We’re playing in flour again for our Gourmet bread challenge. This week I decided to make the crusty cornstalk rolls, which are reminiscent of an epi and only slightly different in shape. An epi resembles a stalk of wheat, and a cornstalk should suggest a stalk of corn with the ears hanging on it. With an epi, you cut on a diagonal from above the dough, but with a cornstalk you cut on a diagonal from the side. The cornstalk shape has a visible center stalk that the rolls stay attached to. No matter which shape I choose, I still find that mine don’t look like the perfectly formed versions I see at professional bakeries, but I keep going back and trying.
This cornstalk recipe has some stone ground cornmeal, giving the rolls an interesting twist of flavor and texture. We liked the crusty exterior and the chewy interior, and the whole thing was gone by the end of dinner. The boys enjoyed them with butter slathered on, but Michael topped them with some of my jalapeno jelly and said the combination was perfect.
I have to say I cheated a bit. I got carried away and cut the bread before realizing I had forgotten to move the log into the pan first, so I have to wiggle some parchment underneath it and transfer to the pan. It looked a bit like a snake laying there, but I managed to move the pieces around and get it almost back the way it started. Just like many other bread recipes, this one calls for sprinkling some cornmeal on the pan, then placing the dough on top, but no matter how many times I’ve tried it over the years, some piece of the dough always sticks. I pretty much bake exclusively with parchment now, and even though it tends to brown a bit at these higher temperatures, it’s still worth it to me to not have to fight with a loaf that won’t turn loose.
The rolls are best on the day you make them, but around our house that’s generally not a problem. You can bake and freeze them ahead, though the stalk is rather large. Instructions are in the Variations.
I work exclusively with instant yeast and modified the instructions for that type, then I included the instructions for active dry yeast in the Variations. The rolls require about 10 minutes to get started, 1-1/2 to 2 hours for the first rise, about 15 minutes to shape, another 90 minutes to rise again, and about 20 minutes to bake.
Be sure to visit my friends Kelly of Sass & Veracity, Judy of No Fear Entertaining, Claire of The Barefoot Kitchen, Courtney of Coco Cooks, and Sandy of At The Baker’s Bench to see what they whipped up this week for the Gourmet bread challenge.
CRUSTY CORNSTALK ROLLS
Adapted from Gourmet magazine, 2009.
Makes 12 rolls.
stand mixer with hook attachment (or large bowl and wooden spoon)
large mixing bowl, lightly coated with cooking spray, for rising
spray bottle with water, for misting
large baking sheet, lined with parchment or sprinkled with 2 tablespoons stone ground cornmeal
2-1/2 cups (300 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (75 g) stone ground yellow cornmeal
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1-1/4 teaspoons instant yeast (or 1-1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast)
1-1/4 cups (300 ml) warm water (105-115° F/41-46° C)
1 teaspoon mild honey or sugar
1. In the bowl of the stand mixer, stir the flour, 1/2 cup (75 g) of the cornmeal, salt, and instant yeast. Make a little well in the middle.
2. Stir the honey into the warm water, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula just until it comes together. Attach the dough hook and mix on 2 for about 6 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. (Or mix with a wooden spoon then turn out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for 6 to 8 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.)
3. Form the dough into a ball and place in the prepared rising bowl. Turn the dough to coat both sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place a kitchen towel on top. Let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
4. Punch down the dough (do not knead), then fold into thirds like a letter. Gently roll into a 12-inch long log. The dough should not be flat.
5. Place the dough diagonally in the center of the prepared baking sheet. Make 3-inch long diagonal cuts along the sides, about 1-1/2 inches apart. Leave a center stalk; the cuts should not go all the way to the center. Gently pull the cuts apart to stretch the dough and form the rolls, but make sure they are still connected to the center stalk.
6. Cover with a tea towel and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
7. Place oven rack in the middle and preheat to 450° F/230° C.
8. Spray water on the rolls and bake until golden, about 20 minutes. While baking, spray a little water into the oven 3 times during the first 5 minutes, which helps form a crust. Allow the rolls to cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes, then serve immediately.
Active dry yeast: Dissolve the yeast and honey in 1/4 cup of the warm water. Allow it to stand until the yeast blooms, then add the remaining water and mix into the flour, cornmeal, and salt.
Instead of spraying water into the oven, place a pie tin or small cast iron skillet in the oven while preheating. Add a few chunks of ice to it when you put the rolls in the oven. When the ice hits the hot pan, it will steam up.
Rolls are best on the first day, but you can freeze the baked stalk for up to 1 month. Cool it completely, then wrap it well with plastic wrap. Thaw, then reheat on baking sheet at 350° F/175° C about 5 to 10 minutes.