Pane Alle Olive

It seems that I cannot go more than one week without baking some bread. This was my last enterprise, taken from Hamelman’s bible. I was immediately attracted by the idea of making a loaf loaded with olives. The same dough gives simply amazing olive focaccia. So amazingly good that it did not survive long enough to be photographed.

The method is a little time consuming but, believe me, highly rewarding. There is a discrete amount of whole-wheat in this loaf, too. And it is sourdough-based. Plus, the olives contain plenty of the good fats we all seem to be after lately.

PANE ALLE OLIVE (Hamelman’s olive levain)

You need: 369 g (13 oz) liquid levain*, 369 g (13 oz) water, 648 g (1 lb + 7 oz) bread flour, 91 g (3.2 oz) whole-wheat flour (I used Graham’s),  14 g (0.5 oz) marine salt, 230 g olives, pitted and drained**.

How to: Step 1. Combine the levain with the water, add the rest of the ingredients except the olives and mix on first speed for 3 minutes. Mix for further 3 minutes on second speed. Add the olives and mix on first speed until incorporated (I did that kneading quickly by hand). Step 2. Let rest, covered with plastic wrap, for 2 and 1/2 hours, folding the dough after the first 1 and 1/4 hour. Step 3. Divide the dough: either shape two medium small loaves or 1 loaf and a focaccia. Step 4. If you choose to make a focaccia***, let it rest, covered, for 1 hour. For the loaf (or loaves), after shaping, let rest covered for 1 and 1/2 hour and then “retard” in the fridge for 12 to 18 hours. Step 5. Brush the focaccia with olive oil and bake with steam at 230 degrees (Celsius, 450 Fahrenheit) until it looks brown and crunchy on the outside. And the bread? Hamelman does not say it, but I baked with steam for 40 minutes, lowering the temperature from the initial 275 degrees (Celsius, 527 Fahrenheit) to 230 degrees (Celsius, 450 Fahrenheit).

*liquid levain: the night before baking, take out 34 g (1.2 oz) of 100% hydration active sourdough starter and mix with 204 g (7.2 oz) water plus 165 g (5.8 oz) of bread flour. It can be used 12 to 16 hours later.

**draining olives: also the night before baking, drain the olives from their liquid and let rest in a colander in the fridge. In the morning, place in a clean kitchen towel and drain completely.

***shaping a focaccia: place some baking paper on a (not too big) round or square baking plate and flatten the dough gently with your hands (it still has to be quite tall, surely taller than a pizza) directly in the baking plate, being careful not to deflate it.

CONSIDERATIONS: I really loved making this loaf and the olive focaccia. The focaccia goes wonderfully alone, while the loaf is well complemented by soft, mild, cheeses. Guess what was my favorite match? Pane alle olive and mozzarella… yum! Grateful to Hamelman to have made me discover liquid levain. By simply diluting your sourdough the day before mixing the final dough you can obtain an extremely mild sourdough bread. And for those of you who do not like the sour taste: there is no way you could have sensed it in this loaf. Oh… and if you don’t have sourdough starter… would gladly send you mine (and actually can, if you live in Sweden). Otherwise, my post Dirty Laundry and Sourdough Starter will help you to make your own. It lasts forever (still have the culture described in last August’s post) and makes very good bread. Wish you a pleasant week-end.

Submitted to YeastSpotting

Rustic Sourdough Baguette

Ok. So this was supposed to be Jeffrey Hamelman’s Vermont Sourdough, which is generally shaped like a torpedo (a batard in French) but somewhere on the way it became a large rustic baguette. Must have been my  memories of Italian “filoni” that got in the way…

As you may notice, also the scoring is pretty rustic: I still have not managed to get a scoring blade and one of the baguette cracked on the bottom, yet rose and cooked perfectly. I also still do not own a baking stone, but this did not prevent the bread to develop a wonderful crusty crust anyway.

I posted the detailed method on my bread blog. Here just a few pictures to show you what you can do even without professional tools. And even interpreting freely the formulas of the Masters. Not bad, isn’t it? Go to my bread blog Dreams of Bread for the complete recipe with step-by-step pictures.

Home-Baked Fette Biscottate Or Zwieback

I’ve been thinking about this for so long, and always postponing, but yesterday it was too ugly to take my little one out (right baby?) so I felt like I finally could bake my favorite breakfast bread, fette biscottate which, I reckon, are the only way to save myself from the energy-dense breakfasts I’ve been having for a while.

Back in Italy, I used to have fette biscottate (or Zwieback, as they call them in US) with a cup of warm caffe-latte or tea in the morning, for as long as I can remember. They were filling and satisfying and light on the calorie-side. After moving abroad, breakfast became a problem. Local versions of fette biscottate, skorpor, were way too sugary and tasted like cinnamon. Not quite the same. The Italian version indeed was only vaguely sweet and had a fragrant but neutral taste that could accompany whatever I felt like spreading on them: honey, or butter, or jam or… nutella! And they were also great alone, preferably dipped into my extra-large cup of warm caffe-latte.

Anyway, not having fette biscottate available led me to switch toward salty types of breakfasts (I just can’t eat cereals), which in the end pumped up the amount of food I eat in a day. In fact, even after a rich American-style breakfast, I will still get hungry at lunch time and end up having three big meals in a day, while Italians only have two: a good lunch and a light dinner. If you want to know more about the Italian meal structure and maybe get some inspiration on how to change your food habits, I found this interesting link.

After some search, I decided this was the best recipe. And as usual I changed a few things here and there.

HOME-BAKED FETTE BISCOTTATE

You need: 500 g all-purpose flour, 75 g sugar, 1 egg, 1 tea-spoon malt extract (or honey), 12 g fresh yeast (or 5 g instant yeast), 210 g water, 4 table-spoon vegetable oil (I used cold-pressed canola), 5 g (1 tea-spoon) salt, 3 table-spoon milk. American measures coming soon.

How To: Step 1. Melt the yeast in the water with the malt extract (or honey) and let rest 5 minutes. Combine the flour with the sugar in a large bowl. Add the egg white (and put the egg yolk aside for later use), the oil, and the yeast mixture. Knead for 20 minutes by machine (or 15 by hand), adding the salt only before the last 5 minutes of kneading. Let rest for 30 minutes covered with plastic foil. Step 2. Form 3 balls and cover again with plastic foil. Let rest for 15 minutes. Step 3. Flatten each ball with a rolling-pin on a floured surface and shape 3 tight rolls. Seal the roll with your fingers and place seamed side down on 3 plum-cake forms, covered with baking paper. Let rest, covered with plastic foil for 1 to 2 hours in a lightly warm place. Brush with the egg-yolk combined with the milk. Step 4. Bake for 30 minutes at 190 degrees (Celsius) and then lower the temperature to 160, take the loaves out of the forms, and bake for further 15 minutes (they have to look golden brown). Step 5. Let cool covered with a kitchen towel for at least 12 hours (and up to 24 hours, if you wish). Cut into 1 cm wide slices and bake at 160 for about 30 minutes.

CONSIDERATIONS: Don’t they look just like store-bought ones? I am so happy I resolved to do my own fette biscottate, not only because I could not find them in Sweden, but also because, as usual, I could control the ingredients: organic flour and eggs, a little organic sugar, and good quality oil. So when I eat my favo breakfast I can now feel like I am feeding my appetite together with my body. And since home-baked anything tastes oh sooo good, I can even say that I am feeding my… soul.

This is going to YeastSpotting.

Healthier Hamburger Buns

And here is the promised recipe of the hamburger buns from my red lentils and celery root vegetarian burgers. Not suggesting you have to go for home-made all the time. But, if you ever have the time, I strongly recommend these buns. There is truly no comparison with store-bought ones and, healthwise, home-made gives the advantage of letting us play with different types of grains. I also added sourdough, more for the taste than for the rise.

MULTI-GRAIN HAMBURGER BUNS

very freely adapted from Volger’s “Veggie burgers every which way”

You need: 2 and 1/2 cups bread flour (or all-purpose), 1 and 1/2 cups light rye flour, 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour, 1 cup milk (or rice milk), 1/2 cup water, 50 g fresh yeast (or 2 and 1/2 tea-spoon dry yeast-1 package), 2/3 cup (180 g) sourdough, 2 table-spoon olive oil, 1 table-spoon honey, 2 and 1/2 tea-spoon salt. If you do not have sourdough: omit 1 and 1/4 cup (ca 160 g) flour. Garnishing: 1 egg (or 3 table-spoon rice milk), sesame seeds, poppy seeds or flakes.

How to: dissolve the yeast in the luke-warm milk and water. Let’s stay for 5 minutes than add the sourdough (if you have it) and the honey. Add all remaining ingredients. Knead for 15 minutes by hand, or, 8-9 minutes by machine. Form the dough into a loose ball and let rest for 1-2 hours (until it doubles) in an oiled bowl, covered with plastic foil or with a wet kitchen towel. Remove from the bowl and shape into 12 rounds (I find this “buns shaping” video helpful). Place on parchment covered oven trays and let rest, loosely covered with plastic foil, for another 1-2 hours. Once they have risen again, brush with the egg mixed with a little water and sprinkle with your favorite cover. Bake at 356 degrees (Fahrenheit, 180 Celsius) for 18-20 minutes (check the bottom: ready when it’s golden-brown).

CONSIDERATIONS: I was very happy with these buns and I am sure I will use this method next time I make them. They rose wonderfully and were perfectly fluffy inside. The addition of sourdough gave depth to the flavor, but of course it can be omitted (adjusting the flour amount). Totally loved the light multi-grain feeling. I used light rye and a little whole-wheat but different combinations can also be great, and I personally look forward to experiment even more. Now my problem is: how will I, or will I ever, go back to store-bought hamburger buns? Yes, home-made bread is addictive. Just give it a try…

This is going to YeastSpotting.

Lazy Almond Bread With Durum

I know… snow should be enjoyed by being outdoors and making the best out of it. No way. This year snow means to me feeling cozy and lazy at home. Mostly due to the lack of spare time (rather than inspiration) I have not baked much either. And my sourdough is sleeping in the cold too (safe and well-fed in our fridge).

Today I baked a lazy bread. Just threw all the ingredients in my kitchen machine, let all rest for the night, threw the fermented dough in a rising basket for 2 hours, and baked. The smell of roasted almonds was all over the place. Cozy. Perfect.

ALMOND BREAD WITH DURUM

You need: 500 g water, 550 g bread flour, 200 g durum wheat flour, 100 g almonds, 20 g salt, 10 g fresh yeast.

How to: mix all the ingredients together except the almonds in a mixer bowl and knead with a dough hook for 15 minutes at medium/low speed. Add the almonds and mix for further 5 minutes. Let rest for the night in the fridge, covered with plastic foil. In the morning, place the dough in a rising basket and let rise, loosely covered with plastic foil and in a plastic bag, for 2 hours. Transfer on a hot baking dish or stone and bake for 50 minutes, the first 20 minutes at 250 degrees and the rest at 190. Use steam if you like a crusty crust.  

CONSIDERATIONS: Being someone who takes bread baking seriously, I have been quite disinclined to try easy looking methods. This particular one comes from Baka, a fairly new Swedish magazine on baking, with beautiful pictures and interesting articles. But the recipes? I often find them too scant when it comes to details -thing which can lead to catastrofic results in the kitchen. This time I tried to trust them but… they wrote to bake the bread for 45 minutes at 250 degrees. Right: my loaf was almost burned after 25 minutes. So I lowered the temperature and it was ok. What if I did not check? Fire in my kitchen? Oh the wonderful food magazines…

Anyway, the bread was good. The almonds really made a difference and felt like something new to the palate. The use of durum wheat and the long kneading time made a very compact crumb, which was delish with a little butter. With my fix to the baking time and temperature this is a good method for some serious comfort bread on a very lazy day. Yawn… I think the almonds just made me more sleepy. Goodnight!

This is going to YeastSpotting.

Panzanella Alla Senese

The other day, still recovering from my cold, I was reading about pane toscano (tuscan bread) and about how in the old days bread was never thrown away. Tuscan cuisine is indeed particularly renown for its bread-based recipes, like ribollita, pappa al pomodoro, and panzanella.

Wow, panzanella… I suddenly realized I have not had it in years and felt like I wanted to honor this simple dish again. But first I consulted my encyclopedia (it really is) of traditional Italian cooking (24 volumes, region by region) and in Volume 1 of tuscan cuisine I found a list of something like 15 different variations of Panzanella, each coming from a very narrow area in Tuscany, often a small village, sometimes a town.

I liked the senese (from the lovely town of Siena) version of panzanella because of its simplicity and the addition of onion.

PANZANELLA ALLA SENESE

You need: stale bread (I used my spelt sourdough), ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, onion, marine salt, olive oil, freshly ground pepper.

How to: chop the tomatoes and the basil and slice the onion very thin. Combine all in a bowl and add the remaining ingredients (except the bread). Let sit for 10 minutes. Meanwhile soak the sliced bread in cold water and then rinse in a kitchen towel, to drain part of the water. The bread must be wet but not mushy. Pour the tomatoes mixture over the bread.

CONSIDERATIONS: The author of the Tuscan volumes of my Italian cuisine encyclopedia is called Giovanni Righi Parenti and is an “etnogastronomo” (someone who is paid to read and write about food history) and sometimes I wish I was a professional ethno-gastronomy expert, too… it is so fun to read about the origins of dishes and then trying them out. And how interesting to find out that some dishes have remained unchanged for centuries yet can still appeal to our modern taste buds. Like this simple panzanella, which was a quick hunger fix and tasted just delicious. Easy, healthy, tasty.

This is going to YeastSpotting. Many thanks to Susan for continuing to host this event and welcome back!

Italian Country Sourdough With Spelt

I guess I could call this loaf my signature sourdough, as I have been using it regularly for the last few months and it continues to consistently produce amazing bread. This time I substituted spelt (farro) to the wheat flour of the original version and shaped the loaf into a proper boule’ (pagnotta in Italian). To improve the shaping phase, I also used a proofing basket. And, as I had a little less starter than usual, I adjusted the amount of water accordingly. Rising times were somewhat different than usual, too. But let’s go see step-by-step what I did to obtain this lovely rustic bread.

ITALIAN COUNTRY SOURDOUGH WITH SPELT

You need: 450 gr 100% hydration sourdough starter280 gr water / 350 gr bread flour (or Manitoba) / 250 gr spelt flour / 1 tea-spoon sugar or honey / 2 tea-spoon marine salt. Suggestion: get a scale!

How to: Time Table

2 h first fermentation

12 h retardation in the fridge

1/2 h second fermentation

3 h final fermentation

Mixing. After mixing the sourdough with the water and the sugar, I added the flours and the salt (last), working the dough as little as possible, just enough to get all the ingredients mixed together. Cover with plastic foil.

Fermentation. I let rest at room temperature and after 2 h the volume was already doubled. I retarded the fermentation by placing the dough in the fridge until the morning after (ca 12 h). Passed this time, I let rest outside the fridge for 1/2 h.

Shaping. I transferred the dough on a surface sprinkled with semolina (durum) flour and folded the 4 corners of the dough into a rectangular “package”. Then proceeded to shape into a ball. A nice demonstration is here.

Proofing. I placed the ball seam-side down over a kitchen towel sprinkled with semolina flour and placed the towel in a proofing basket. Gently folded the towel over the dough and sealed with plastic foil. I let rest for further 3 h.

Baking. I baked at 200 degrees (Celsius, 390 Fahrenheit) lowered from initial 275 degrees (Celsius, 525 Fahrenheit) for 35 minutes with steam and 25 minutes at 180 degrees (Celsius, 355 Fahrenheit) without steam. For more detail on how to bake the bread check my previous post.

CONSIDERATIONS: I was very happy with the perfectly round shape of this loaf. I also like that I can make a single loaf of 1.5 kg (3 pounds) and not having to shape several smaller loaves. As compared to 100% wheat, the addition of spelt gave a slightly more sour taste to the bread and a more soft and chewy texture to the crumb. Loved this bread both with cured meats and with sweet spreads… wish I had some nutella!

This is going to YeastSpotting. Many thanks to the very talented Stephanie from hefe und mehr for hosting this week post.

Sourdough Pizza Crust

This pizza crust was a total epiphany.

I was frustrated by having to use my starter only on week-ends and my rebellious inner me was screaming “sourdough every day, sourdough every day!”. So I actually managed to find several ways to use my starter also during the week, even at the end of a busy working day. Needless to say, this makes all my inner me(s) extremely happy.

The pizza recipe I am going to describe took little more than 1 h to make, including rising and baking time. Now tell me this is not totally amazing.

SOURDOUGH PIZZA CRUST

You need: 2 cups active starter, 3 cups bread flour, 2/3 cup water, 1 tea-spoon marine salt, 2 table-spoons olive oil, cornmeal.

How to: mix all ingredients except the cornmeal and knead until the dough is silky smooth (about 5 minutes by machine and 10 by hand). Roll the dough and then divide in 4 balls. Gently flatten each ball into a round, place in a baking tray covered with baking paper and sprinkle with cornmeal. Sprinkle some cornmeal also over the pizza crust and cover with plastic foil. Let rest at 85 degrees for 45 minutes (I heated my oven to the minimum, turned off and let cool a little). Now you can put on your favorite pizza topping and bake at a temperature between 450 and 500 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

CONSIDERATIONS: This pizza was unbelievably good. The crumb was slightly crunchy and the center was soft but not mushy. Loved it! And the dough was so elastic that I could make it as thin as I wanted. If you like your pizza thicker, just add a further 5 minutes to the baking time.

This is going to YeastSpotting. Thank you so much Sally, Frankie, and Stephanie for hosting the November posts. Love this community!

The Perfect Italian Sourdough Loaf

It is somewhat emotional to finally get to make the perfect Italian sourdough loaf or, at least, my idea of the perfect one. If you have followed me a bit, you will know that it is less than a couple of months since I started to bake bread, that I recently raised my own sourdough starter, and that I have been trying and trying to get the starter to produce a great bread. After a few attempts, some of them pretty successful, some less successful, finally today I got what I wanted. A rustic Italian sourdough with a fluffy, airy and tall crumb, enclosed in a wonderfully crunchy crust.

To get the same result, you can follow my instructions (see below). This is an improvement of my previous adaptation of Nepi Sourdough. The toughest thing in learning to produce a good Italian loaf was to find the right conversion formula from the 50% hydration starter of the original Italian method to a 100% hydration starter, which is what generally people use outside of Italy. In case you do not know what I am talking about, a 50% hydration starter is made with 1:1:2 proportion of, respectively, baseline starter, water, and flour, while a 100% starter is made with a 1:1:1 proportion. Which means the Italian starter has double the amount of flour and about half the amount of water. So one needs to take away an appropriate amount of water from a bread recipe based on a 50% hydration starter. The problem was: how much water? What I have found, by trial and error more than computation, is that the ideal amount of water to take away is: 20 gr (little more than 1 table-spoon) of water for each 100 grams of 100% hydration sourdough starter used in place of a 50% one.

So here is the revised method (for step-by-step pictures, check my previous post).

This method uses autolysis only, which is, the bread ferments itself without need of kneading. Working the dough actually disturbs the process and should be avoided because in this type of loaf you do not want the gluten to develop too much. A large amount of sourdough starter is needed. Very easy: when doing the last feeding of the starter (let’s say in the morning if you are starting the dough in the evening) just double the usual doses (keep 200 gr starter to which you will add 200 gr water and 200 gr flour). You will end up with 500 gr starter plus 100 gr to save until next time. If you do not have a sourdough starter, check how I did mine.

Nepi Sourdough Updated

You need: 500 gr (2 cups) 100% hydration sourdough starter / 300 gr (1 and 1/5 cup) water / 350 gr (3 and 1/8 cups) bread flour (or Manitoba) / 250 gr (2 and 1/4) all-purpose flour / 1 teaspoon sugar or honey / 3 teaspoons marine salt. Suggestion: get a scale!

How to:

Mixing. The evening before you are planning to bake, mix the sourdough with the water and the sugar in a large bowl. Add the flours and the salt (last). Work the dough as little as possible, just enough to get all the ingredients mixed together. DO NOT use a machine: mix first with a spoon and then help gently with your hands the flour to get incorporated with the rest. Seal the bowl tightly with plastic foil.

Fermentation. Let rest at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius, 68 Fahrenheit) for 2 hours. Passed this time, place in the fridge until the following day. The morning or the early afternoon after (depending on your schedule), take the dough out. Look at the dough: has it already doubled its size? In that case, let rest outside the fridge for only a half hour and then shape. If instead the dough has not doubled, let it rest at room temperature for 2 hours and then shape.

Shaping. Transfer the dough on a wooden surface covered with some semolina (durum) flour and fold the 4 corners of the ball into a rectangular “package”.

Proofing. Flip the ”package” over a semolina flour covered kitchen towel, making sure that the top of the folds is on the bottom. Close delicately the kitchen towel and let rest at room temperature until the dough has almost doubled (this could take from 1 and a half to 3 hours). When your fingerprint on the dough stays, then the dough is proofed (be careful not to over-proof!).

Baking. Passed the proofing time, place a little pot with water on the bottom of your oven and put in also the oven tray you are going to use to bake the bread. Turn the oven on 275 degrees (Celsius, 525 Fahrenheit) and, when it reach the temperature, flip the dough on the hot baking tray, making sure that the folds are now on the surface again. To do this smoothly, flip the dough over your arm and then place it on a tray covered with baking paper. Finally, gently, place the baking sheet with the dough over the hot baking pan. When you put the dough in, also spray some water on the sides of the oven, to create more steam. Close the oven and lower immediately the temperature to 200 degrees (Celsius, 390 Fahrenheit). Bake for 30-35 minutes in a steady oven. After this time, open the oven and remove the pot with the water. Take away also the baking tray and place the bread directly on the oven grid. Close the oven and lower the temperature to 180 degrees (Celsius, 355 Fahrenheit). Bake for further 20-30 minutes (it depends from the oven). Now turn off the oven, open and let the bread rest there for 10 minutes. Take the loaf out of the oven, cut in half and place on a cooling rack to allow the steam to come out (and keep the crunchy crust). The bread is ready!

CONSIDERATIONS: I can honestly say that this was the best bread I tasted since I left Italy. And what a great satisfaction to know that I was the baker and that my home-made sourdough was what made that fluffy crumb raise so well. This bread making thing is better than yoga. If you haven’t tried it yet, do it. The loaf I just described does not require a machine and not even kneading. It can easily be done on a non-working morning, while performing the usual home chores (or simply relaxing at home). You just have to start the process and then patiently wait. Starting the evening before, by lunch of the day after you will have a fresh rustic Italian loaf which will give you enough bread to accompany your meals for a whole week.

One practical note: to obtain steam, instead of using the pot with the water and the water spray, one can place a few ice cubes in the lower tray of the oven when putting the loaf in for baking. This method works well and is easier, especially for beginners.

To YeastSpotting.

Panini all’olio… Italian olive oil buns

This is the first recipe I try from the bread bible for Italian home cooks “Pane e roba dolce”. The book was written by the Simili sisters. Baking twins who made bread history in central Italy, first by owning a popular bakery, then with a cooking school and lastly with this book that (I reckon) is the most quoted by Italian home bakers.

My daughter does not yet share my passion for crusty bread,  so I felt like I had to do something kid-friendly. These buns do not contain butter (only first quality olive oil) and have just a little sugar (in my case unrefined organic) added.

You need: 1 kg (about 9 cups) bread flour; 60 gr (2.2 oz) fresh yeast, 150 gr (about 10 table-spoon) olive oil, 80 gr (1/3 cup) sugar, 500 gr (2.1 cups)  water, 15 gr (1 table-spoon) salt.

How to: melt the yeast in 1/5th of the water, luke-warm. Mix the flour with the remaining ingredients and at last add the yeast mixture. Knead 10 minutes by hand or 5 minutes with a machine (using the lowest speed not to over-heat the dough). When the dough is elastic and not sticky, divide into two balls and let rest, covered,  for 50 minutes. Make into 2 cylinders without pressing or working the dough (you have to keep all the gasses in). Divide each cylinder in about 10 parts and shape into buns. Do as described here. Place the buns over 2 oven trays covered with parchment. Let rest covered for about 1 hour (they have to double their size). Pre-heat the oven to 210 degrees (Celsius, 410 Fahrenheit). Brush the buns with milk or egg yolk and bake for 8 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 180 degrees (Celsius, 356 Fahrenheit) and bake for further 10 minutes. Check for doneness by actually opening a bun and let cook more if needed.

CONSIDERATIONS: the buns were a total hit in my household. Before the end of the day 2/3 of them were already gone. Part was stolen by a couple of friends (to whom I was planning to offer only 1 bun each), 3 were my daughter’s dinner (she refused to eat her food after seeing the buns) and a few more were part of our dinner: they were in fact great as hamburgers’ buns and made a last-minute dinner into something special. Try them, you won’t be disappointed.

To YeastSpotting.

Garlic and herbs dinner buns

Yesterday I had some friends coming over for dinner and I needed a quick accompaniment to my Roman artichokes (recipe coming soon). I had just bought some beautiful French garlic, so why not trying to make some garlic buns? The recipe was in one of the Italian bread books I recently got hold of and used dry yeast. This is the least noble member of the yeast family but can give you fresh bread in a couple of hours. That’s why I was pretty skeptical about the outcome. Really happy I gave it a try. Tonight’s humble supper was a bun survived to the previous evening drizzled with olive oil and accompanied by a glass of red wine. Life ain’t that bad.

You need: 1/2 kg (1 pound) durum wheat flour, 1 egg, 3.5 dl (about 1 and 2/5 cups) milk, 20 gr (about 1 table-spoon) dry yeast, 10 garlic cloves, 2 table-spoon of dry mixed herbs, coarse salt.

How to: boil the garlic in the milk until tender then make it into a puree using a food processor. Let it cool off. Mix the flour with the yeast, the herbs and a pinch of salt. Add the garlic puree and the whisked egg and work the dough until smooth and not sticky. Let the dough rest in a slightly buttered bowl for 1 hour, covered and in a warm spot (you can turn the oven to the minimum then turn off and let cool for a couple of minutes and then put the dough in). After the rising time, work the dough a little more and then form 4 big buns to be placed on an oven tray covered with parchment. Make a cut on top of the buns and let rest covered for further 20 minutes. Meanwhile, bring the oven to 180 degrees (Celsius, 356 Fahrenheit). Before baking, brush the buns with a little milk and sprinkle with abundant coarse salt. Bake for 35-40 minutes.

CONSIDERATIONS: This is what I define comfort bread. The crust was crunchy and the crumb was compact and extremely tasty. Something in between food and bread. It is actually possible to have fresh dinner buns in a couple of hours. This is certainly a good news. And it is nice, for once, not having to plan anything in advance. Oh… and the garlic tasted even more garlicky the day after. What could you want more?

Traditional Italian No-Knead Sourdough Bread

It had been a non-working Wednesday. It was raining and both me and my little one felt too sleepy or lazy to get out or do anything constructive. Luckily, I had some sourdough bread getting ready to be baked (and eaten) so I did not feel like I was totally wasting my day.

As usual, some research was needed before I could find a recipe that made me feel comfortable. After consulting a couple of Swedish books on bread and a few Italian ones, plus several really well-made bread dedicated websites, I was more confused than before. Sourdough bread is apparently not as easy to make than bread made with yeast, which I just started to master. Hours and hours of fermentations are necessary for sourdough, the naturally rising, bread and it also seemed that complicated turns to the dough were needed at fixed intervals. Also shaping looked, oh so, difficult. I needed somewhere to start. An easy “ice-breaking” method to make bread with my new-born starter. And then I found it. Hidden in an Italian food-blog there was the picture of a beautifully rustic-looking loaf. The directions were brief but the author, a very talented La Cuoca Felice (the happy cook), was prompt in answering to all my (oh so many) questions. Including those on how to convert a recipe using a 50% hydration starter into a 100% one. The main problem with Italian bread recipes is that they ALL use 50% hydration sourdough. In fact, they call it “pasta madre” (mother dough), which gives you an idea of how thick the typical Italian starter is.

So I adapted the recipe, taking away some water. What attracted me most of this method is that there was no kneading involved. I really do not know yet how to treat sourdough and I was nervous about “working” it. Differently from what I thought, no-knead methods are not recent development, but are part of many ancient bread baking traditions, included one that comes from Central Italy. To such tradition belongs the famous “Pane Toscano” (Tuscan bread) and also the bread I am going to describe. When I asked to La Cuoca Felice where did her recipe came from, she said it was the result of her experience in making bread… so, since this gifted cook is from Nepi, a beautiful ancient town not so far from Rome, I named this bread “Nepi Sourdough”.

NEPI SOURDOUGH

You need: 400 gr  (little more than 1 and 1/2 cup) 100% hydration sourdough starter, 320 gr (little less than 1 and 1/4 cup) water, 400 gr (little more than 3 cups) bread flour (or Manitoba), 200 gr (little more than 1 and 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon sugar or honey, 3 teaspoons marine salt. Suggestion: get a scale!

How to: The evening before you are planning to bake, mix the sourdough with the water and the sugar. Add the flours and the salt (last). Work the dough as little as possible, just enough to get all the ingredients mixed together. If using a machine, put it on the lowest speed and work the dough for no more than 2 minutes. Pour the mixture in a big bowl and let it rest at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius, 68 Fahrenheit) for about 3 hours, covered with a kitchen towel. Passed this time, cover with plastic foil and place in the fridge until the following day.

Pour the baby in the bowl and mix with all the other ingredients. Don’t forget: salt last

The morning or the early afternoon after (depending on your schedule), take the dough out, cover with the kitchen towel again and let rest at room temperature for 2 hours. Now the dough is ready to be quickly shaped.

Transfer the dough on a wooden surface covered with some semolina (durum) flour and fold the 4 corners of the ball into a rectangular “package” (this is how I understood the original “tirare i 4 lati” instruction).

Flip the “package” over a semolina flour covered kitchen towel, making sure that the top of the folds is on the bottom. Close delicately the kitchen towel and let rest for 3-4 hours at room temperature.

Passed the 3-4 hours, place a little pot with water on the bottom of your oven and put in also the oven tray you are going to use to bake the bread. Turn the oven on 275 degrees (Celsius, 525 Fahrenheit) and, when it reach the temperature, flip the dough on the hot baking tray, making sure that the folds are now on the surface again. To do this smoothly, I first flipped the dough on a baking paper sheet and then gently placed the baking sheet with the dough over the hot baking pan. When you put the dough in, also spray some water on the sides of the oven, to create more steam. Close the oven and lower immediately the temperature to 200 degrees (Celsius, 390 Fahrenheit). Bake for 30-35 minutes. After this time, open the oven and remove the pot with the water. Take away also the baking tray and place the bread directly on the oven grid. Close the oven and lower the temperature to 180 degrees (Celsius, 355 Fahrenheit). Bake for further 20-25 minutes. Now turn off the oven, open and let the bread rest there for 10 minutes. Take the bread out of the oven, cut in half and place on a cooling rack to allow the steam to come out (and keep the crunchy crust). The bread is ready!

Still warm and steamy… not bad for a first-time experience with sourdough bread!

CONSIDERATIONS: Yesterday, when eating this bread with some Parma ham, I had a reverie… a taste long forgotten came back to my mind. I remembered the bread I used to eat as a kid each time we, me and my family, went to the lake (in the beautiful Roman country side). The memories from our Sundays at the lake, with the amazing rustic bread sandwiches we always bought there, are among my dearest ones. However I could not, up to yesterday, recollect the exact taste of that lovely bread. Now I can. It must have been a no-knead sourdough loaf. This whole bread baking experience is giving new meanings to so many things. Try to make your own and tell me. It brings bread to a totally different dimension. It is good. And nurturing. For our souls even more than for our bodies.

Hope this bread is good enough for YeastSpotting.

Dirty Laundry and Sourdough Starter

And here I am. Finally writing about what interests me most lately. Yes, it is true, I have been taken by the sourdough addiction that is making more and more “victims” all over the globe. In Sweden they even have a sourdough hotel now (a sourdough-sitting place, where you can leave your sourdough if you travel or are too busy – no joking, it’s real!). And in Italy and US the trend seem more or less the same. Honestly, I am not the type of person that likes to follow trends. I have never considered myself trendy and never aimed to be “updated” or fashionable in any regard. I am always in my own world and often feel like I know very little of what’s happening around me. But for once a trend got me. And I surrendered to the sourdough religion. Yes, I belong now to the sourdough cult and I venerate, feed, and honor my sourdough every day.

My first attempt of starting my own sourdough used a pretty peculiar method: it seems that to start a starter you need some extra warmth and what is warmer than your laundry room? I happened to have a huge amount of unwashed laundry (yes, I know, I am not a good house keeper). So I though: wow, I can wash all my dirty clothes and, at the same time, give life to a new, wonderful, sourdough like none has ever seen before. Groovy!!!

And so I did it. I followed Susan‘s instructions and placed the soon-to-be a lovely yeast culture in my bathtub. Then I started washing and drying and washing and drying so that the temperature in the room was always something around 30 degrees (Celsius, 85 Fahrenheit) and very, very, humid. As a result, after only two days my culture was bubbling and able to double itself within a few hours. What a joy!

I was already thinking of getting a patent for my great invention, the “dirty-laundry-sourdough method” when my culture died. It was a very sad day. I realized she was dead by looking at the strange orangy-watery inclusions that weren’t there before. And the very sour acetic smell. It is likely that having continued to keep the culture in such a warm and humid environment, even after it started to bubble, had made the process too fast for the number of feedings I was giving her, so that the yeast starved and the bad bacteria took over. Also, having accidentally left the culture over an over-heated laundry counter for two hours probably did not help.

I was so close to giving up the whole sourdough experiment. But instead I felt brave (or stubborn) enough to throw away the dead culture and start a new one. With less dirty laundry.

 

Day 1

Before you start: get a 1/2 liter (a quart in US) or bigger container and a scale (possibly electronic).

You need: 100 grams luke-warm water, 50 grams white flour (I used organic bread flour), 50 grams whole-grain rye flour.

How to: mix the ingredients together and put the mixture in the washed and rinsed 1/2 liter (a quart) container. Put the lid on, if you are using a glass jar, don’t screw the lid. Place the container in a warm (but not hot) spot. Ideally the temperature should be between 25 and 28 degrees (Celsius, in the lower 80′s Fahrenheit).

 

Day 2, Morning

You need: 75 grams of your starter (from the day before), 75 grams luke-warm water, 50 grams white flour (I used organic bread flour), 25 grams whole-grain rye flour.

How to: discard the rest of your starter, add the water first and mix, add the flours, mix and scrape well the walls of the container to keep it clean. Place the container back in its warm spot.

 

Day 2, Evening

You need: 75 grams of your starter (from the day before), 75 grams luke-warm water, 50 grams white flour (I used organic bread flour), 25 grams whole-grain rye flour.

How to: discard the rest of your starter, add the water first and mix, add the flours, mix and scrape well the walls of the container to keep it clean. Place the container back in its warm spot.

At this point you should be seeing some sign of life, some activity, which will manifest itself as bubbles.

 

Day 3, 4, 5 and so on.

Continue to do what described at day 2. Continue until your starter is able to double itself within 12 hours, is all bubbly and smells good (not acid). Make sure that the color stays within the yellow-brown shades and does not take any orange or blueish tone. That’s not good.

 

MY SUCCESSFUL EXPERIMENT

So here I tell you how it went on trial 2, followed the sudden death of my first beloved starter. After a few days in the not-that-hot-and-humid-anymore laundry room, my culture was looking alive but no way as lively as the first one.

5-days old starter culture using refined rye flour and keeping it in the laundry room.

The days were passing by and I was continuing to feed the culture twice a day according to Susan‘s method. However, it was day 5 and no sign of self-rising was apparent. The bubbles were there and the smell was good, but the starter was not increasing in volume as expected. I was really loosing hope and resigning to failure when I read the chapter about sourdough in the book from Martin Johansson. There I found the key to success. The rye I was using was not whole-grain (first mistake). You need whole-grain rye to get all the right bacteria for a lively starter. Moreover… there was a better warm spot in my home than my laundry room… something so easy that it surprised me I did not consider it earlier… the top of my fridge!!!

6-days old starter culture using whole-grain rye flour and keeping it on top of the fridge.

The shift to whole-grain rye flour and the move to the top of the fridge really made a difference. The culture looked finally bubbly and soon was able to double its volume in a few hours. After two days with whole-grain rye flour I went back to refined rye and then to wheat flour only. By day 10th I had a very lively 100% hydration wheat flour sourdough starter. Cannot describe how happy I was!

Day 10: my starter is finally ready!

Day 10: the starter is able to double itself within a few hours (where the yellow tape ends is the baseline).

As a final test, the following day I baked my first sourdough bread, made with my new-born starter.

Sourdough bread with 11 days old home-made 100% hydration starter. Perfect with fig jam.

CONSIDERATIONS: Well, I will never get a patent for my dirty-laundry-sourdough method. But in the end I managed to get my starter going and it actually took only two attempts and a total of 14 days. Considering that before these 2 trials I had no idea of what sourdough was and really did not know what I was doing, I believe anyone can do this. I used tap water (and not bottled or distilled) and supermarket rye and bread flour (and not freshly milled flour as some suggested). Moreover, with this method (based on the one from bread guru Susan) there’s no need for any additions, such as raisins, honey, or else. Just flour, water and some warmth. To find the right warm spot was possibly the hardest part of it. But now that I tell you I guess you won’t have any problem. We all have a refrigerator, don’t we? About the final outcome… bread made with sourdough. In Italy we call it “pane a lievitazione naturale” (naturally rising bread). And indeed this type of fermentation seems to be good for us. Sourdough bread has also a lower glycemic index than bread made with industrial yeast… lasts longer… tastes honestly better than anything I ever had before. And this is just the start of my starter.

Love at first loaf… Rustic Italian Bread With Durum

This was another one of my longings as an expat Italian… the typical crusty rustic loaf that is simply divine when filled with Italian cured meats like Parma ham and mortadella. Or some felino salami… and how about freshly cut porchetta?

I have always been more of a bread than a pasta type. I can live without pasta (although I do love it) but I absolutely can’t (or rather do not want to) live without bread.

When I moved to Sweden, crusty bread was still difficult to find. Traditional Scandinavian loaves tend to be more on the soft and sweet side (they often add syrup to the dough). Nothing bad with this, only… I missed MY bread!

Lately, the local baking culture has started to widen under the influence of the Italian, and even more, of the French tradition. Still, it is difficult to find something that resembles an Italian rustic loaf. Finally, after years of longing I felt daring enough to explore unexplored lands… and make my own bread for the first time.

By doing this, I was breaking a 70-year long non-baking tradition. In fact neither my grandmother (mother side) nor my mother ever made bread and it is told that my other grandmother did not bake any bread after 1940.

Oh well… a woman gotta do what a woman gotta do.

What follows is largely my own interpretation of rustic Italian bread after reading several sources and combining what looked good together. I wanted a bread with durum wheat as I like the firm consistency it gives to the crumb. And I wanted a long rising time as I did not trust quicker solutions. I also wanted a old-fashioned hand-kneading method cause I do not own a kitchen machine.

You need: 1 kg (2.2 lbs) all-purpose flour, 200 gr (2 and 1/8 cups) durum wheat flour; 10 grams (0.4 oz) yeast; 1 table-spoon salt; 7 and 1/2 dl (3 cups) water (quantities are for 2 loaves). 

How to: let the yeast melt in 1 dl (7/8 cup) luke-warm water in a bowl. Add 150 grams (1 and 3/8 cups) of the all-purpose flour and mix. Let stay covered with a kitchen towel for 40 minutes. This is called the “poolish method” and it is meant to give the yeast a kick. Now add the rest of the water (cold) and little by little the durum wheat flour, the salt, and almost all the remaining all-purpose flour (leave about 50 grams – 1/2 cup - to add later if needed). Mix and transfer the dough on a stable surface covered with flour. Knead with passion for about 15 minutes – I had no idea of how to do this so I used my imagination. When you feel that the dough is smooth and non-sticky make a ball out of it and place back in the bowl (I actually washed and rinsed it first), cover with a wet kitchen towel and either let rest overnight OR place 3 hours in the oven (turned off) with a 1 liter bowl filled with warm (not hot!) water. DO NOT mix the two methods (the “oven method” speeds up the rising and it will end up in a failure if you don’t bake immediately after the 3 hours). So either let the dough rest for the whole night covered with a wet towel or use the 3-hours oven method and bake right away.

After the resting period, transfer back the dough on the board and divide in two balls. Flatten each ball using your hands and shape each of them into a rectangle.

Now roll the dough over itself.

Place the rolled dough over an oven tray covered with baking paper and flour. Sprinkle the roll with flour and, with a sharp knife, make a cross over it.

Let the rolls rest covered with a kitchen towel for further 45-60 minutes. To reach the perfect temperature and humidity use the oven method described above (place the tray with the rolls in a cold oven together with a 1 liter bowl filled with warm water).

After the final rising, take the rolls out of the oven, turn the oven on to 200 degrees (Celsius, 392 Fahrenheit) and bake the bread for about 40-55 minutes, depending on the oven. I baked one loaf at a time and checked for doneness with a wooden stick after 40 minutes. If the stick was not clean I baked longer. For me it took 55 minutes.

If you want a crunchy crust, some suggest halving the bread right away, others prefer to place it back in the open oven for a quarter of an hour or so. These strategies are used to enable the steam to come out of the loaf. If you want a softer crust, fold the bread in a double kitchen towel.

CONSIDERATIONS: If you are a working dude or gal, I suggest starting the process the evening before a non-working day. This way one can have the first loaf after 4 hours, let’s say at 10 pm and the second one in the morning. It will be amazing to wake up to the aroma of bread… if you start the process late at night and you do not want to spend the morning after baking, my suggestion is to halve the doses and make only one loaf, to let rest the whole night and bake in the morning. I think this method is going to be my ground one for a while. The bread is just too good and the crust is super crunchy. The non-baking family tradition is now definitely broken and I am thrilled thinking of the infinite possibilities, the infinite ways and shapes, of bread baking right in front of me. 

This bread was YeastSpotted!

Amazing Chocolate Bread

In the last issue of one of the many beautiful Swedish food magazines that are currently on the market, I stumbled on this recipe for “chocolate bread”, apparently translated from the latest Jamie Oliver book. Swedes love to bake, and I am not surprised that they selected a baking recipe. However, I was a little skeptical. The recipe looked way too simple and it called for baking soda rather than yeast. It also did not require kneading or resting time. Could it work? And would that really taste like bread?

It surely did. The bread looked amazing. Perfectly browned and crunchy outside and perfectly cooked and firm inside. And the chocolate was melting in the mouth at every bite. Also, the contrast between the neutral, unsugary, taste of the bread and the bitter-sweet touch of the dark chocolate was to die for.  

You need: 7 and 1/2 deciliters (about 3 cups) of all-purpose flour; 1 teaspoon of baking soda; 1 teaspoon salt; 1 tablespoon sugar; 100 grams (3.4 oz) of chopped dark chocolate; 3 and 1/2 deciliters (about 1 and 1/2 cup) of fermented buttermilk (fil in Sweden) or 3-4% fat yoghurt

How to: turn on the oven to 200 degrees (Celsius, i.e. 392 Fahrenheit). mix with a wooden or plastic spoon all the dry ingredients in a bowl. add the buttermilk (or fil, or yoghurt) little by little, mixing. when the dough starts to feel hard, start mixing with your hands. add flour or buttermilk if you feel the dough is too sticky or too dry. you have to get to the point when you can form a ball of dough that feels compact enough and does not stick to your fingers. put the slightly flattened ball (it should be approximately 5 cm – 2 inches - tall) on an oven tray covered by some baking sheet sprinkled with flour, and form a cross over the ball with a sharp knife. cook for 40-45 minutes. once the bread is out, wrap in a double cotton cloth for a half hour (this way the crust, which should be initially very tough, will soften).

cut and enjoy

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 39 other followers