Broa de Milho
(Portuguese yeast-leavened cornbread)
Broa de milho is a dense, rustic, whole-grain cornbread from Portugal. Back in the day, corn was considered a grain of the poor, and broa was long considered poor man's food. Nowadays, this full-flavored, toothsome bread is rightfully enjoyed by all tiers of Portuguese society.
Because it's so good at sopping up sauces and broth, broa is a great accompaniment to soups and stews. Hefty slices are a classic pairing with caldo verde, Portuguese sausage and kale soup.
Broa is popular in Brazil too, where it is leavened with baking powder instead of yeast and often flavored with fennel seeds.
1 medium loaf
- Water -- 1 cup
- Milk -- 1/4 cup
- Olive oil -- 2 tablespoons
- Salt -- 1 teaspoon
- Cornmeal, finely ground -- 1 1/2 cups, plus a little for the baking pan
- Lukewarm (about 110°F) water -- 1/2 cup
- Active dry yeast -- 1 (1/4-ounce) packet, or 1 1/2 teaspoons
- All-purpose flour -- 2 1/4 cups
- Add the water, milk, oil and salt to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high flame. Remove from heat and stir in the 1 1/2 cups of cornmeal until smooth, working out any lumps. Cover and set aside to cool.
- Mix together the warm water, yeast and 1/4 cup of the flour in a small bowl and set aside to activate the yeast
- Add the remaining flour to a large bowl. Stir in the yeast mixture and the cornmeal mixture with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together. Remove to a clean, lightly floured work surface and kean for about 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Add a few sprinkles of flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to your hands.
- Set the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl and lightly oil the top of the dough. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and set in a draft-free area of the kitchen to rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 450°F and set the shelf at the lowest level. Put a small metal pan in bottom of the oven (you will use this later).
- Remove the dough again to the lightly floured work surface. Punch down the dough and lightly knead it 3 or 4 times and form it into a ball. Sprinkle a little cornmeal onto a baking sheet and set the dough onto the baking sheet, with any seams on the bottom. Lightly oil the top of the dough and cover it with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel. Set aside to rise for another hour.
- Use a sharp knife or razor blade to slash the top of the dough in 2 parallel lines about 1/4-inch deep. Then slash with another set of 2 lines perpendicular to the first set. Use a spray bottle to mist the dough with fresh water.
- Set the baking sheet in the oven and pour about 1 cup of water into the small pan you put it later to create steam. Shut the door immediately and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 400°F and bake for another 25 to 35 minutes. (An insta-read thermometer inserted into the middle of the loaf should register about 190°F.)
- Remove from the oven and set on a baking rack to cool completely.
- Broa with Rye: Adding a little rye flour makes a loaf with a richer, more complex flavor. Mix 1/4 cup all-purpose flour with the yeast and water as directed above. Replace 1/3 cup of the remaining all-purpose flour called for above with 1/3 cup of rye flour.