Broa - Portuguese corn bread (50% corn content)
A friend asked for some help with a recipe for a Portuguese corn bread known as broa, and the formula she had been given was not working for her and was producing hockey pucks. So, having not made any corn bread for a long time I decided to try and figure out what it should be.
It turned out to be one of those on-line formulas that was probably never tested as written and was destined to produce pretty good hockey pucks if you followed it. But it did give some history and I found some photos that were helpful but nothing that seemed to be really authoritative.
The recipe called for about equal weights of corn flour and AP flour but called for almost all of the water to be used to hydrate the corn and almost none allocated to the wheat flour component so there was never going to be any significant gluten development and thus it was going to become a hockey puck. And there was no fat in it so it was going to quickly become a stale hockey puck.
But after a couple of iterations I got it to work pretty well. The first issue was what to use for flour. That was solved by using instant masa for the corn which is quite fine and does not leave you with a sandy/granular mouth feel, though if you don't add a fair amount of water and fat it will still be a hockey puck, and I went to a strong bread flour in place of AP so that I would have the potential capacity to carry the large load of corn without getting the hockey puck effect.
The second issue was process. How to develop the gluten before incorporating the masa? I was not sure it would be possible because of the large fraction of corn flour that was called for. The solution was to use enough boiling water to saturate the masa and to include all of the salt with the masa. This made the saltiness of the final bread just fine without inhibiting the yeast very much (since the corn does not get mixed in until the yeast is well established). The bread flour then gets some sugar, the IDY, and enough very warm water to yield a 100°F dough after it begins to mix. I let it sit for 15 min to autolyse then mixed it at high speed long enough to develop the gluten but not to the point where it would not accept the hydrated masa, incorporating 6% solid fat in the process. The fat would further stabilize the gluten and should improve crumb texture, mouth feel, and staling qualities of the bread.
Now the corn was added and mixed until it was fully incorporated. The dough got sticky enough to stay on the side of the mixing bowl, but was easy to scrape off with a silicone scraper. And it had a good degree of extensibility so I thought it would tolerate a short bulk fermentation to get some gas into the dough.
A 30 min BF followed by very gentle shaping into a boule and about 40 min of final proof (about 50% volume increase) was as much as I thought it could take. So into the combi oven it went: 500°F for 15 min at high fan speed, followed by 15 min at low fan speed while it cooled down to 350°F. At this point the core temperature was 205°F and I pulled it out to cool. I think that if you bake it in a conventional oven it will certainly take longer but getting it to brown first is important since the corn does not help much with crust color.
After 2 hrs to cool, it was time to test. Contrary to the first round, this loaf sliced easily and the crumb texture is much more like a conventional loaf of wheat bread than a loaf of corn bread, even though by weight of ingredients there is about 50% corn masa in the mix. The flavor of the corn is totally dominant though you may want to personalize it by adjusting the amount of sugar. Photos below of the crust and the crumb illustrate the reality of iteration two.
202g instant masa (corn flour)
260g boiling water (for the masa)
207g bread flour
8g instant dry yeast
168g 130°F water (for the wheat flour dough that contains the yeast)
24g solid fat
In a bowl, mix the corn flour and salt; add boiling water and stir/fold until evenly moistened; cover and let sit about 30 minutes to fully hydrate.
Stir together bread flour, sugar, and yeast. Add the 130°F water and mix until it forms a dough; let sit covered for 15 minutes. Mix until gluten is beginning to develop (~4-5 min), add solid fat and continue to mix until fully incorporated. Add warm wet masa and continue to mix until the wheat flour dough and the corn flour dough are thoroughly combined (~5 min) [when it was fully combined the dough began to stick to the sides of the bowl but could be easily scraped off with a silicone spatula. Using masa instead of corn meal and extra water make the dough soft and developing the gluten in the wheat flour dough before incorporating the masa assures that the gluten is strong enough to support a 50% corn fraction].
Turn dough out onto the counter and using a bench knife and a little flour to keep it from sticking, shape the dough into a ball about 5 inches in diameter and place in a lightly oiled bowl to bulk ferment. Leave it covered for ~30 min, then turn it out and fold a few times to tighten up the boule and place it on a Teflon or non-stick pan that has been lightly greased or sprayed with Pam/oil.
Dust the top with rice flour and cover with a kitchen towel.
Let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until the volume increases by about 50 percent, ~30 -40 min.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 500°F with a rack in the middle. Slash just before oven entry. There is a lot of yeast in this formulation, but there is also a lot of corn so don't expect a huge oven spring.
Bake the bread for 15 minutes at 500°F. Reduce to 325°F and continue to bake until deep golden brown, another 15 (with convection) to 30 minutes (without). Crumb temperature should be 202-210°F when it comes out of the oven. It will rise another few degrees before it begins to cool just from thermal soak back. Transfer the bread from the baking sheet to a wire rack and let cool completely, about 2 hours.