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.?
- Oooooh, this is tasty!
- It's sweet!
- But wait a minute: what is that flavor?
- Yes! It's corn!
- There's corn in the recipe for this dough?
- 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!
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.