Spicy Polenta-Pistachio Flowers

Spicy Polenta-Pistachio Flowers

These blossom-shaped rolls are my entry for this month’s Paper Chef. The challenge presented by Ilva (Lucullian Delights) was to create a “flower”-themed dish using polenta, pistachios, and chili peppers.

Although Ilva helpfully suggested several culinary flowers one might incorporate, I chose to fulfill the theme through shape rather than ingredient. I hope this is considered an acceptable interpretation. Also, although the bin from which I scooped the coarsely ground cornmeal in the store was clearly labeled “Polenta,” I wonder if maybe it’s not technically polenta until it’s boiled. I didn’t boil it because I wanted to retain some bite to contribute to the bread’s texture.

But even if I’m disqualified on one or both of those counts, these are some tasty rolls that were fun to conceive and bake.

Although serrano chili peppers are hot, the spiciness of this bread is subtle, though definitely present. The sweetness of the pistachios and corny crunch of the polenta are more to the fore. The amount of peppers and nuts could be adjusted in either direction to suit your taste, or a hotter or milder chili could be substituted.

In addition to dry polenta, the recipe calls for corn flour. Note that this is the very finely ground grain, not the starchy white powder that we in the US refer to as cornstarch but that I believe is called corn flour in the UK.

The rolls could be made smaller, or as larger loaves. As sized here, they’re about right for sharing a snack with a friend or two.

Polenta flower crumb

Spicy Polenta-Pistachio Flowers

Yield: 1040 g (six large rolls)


  • Mix/ferment poolish and soaker: 12 hours
  • Mix final dough: 15 minutes
  • First fermentation: 1.5 hours
  • Divide, preshape, and shape: 40 minutes
  • Proof: 1 hour
  • Bake: 25 minutes

Desired dough temperature: 75F
Poolish Ingredients:

  • 164 g flour
  • 164 g water at room temperature
  • 0.1 g (a very small pinch) instant yeast

Polenta Soaker Ingredients:

  • 55 g dry coarse polenta
  • 110 g water at room temperature

Final Dough Ingredients:

  • 274 g flour
  • 55 g corn flour (not cornstarch!)
  • 127 g water
  • 11 g (generous 1.75 t.) salt
  • 5.4 g (1.75 t.) instant yeast
  • all of the poolish
  • all of the polenta soaker
  • 140 g shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • 1 T. finely chopped green serrano pepper (about 2 medium peppers; seeds removed)
  • fine dry polenta for dusting (or you can use flour)


  1. Mix the poolish ingredients in a medium bowl. Cover and let ferment at room temperature for about 12 hours.
  2. At the same time, mix the soaker ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and let stand at room temperature for about 12 hours.
  3. For the final dough, combine the flour, corn flour, salt, yeast, poolish, and water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low speed about 4 minutes, to thoroughly combine the ingredients. The dough should have a medium consistency.
  4. Mix the dough on medium speed until the gluten reaches a moderate level of development. This may take about 5 minutes, but will depend on your mixer.
  5. Add the polenta soaker, pistcahios, and peppers. Mix in lowest speed just until these additions are completely incorporated.
  6. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled container. Ferment at room temperature until the dough feels light and has approximately doubled in volume, about 1.5 hours.
  7. Divide the dough into six equal pieces. From each of these, pinch off a walnut-sized piece of dough.
  8. Shape each large and small dough piece into a light ball. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes.
  9. Shape each dough piece into a tight ball.
  10. Working with just enough flour on the counter and dough to keep it from sticking, use a thin dowel to press down on one of the larger balls to create three evenly-spaced troughs, dividing the ball into six wedge-shaped segments. Press hard and roll the dowel back and forth a few times in each trough to create distinct segments with about one-centimeter hinges of dough between them.*
  11. Using a dowel to shape flower rolls

  12. Place one of the smaller balls in the center of the flower.
  13. Flower roll with center

  14. Lightly sprinkle flour into the spaces between the segments. This helps them maintain definition as they proof and bake.
  15. Gather the flower into your hand and compress it gently toward the center so the segments touch each other.
  16. Scrunched flower roll

  17. Place the flower upside-down on a couche or smooth towel than has been dusted with flour or fine polenta.
  18. Couched flower rolls

  19. When all six flowers have been shaped, cover or slip the couche into a plastic bag. Proof for about one hour, until the dough springs back very slowly when gently pressed with a finger. The flowers may seem like they have only minimally expanded.
  20. Meanwhile, preheat the oven, with baking stone, to 475F. You will also need steam during the initial phase of baking, so prepare for this now.
  21. Turn the flowers right-side-up and space them evenly on a sheet of parchment paper the size of your stone. (Smaller ovens/stones may require baking in two batches.)
  22. Slide the parchment onto the baking stone, steam the oven, and turn the heat down to 450F.
  23. Bake with steam for about 10 minutes, and without steam for another 10 minutes. The crust should be a medium brown. Then turn off the oven and leave the rolls inside for another 5 minutes, with the door ajar, to help them dry.
  24. Cool on a wire rack.

*I realize the shaping photos I managed to get are not great. If you find the shaping instructions confusing, you may want to take a look at my post on shaping a fendu loaf. The same basic principle is at work here.

A roll-polenta-pistachio-pepper flower collage

CommentsLeave a comment

  1. says

    Susan this is amazing! The shape reminds me exactly of “rosette” (little roses), a kind of roll made in some areas of Italy. The combination of polenta flour and pistachios must be delicious!

  2. says

    Extremely creative! Quite beautiful and I imagine tasty :)

    Baking fresh bread is something I do often but not with the professional results you achieve. Well done!

  3. says

    I think I will have a try! But probably I will modify it quite a lot, but the general idea to bake with Polenta seems delicious to me. Thank you for the inspiration, your blog is great and I visit it from time to time to get new ideas!

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