Zuni corn bread from Sunset

My 20-plus-year-old, well-worn and much-referenced Sunset Breads cookbook says: “From the Zuni people of the Southwest comes this coarse-textured bread, lightly flavored with corn. The village women bake the bread in domed outdoor earth ovens.” Not sure if this tradition continues, but I really liked the look of this highly textured corn bread, not to mention the stuff—cornmeal, molasses—that goes into it. So what the heck. I decided, why not give it a try.

The recipe:

  • 1 package active dry yest
  • 2 cups warm water (~110 degrees)
  • 1/4 cup each canola oil and molasses
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup each polenta (coarse-ground Italian-style cornmeal) and yellow cornmeal; or 2 cups yellow cornmeal (I went with the latter with good results)
  • 6 1/2 to 7 cups all-purpose flour

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First, I poured a package of dry yeast into a bowl of warm water and let it dissolve. Then I stirred in the oil, molasses, salt and cornmeal. In went about six cups of flour, one cup at a time. Once I got a stiff dough going, I turned it out onto a well-floured surface and kneaded it for about 15-20 minutes, adding a little more dough as I went until I’d formed a fairly smooth and satiny ball.

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I then placed said ball into a well-oiled bowl, turning it over once to oil the top. On went plastic wrap, and I let the thing sit in a warm place for about an hour and a half. With the dough now doubled in size, I took it out and punched it down, kneading it just a bit on a floured surface and then dividing it into 2 parts. I rolled each half into a ball and flattened each ball into about a 9-inch disc. Next, I folded the disc in half, slightly off-center so you could see an inch-worth of the bottom half peeking out below the top half. Using a sharp knife, I slashed through the dough from top to bottom in four places.

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I repeated this process to the second disc, then placed both loaves on an oiled baking sheet, covered the whole thing and left them to rise for about 45 minutes until almost doubled in size. About 10 minutes prior to the end of that rising, I got the oven preheating at 375 degrees F. I placed the loaves in the oven and baked ‘em for about 30-35 minutes til they took on a light golden brown hue.

Zuni bread
The result: a really lovely corn bread spiked with the right amount of sweetness, sporting a delightfully crisp exterior that perfectly complements a wonderfully springy and chewy interior.

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