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Pine nut and cornmeal sourdough bread

November 13, 2013


According to “The Food Lover’s Companion”,  pine nuts grow in China, Italy, Mexico, North Africa and the southwestern United States. It’s a versatile kind of nut, at home in many cuisines around the world.   I’ve noticed they have gotten more expensive the past 10 years or so.   One reason for the high price is that it is a labor intensive process to remove the nuts from the cone.  I remember the first time I saw a pine cone full of what I recognized as pine nuts during a hike in Colorado some years ago.  I had never thought about how they grew and to come across  them in the wild was a surprise and a highlight.  It rated up there with witnessing a herd of bighorn sheep running up an area of Pike’s Peak.  So maybe it’s fitting that I keep this bread as handmade as possible, meaning that I’ll knead and develop the dough manually and use wild untamed yeast in the form of my starter.  No,  the pine nuts are not foraged,  I’d be searching for a long time here in central Texas. Instead of laboriously gathering the cones and picking out the nuts,  I only have to take a quick trip to the supermarket.  I don’t make my own wheat flour or cornmeal.  Home grown flours and grains only happens in the movies for me.  Neither do I have a masonry oven built with my blood sweat and tears and then fired with gathered wood.  I’m realizing how far away I am from making a 100% crafted loaf of bread,  a loaf imbued with special elusive qualities and energies.  I can only imagine the difference in taste and qualities.  But I’m not at all complaining about the flavor and texture of these loaves.  This delicious bread is very hearty and flavorful like only a home made sourdough loaf can be.  The cornmeal contributes some feel and flavor and the pine nuts add their nuttiness.   Not only does it go pretty well with Mexican and Southwestern food,  but it compliments Mediterranean flavors as well.   I’d say it can accompany many types of cuisines.  In fact,  it doesn’t need a cuisine to be enjoyed.  It’s great by itself or with butter or jam.

Instead of using dry cornmeal,  I soak it in water overnight to soften the grain and extract some flavor.  The dough’s first rise lasted 7 hours.  After shaping it proofed for about 4 more. My 73-74 degree Fahrenheit kitchen slowed things down.  That’s ok, I don’t mind long fermentations.  It makes for great bread.


For 3 medium size loaves



1/2 tablespoon starter that has been refreshed about 8 hours before

100 grams water at 78 degrees

100 grams bread flour


Cornmeal soaker:

165 grams grams cornmeal (1 cup)

235 grams water (1 cup)



The levain

400 grams of water

800 grams bread flour

100 grams whole wheat flour

The cornmeal soaker

20 grams table salt + 40 grams water

150 grams unsalted pinenuts (1 cup)


On the evening before baking day make the cornmeal soaker and the levain.  Make the soaker by mixing the cornmeal and water until well mixed in a small bowl.  Cover with plastic and let it sit overnight.  For the levain,  stir 1/2 tablespoon of starter that had been refreshed 8 hours before (or that is around peak of activity) into the 100 grams of water in a small bowl to dissolve.  I assume you are well acquainted with your starter.  Add the 100 grams of bread flour and mix until all the flour is moistened.  Cover with plastic and let it sit overnight at room temperature.  Depending on how warm or cool the room is, it will take 8-10 hours for the levain to ferment to the proper degree. Cover with plastic and  let it also sit overnight.  You can tell if it sufficiently fermented the next morning by dropping a spoon full into some water.  It is ready when it floats. It’s important to time this for when you plan to make the dough. If you think you’ve past that stage, you can still use it, the bread will  turn out with a little more tang.

On baking day gather the rest of the ingredients.  Toast the pine nuts in a 3oo degree oven until lightly toasted then set them aside to cool.  Put the 400 grams of water  in a large mixing bowl and add the levain to thoroughly dissolve by hand.  Next add the bread and whole wheat flours and mix with your hands until all the flour is moistened.  Cover the bowl with plastic or a moistened kitchen cloth and let it sit for 30 to 45 minutes.  I’m always amazed how much gluten is formed during the short period of autolyse.  It makes mixing so much easier.  Now add the cornmeal soaker and mix together thoroughly until everything is evenly incorporated.  This will be a moderately wet and sticky dough. It’s not to the degree of ciabatta but it will be tricky to handle. Dissolve as much as you can the 20 grams of salt in the 40 grams water.  Work the salt solution in by squeezing it into the dough.  If you feel that the dough is too difficult to knead, add more flour,  but keep it as wet as you can manage.  I use my pastry cutter to help me with the kneading.  It helps me move the dough off the work surface.  Knead the dough until it starts to become smooth and elastic,  about 5 to 7 minutes.  Full development will take place during the fermentation phase.

Remove the dough and shape it into a round.  Put it into a bowl that has been lightly oiled and cover with plastic.  The  dough will eventually grow to about 1/3 more in volume.  After 30 minutes, remove it from the bowl and put it on a lightly floured work surface.  Gently grab the left side of the dough, stretch it a bit and fold it over the center.  Do the same with the right side,  far side,  and near side.  Turn it over and place it back in the bowl and cover.  After 30 minutes,  remove once again from the bowl and gently fold in the toasted pine nuts, distributing evenly but carefully through the dough.  Shape into a nice round and replace it into the bowl. After one more 30 minute interval, repeat the folding technique,   then let it proof for about 3 more hours.  You must determine when the dough is ready.  It depends a lot on how wet your dough is,  and the temperature of the room it is proofing in.  It will feel softer, more airy, and will have increased about 1/3 in size.  I always use a clear kitchen storage container with graduated markings. That lets me see how the dough is developing.  You should see small gas pockets while the volume of the dough increases.   Take the fermentation longer if you need to.  Part of the mystery and challenge about bread making is getting to know dough.

When you’ve determined that the dough is ready,  gently take it out of the bowl and put it on a work surface.  Divide it into 2 or 3 portions.  Gently shape them into rounds, cover with plastic and let the gluten relax for 20 to 30 minutes.  When you make the rounds, try to make the outer surface tight, that is,  kind of pull the dough taut toward the underside.  This ultimately adds to a good oven spring.  After the relaxation,  turn over one of the portions so that the bottom side is now the top.  Take the left side and stretch it so that it folds over the center. Do the same with the right,  far and near sides. Turn it over so the bottom is now the top again. Try to pull taut the outer surface once more as you shape it into a round.  I put each of the rounds on parchment paper and cover with plastic.  I find it helpful to lightly spray the surface of the dough with oil so that the plastic doesn’t stick.  The dough should proof for at least 3 hours. It is a long and slow ferment.  It may take longer depending on the temperature of your kitchen.

Make sure you have preheated your oven to 500 degrees .  Score your loaves as desired and place them in the oven.  Use your baking stone if you have one, otherwise place them on heavy duty baking sheets. Immediately lower the temperature to 425 degrees and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes.  I mist the oven with a plant sprayer 3 times during the first 10 or so minutes to simulate the action of a steam injected oven. They should register 200 degrees Fahrenheit when done. Put them on a wire rack to cool before slicing.

My first batch used 1 1/2 cups of cornmeal.  The flavor was fantastic but the crumb didn’t have the large holes I was looking for.  I figured that  the amount of cornmeal might have wreaked havoc on the gluten development.  Maybe I was too rough in the handling of the dough.  I cut back to 1 cup of cornmeal and was extra careful with the dough.  It didn’t seem to make much difference at all.  I suspect the cornmeal, which has no gluten, affected the structure of the dough.



4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 13, 2013 3:01 am

    Another great recipe, Gerard. A little more challenging I think than the pumpkin pull-apart, so I’ll be too intimidated probably to try it. But I paid attention to your cornmeal note just in case I’m up for trying it! 🙂

    • November 13, 2013 3:14 am

      I was very intimidated when I started out with sourdoughs. I’m pretty sure you’d get a feel for it!

  2. Marcella Rousseau permalink
    November 14, 2013 1:39 am

    There are a lot of Italian recipes that I avoid because they call for pine nuts or pignoli nuts as we Italians call them because of the high cost. It’s outrageous! Same with truffle anything. Even prosciutto is getting to be too much! And Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Your loaves look very pretty!

    • November 14, 2013 2:00 am

      It’s too bad pine nuts are expensive. I only use them for special occasions and then make sure they are eaten before they get rancid! These were from China, the only kind that seems to be available around here. I read somewhere that North American pine nuts were much easier to shell.

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