Of all of the wonderful Portuguese breads (and I love all of them without exception), Broa is my absolute favorite! I was first introduced to this wonderful rustic bread while visiting the luxurious Hotel Buçaco in northern Portugal. Every morning they would put a beautiful display of breads out on the breakfast table. I cut a slice of this round, yellow loaf and spread it with butter.
I fell in love at first bite! The outside of the loaf is dark and crusty, a real exercise for the teeth to bite into. The inside, however, is chewy and moist, but not the least bit airy, the way some breads can be. The cornmeal, mixed with regular wheat flour makes it dense. You feel like you are eating an entire meal in one slice!
Opinions about the best way to make Broa seem to be many and varied. Some recipes that I have read use a sponge method, some seem to prefer corn flour over corn meal. Some use milk and some just water. According to one source, the Azoreans make a version of this bread call Påo de Milho using white corn flour.
The traditional way to bake this bread was, of course, in a brick or stone oven that is filled with steam. This creates the tough outer crust and moist interior. The recipe below is adapted from one in Ana Patuleia Ortins' Portuguese Homestyle Cooking and can be baked in a regular home oven. If you are interested in trying to mimic the effect of a brick oven you can either try to bake the bread on a pizza stone or use Jean Anderson's method which she shares in her book, The Food of Portugal.
- 1 tablespoon dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water (between 90 and 112 degrees Fahrenheit)
- 1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 pounds cornmeal (finely ground)
- 3 to 3 1/4 cups water (boiling and divided)
- Scant 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 pound all-purpose flour (I use one from the health food store that has some germ in it, which I feel adds a nice texture to these breads)
1. Prepare the sponge: dissolve the yeast in the warm water and set aside for 10 minutes. Mix in the ½ tablespoon flour, cover and set aside for 1 hour.
2.Place the corn flour in a large bowl. Dissolve the salt in 2 ½ cups of the boiling water. Pour the salted water over the corn flour and, stirring quickly, mix them thoroughly, make sure all flour is moistened. It should look like lumpy mashed potatoes.
Set aside until it is cool enough to handle, about 15 or 20 minutes.
3. When the corn flour has cooled, gradually mix in the all-purpose flour, the yeast sponge, and an additional ¼ cup of the remaining water, which should be just tepid at this point. Mix until the dough comes together. If the dough seems a little dry, mix in more of the remaining water to make the dough more pliable. Use as little of the water as you can. Knead the dough in the bowl for about 10 minutes. It will feel sticky. Dust the dough with flour and cover it with a clean dishtowel. Set it aside in a warm, draft-free spot to rise until double, about 2 ½ hours.
4. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
5. When the dough has doubled, do not punch down. Divide it into 2 pieces carefully, without deflating the dough.
6. Swirl some water in another bowl, pour it out and sprinkle some flour in the bowl to stick to the sides. Place one piece of the dough in the bowl and roll it around to shape it into a rough ball. Invert the bowl over a round cake pan or metal pie plate. Repeat with the other piece.
7. Place the pans no the middle rack of the oven and bake for 35 to 45 minutes. The bottom should sound hollow when tapped and the outside of the loaf a golden brown color. Allow to cool for 20 minutes before cutting.