I've been in search of the perfect loaf of corn-flavoured bread for a long, long time. When I was a child, my parents used to buy loaves of fluffy corn bread from a bakery quite close to where we lived in Penang. It was the only thing I'd willingly eat for breakfast - I used to detest eating breakfast, particularly in the wee hours of the morning before leaving for school slightly before 7 in the morning. But for all the fuss I'd make over swallowing the half-boiled eggs my mum prepared, I gladly ate a slice or even two of this deliciously soft bread. Selective eating, even back then I guess.
Since we moved away from Penang many, many years ago, I haven't sampled anything close to the bread I remembered, and not for the want of trying either. I even tried my hand at making the classic American cornbread hoping that it would be similar -- it turned out well but it wasn't the bread I loved from my younger days. I was beginning to think it was a figment of my wild imagination. You know, when you're a kid who makes up stories, the lines between what's real and what's not becomes very blur.
But when I discovered the Tangzhong method of baking bread a month or so ago, I saw a glimmer of hope. The light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. The Tangzhong bread is soft and fluffy and ever-so-slightly sweet, much like the texture and flavour of the corn bread I longed for. And, with the addition of custard powder in the water-roux (the roux is the hallmark of the method), it even has the same shade of yellow as the original corn bread. All I had to do, perhaps, was to add some corn into the dough. I had some frozen corn kernels in the freezer so I thought I'd give it a shot.
Prior to this, I'd only made buns using the tangzhong method, simply because soft rolls were nice and easy to binge on. This time, I decided to make a loaf.
Start by making the roux. I used custard powder in the rough as I wanted the corn flavour (a main element in custard powder is corn flour): 2 tbsp bread flour, 2 tbsp custard powder and 120 ml liquid (half milk, half water). Mix the ingredients and heat over a low fire until it thickens (to the consistency of mayonnaise, almost). Leave the roux to cool.
Next, mix the dry ingredients together: 350g bread flour, 2 tbsp milk powder, 4 tbsp sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp instant yeast.
Once the roux has cooled to about room temperature, add about 120g or 80% of it to the dry ingredients, along with an egg. Using your fingers, gently mix the ingredients together.
Next, add the liquid: 80ml warm milk + 40ml warm water and mix until you get a rough dough. Cover the dough with a tea towel and let it rest for ten minutes.
Have the corn, defrosted and cooled to room temperature, standing by, along with about 30gm butter, softened.
After allowing the dough to sit for 10 mins, add the butter and the corn and gently knead both ingredients into the rough dough until you get a soft, smooth dough, about 2-3 mins. Leave the buttery dough to sit for yet another ten minutes, covered with the tea towel.
When the ten minutes is up, I knead the dough again for a couple of minutes before resting it a further 10 minutes. Repeat this another two more times before finally allowing the dough, now nice and pliable, to rest and rise till it doubles in size: about an hour. (See the rise in the pics above).
Once the dough has risen and doubled in bulk, gently knead it for a minute and then transfer it onto a lightly floured surface.
Divide the dough into three equal portions. One by one, gently stretched the dough into a rectangle, with the longer side facing you. Mentally divide the rectangle into thirds and then fold the left side towards the centre followed by the right. (See pic above). Repeat with the other two portions. Arrange the three "rolls" close together in a loaf pan/dish and let it rise yet again, about 30-40 mins.
Preheat the oven to 180C. Once the rolls have risen to almost the rim of the tin/dish, bake for about 30 mins.
I was really excited to taste the corn loaf. I kept peeping in as the loaf baked just because I couldn't wait for it to be ready.
Once out of the oven, I had to let it cool before I could cut into it. This was pure torture. I wanted to know if I'd finally gotten it right. It smelt nice and corny. It looked nice and corny? Did it taste nice and corny too?
The verdict: Delicious! It was nice and corny. But, it wasn't exactly the loaf I ate as a child. Hrmmph. The corn kernels that dotted the loaf were a nice addition and they definitely added to the corn flavour of the bread. But they weren't infused into the dough. But, I was a step closer and perhaps next time I will use creamed corn instead and adjust the liquid in the recipe.
Until then, this delicious loaf will have to do! It's not bad, really. My hubby loved it and he doesn't even really like eating corn.