Thursday, October 18, 2012

Polenta Croutons

Croutons are a novel use for homemade polenta, and sounded like a fun afternoon project. This recipe caused me no little consternation however, which I believe stems from the fact that somewhere along the way it contains an error. The original recipe called for baking the croutons at 400 degrees. However, at that temperature, my first batch melted into a soft mass of wet cornmeal.  Reviews online showed that other would-be crouton makers encountered the same problem.  This meant that either the croutons were being baked at way too high a temperature, or that the cornmeal-to-water ratio in the polenta mixture was wrong, resulting in a polenta that could not hold its shape. I took a gamble and decided it was the former, since the polenta did firm up fine in the fridge before baking. I prepared a second batch and slashed the oven temperature by 200 (!) degrees. That seems to have done the trick resulting in lightly-crisped croutons.

  • 3 and 1/2 cups water
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3/4 cup whole grain yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup plain non-dairy creamer
  • Cooking spray
1. Combine the water and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Gradually add the cornmeal and continue to cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly - the cornmeal will just be starting to thicken in the liquid.

2.  Reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the creamer and cook for an additional 15 minutes, stirring frequently.  The mixture at this point should be thick, but still soft enough to stir.

3. Spoon the cornmeal mixture into an 9-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray, using a spatula coated with cooking spray to spread evenly to the edges.  Transfer to the fridge and chill, uncovered, until completely cool. Don't think you can get away with a quick 30 minute chill on this one; I recommend at least 4 hours, and chilled mine for 5 hours.

4. By now you have firm, though sponge-y polenta.  Turn it out onto a work surface and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 90 cubes).  Place the cubes on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray.  Bake at 200 degrees for 20 minutes. Turn over and bake an additional 15 to 25 minutes. Cool the croutons on a wire rack.

These are fun for eating out of hand as a snack: 

or can be tossed in any salad as an alternative to bread croutons:

Nutrition Info:
6 servings (1/2 cup), Calories 100 

Tasting Notes:
After so long worrying if I could bake the darn things without them melting, it was time to fret about taste. For a moment, I wondered if I should have added vegan cheese or herbs, or some other flavor. One bite and I ceased to worry: crisp on the outside, but soft and almost fluffy on the inside, these were addictive little bites just to snack on with a glass of white wine in hand.  A nice touch of creaminess from the soy creamer I used.  I do wish the squares were crunchier (otherwise they hardly seem deserving of the name "croutons") but I think this is as crisp as they can get. If you want to play around with adding vegan Parmesan sprinkles or dried herbs into the mix, I'd love to hear your results. Please also anyone let me know if you're brave enough to bake at a higher interval (325 degrees perhaps?) or have time to play with the water-to-cornmeal ratio. I'm really quite curious to know why the original version of this recipe let me down.


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