in baker's linen

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