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Several sources give recipes for making polenta (cornmeal porridge) in the oven instead of on the stovetop. Among them are: America's Test Kitchen, Epicurious, NYT, and Martha Stewart. I got the recipe I tried from Deb Perlman's Smitten Kitchen Keepers, which went:

  • put 4.5 cups room-temperature water and 1 cup polenta in a casserole dish and stir
  • cover tightly
  • bake at 375F for 40 minutes

What I ended up with was 3 cups of water on top of a layer of hot, wet, but undercooked polenta. I had to finish it on the stovetop.

My hypothesis is that doing polenta in the oven doesn't actually work. This is upheld by those recipes, which each have different temperatures, proportions, steps, and cooking times, and that those sources mostly never mention oven polenta again.

Am I wrong? If I am, why did it fail so dramatically for me?

(just to eliminate some of the obvious: my oven is calibrated, and the polenta was fine once I cooked it on the stovetop, so it wasn't "too old")

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  • Silly question, did you mix it before you baked it?
    – GdD
    Mar 6, 2023 at 18:37
  • Yes. Let me add that to the steps.
    – FuzzyChef
    Mar 6, 2023 at 18:43
  • 5
    I've never baked polenta, so I am not putting this down as an answer. I have noticed that different brands have different coarseness, and that does effect cooking time on the stove, so baking it longer may be the answer. Also, if you start with cold water it will take half the 1 hour baking time to get it hot. I see no reason it wouldn't work try baking it longer.
    – GdD
    Mar 6, 2023 at 19:05
  • GdD: yeah, it was pretty clear that it was going to require at least another hour, assuming it worked at all, so I didn't wait.
    – FuzzyChef
    Mar 6, 2023 at 19:08
  • It is only truly polenta if it is made from fine yellow maize meal. If you make it with coarse white maize meal then it is what is known in Southern Africa as Pap. A staple food in much of Africa. If you make stif pap then it is stywe-pap. If you make it with a crumb texture then it is krimmel-pap. That is the Afrikaans words for it.
    – Neil Meyer
    Mar 9, 2023 at 14:26

1 Answer 1

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I have cooked polenta in the oven several times. I found the most success by starting with hot water so that I when I stirred the water and polenta it thickened up a bit. I think this helps it hold together instead of separating. I like to make a very firm polenta, so I used 2:1 water to grains and that worked well. Because it was so thick I found an immersion blender was helpful to stir it all before baking. I have also tried 1:1, but that came out more like a thick cornbread so I don't recommend that.

One of the linked recipes says to stir half way through cooking. Maybe yours failed because it wasn't mixed enough, and it separated too much before it got hot enough to stay mixed together? If you try again I suggest any or all of:

  1. Making sure it is mixed enough initially.
  2. starting with hot water so it soaks up more water right away and stays mixed
  3. stirring halfway through

The more water you use, the more effort it make take to keep it homogenized. If you are using close to or over 4:1, then you might need to pay closer attention to mixing it thoroughly initially or part way through. For all the old mythology about cooking polenta, it is a very flexible grain to cook.

My preferred recipe for a extra firm polenta:

  1. Boil 2 cups water
  2. Mix 1 cup polenta and 3/4 t salt thoroughly with water in a bowl (immersion blender makes this easy)
  3. Add to a greased cooking vessel and bake at 350 for 40 minutes to an hour.
  4. Put in the refrigerator to firm up. If you leave it uncovered then it will create a dry "cracked" surface that crisps up really well if you fry in the pan.
  5. Slice and fry in butter/serve as desired.
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  • 2
    Yeah -- the recipe I was following started with room-temperature water, and it's quite possible that that was a bad instruction.
    – FuzzyChef
    Mar 6, 2023 at 20:00
  • 2
    The mixing suggestion is my guess, too. I regularly use the linked Martha Stewart recipe and have for years—but I stir immediately before putting it in the oven and stir halfway through. Mar 7, 2023 at 5:36
  • Hodale, #2, stacks mixed? or stays mixed?
    – CGCampbell
    Mar 7, 2023 at 16:28
  • So what I'm getting from these is (a) the water has to be hot before it goes in (2) it's not actually hands-free, you have to mix halfway through (3) 4.5:1 ratio is kinda high on the water
    – FuzzyChef
    Mar 7, 2023 at 20:42
  • @FuzzyChef I think starting with hot water should help minimize the need to stir during the cooking, but the amount of water being used will impact that.
    – hodale
    Mar 8, 2023 at 16:22

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