The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

It Tastes Like Corn. Are We Making Tamales or Bread?

Anonymous baker's picture
Anonymous baker (not verified)

It Tastes Like Corn. Are We Making Tamales or Bread?

I love roasted corn, it's one of my favorite things. And this being sweet corn season, I'm up to my neck in it!

I love cornmeal too, being essential to many ethnic recipes, especially those from Mexico.

For bread, however, there's a time and a place for cornmeal, like in cornbread and lots of artisan formulae that call for it (or polenta) specifically, etc.

Where it doesn't belong, however, and in my opinion, is as the artisan's go-to solution for creating a non-stick surface.

(Yes, there are breads where this is exactly why it is used, like traditional New York Rye; I mention this to preclude the usual Jesuitical "but that's what its used for in this bread, so your entire opinion is faulty" equivocation). Muhahaha!

 

Why do I harp on this now?

Because I just read a post that suggested using cornmeal to coat a baguette pan so the baguette doesn't stick!

I held my breath, turned blue, and nearly passed out on reading that advice.

 

If cornmeal is used as such, what will result (of baking a baguette on a pan dusted with cornmeal at 425-500F for many minutes)?

I'll tell you: It'll taste and smell almost entirely of roasted corn, a crop not indigenous to Western Europe and nowhere to be found in the flavor profile of any baguette anywhere in France or on earth, if you'll pardon my hyperbole. 

 

Cornmeal to prevent the pizza dough from sticking to the pizza peel?

Objection, Your Honor!

I don't want my pizza (crust) to taste of roasted corn.

I'm not making tamales.

 

Cornmeal for high-hydration, long-ferment doughs like ciabatta, ancienne, etc.?

The result:

  • Oooooh, this is tasty!
  • It's sweet!
  • But wait a minute: what is that flavor?
  • Corn?
  • Yes! It's corn!
  • There's corn in the recipe for this dough?
  • Nooooooo.
  • So, whyyyyyy does it taste like roasted corn?
  • Is this what it's supposed to taste like?
  • Why does the Pain à l'ancienne taste like Pain de maïs (of corn) à l'ancienne!

In short, I think using cornmeal for non-stick purposes needs to be removed from every artisan's technique (or used very rarely, knowing the flavor it will impart).

For those of us who know what bread X is supposed to taste like, we can recognize immediately that we've failed, that corn has assimilated the flavor profile.

For new artisans, however, it will confuse them, making them think they've achieved the correct flavor profile when all they've done is imbued their loaves with the wonderful smell and flavor of roasted corn.

 

Et bien et en garde!

Tear me apart, fellow artisans!

Tell me how wrong I am!

:D

 

Disclosure: I use flour, just flour (and speed), for non-stick; semolina and/or rice flour on rare occasion; parchment when no amount of magic or technique will prevent sticking.

amolitor's picture
amolitor

Just a nit, but you DO realize that the baguette post-dates the introduction of corn into Europe by at least a couple hundred years (depending on what you say "a baguette" is)?

 

wwiiggggiinnss's picture
wwiiggggiinnss (not verified)

I see your nit, and I raise you one baguette, however you wish to define it, as long as it doesn't taste of corn.

re:history; yes, by about 400 years. They gave us corn, we gave them small pox. History, being mostly false, deserves to be simplified, if not distorted, right?

EvaB's picture
EvaB

but with me its not the corn taste so much as the feel, it makes me spit! So do coffee grounds, and millet.

My solution to the cornmeal on the surface to slide things with, is to dust the surface with organic steel cut oats (sold in my local health food store for breakfast cereal.

Its silky and slippery and doesn't lead to roasted corn taste, and also doesn't cause me to spit, which is unacceptable in polite company. At least accoding to my mother when I did it when I was little.

I love the thin crust pizza, but hate the cornmeal! Of course pizza is bad for me anyway, shoots my blood sugar to extreme heights, so the thin crust coated in corn balls is a way to keep from eating more than I should.

wassisname's picture
wassisname

Soooo... you're saying you don't like the cornmeal?  Classic rant, well done.

But then again, corn on a pizza is pretty darn tasty, in fact, pizza is supposed to be a party in my mouth and who the heck are you to tell me who to invite!!!?  It's my party!!!!! 

Ahh, that felt good.  Thank you.

Now, if I was to make a long, skinny piece of cornbread and call it a "cornbread-baguette"...   =)

Marcus

wwiiggggiinnss's picture
wwiiggggiinnss (not verified)

Shush you! I do too like cornmeal! And skiing. :D

odinraider's picture
odinraider

It makes things move so easily from the peel to the oven. Like little ball bearings rolling the dough along. What's a little off flavor compared to ball bearings? Do not deny the ball bearings!

-Matt

 

*but seriously, ditto. We have a pizza place in town, and my one complaint with it is that I have to brush the rock hard corn bearings off the bottom in order to enjoy a slice. But the crust does not taste like corn. Come to think on it, the crust doesn't taste like much of anything. I guess I actually have two complaints with it.

wwiiggggiinnss's picture
wwiiggggiinnss (not verified)

Ha ha. Yes, indeed. Semolina and rice do the same, though, and don't make your bread taste like a tortilla.

Pizza places are really something. You ask people to pay $7 for a boule that took your 3 days to make, and they balk, but they plop down $25 for a large pizza with insipid ingredients that took 10 minutes to make! It's like the gods' way of saying, "Ye ole bread skill is worthless! WORHTLESS I SAY!"

mkelly27's picture
mkelly27

Who needs cornmeal for dusting when semolina coarse grind gives anyone that toasted wheat flavor, yum.

sjellis's picture
sjellis

I'm relatively new to Fresh Loaf, so hardly wish for my first comments to be nitpicking a post that's a decade or more old, but it should be noted that adding corn flour to baguettes... *in Paris* ... was all the rage 20+ years ago and continues to be at some bakeries to this day. Parisians went crazy for this slightly sweet note that corn provides. 

So by all means, like or dislike the use of cornmeal or other flavors in your breads. But careful please about making claims of authenticity or denigrating other bakers, even novices, for their baking choices. The fine bakers at Maison Kayser and others who use corn flour, buckwheat, spelt, einkhorn, and so many other flavors in some of their loaves, would beg to differ about what is, or isn't, a true European baguette.