Italian Country Bread

This recipe is from Local Breads by Daniel Leader.  It is one of my favourite bread books.  The book details his travels through Europe discovering different types of artisan and local breads.  He recounts his experiences and, thereby, puts each loaf in context.  If you are a collector of cookbooks, like me, you will have more than your fair share of recipes, so a cookbook needs to be more than just recipes to grab my interest and Local Breads is that.  I highly recommend it.

Daniel Leader advises that this bread is famous in Italy and is made in Genzano.  It is a big, rustic, charred-looking loaf with a thick crust and an open elastic crumb.

Biga

  • 30g active sourdough starter
  • 140g tepid water
  • 200g bread flour.

Procedure

  • Mix ingredients until just blended and then knead for a minute or 2.
  • Place in bowl and leave for 8-12 hours.

Dough

  • Biga
  • 400g water
  • 500g bread flour
  • ¾ tsp instant yeast
  • 2 tsp salt
  • unprocessed bran

Procedure

  • Put all ingredients into the bowl of your mixer with dough hook attachment.
  • Mix on medium-high for 10 minutes.  The instructions were that the dough should not clear the sides of the bowl.  Mine did, so I started to add more water.  Each time I added more water, the dough cleared the sides of the bowl, so I added more.  I probably added ½ a cup (or more) extra water and it was still clearing the side of the bowl.
  • Increase the speed of your mixer to high and mix for another 8 minutes.  The dough is now allowed to clear the side of the bowl.
  • Oil a bowl and transfer the dough into the bowl.  I took this photo of the transfer process. This dough was very fluid and had fantastic elasticity. The photo is a shocker but I thought I would include it anyway, as I have never seen dough like it.  It literally poured out.

  • Spray some Glad Wrap with water and oil and cover bowl.
  • Leave dough at room temperature until dough is nearly doubled in bulk.
  • Gently deflate and allow to rise again until nearly doubled in bulk.
  • Line a wicker bowl with cloth (or banneton if you are lucky enough to have one) and generously sprinkle unprocessed bran into it.
  • Turn dough out onto lightly floured bench and try to shape the dough into a round.  I found this totally impossible.  All I could do was get 2 pastry scrapers under the dough and plonk it into the cloth lined bowl.  There was no shaping happening.
  • Sprinkle dough very generously with unprocessed bran.
  • Spray some Glad Wrap with water and oil and cover bowl.  Leave until nearly doubled in bulk.
  • Place tray in bottom of oven and ceramic tile on shelf in oven and  preheat to its hottest temperature.  Preheat for 1 hour.
  • Just before baking, place baking paper on peel, place on top of bowl and flip.  Be quick with this as the dough almost immediately forms a flat pan cake on your peel.  You want to get it into the oven as soon as possible once it is out of its bowl.
  • The instructions did not mention slashing the bread so I didn’t but, in retrospect, I think I should have.  The extremely large holes in my bread indicate to me that steam (which slashing would have allowed to escape) was trapped in the bread .  Also my loaf exploded like a volcano in the oven which, again, slashing would have prevented.  I checked the illustration in the book after I took my loaf out of the oven and noticed that it was slashed.  If you have the book, check it out.  It looks absolutely nothing like mine but I am working on it.  Therefore, if possible, try and slash the loaf.
  • Put boiling water in bottom oven tray and slide baking paper and dough onto ceramic tile.
  • Turn the oven to 230˚C and cook for 30 minutes.  Spray the loaf 2 or 3 times with water in the first few minutes.
  • Reduce temperature to 200˚C and cook another 20 minutes.
  • Turn oven off and leave bread in for 10 more minutes before removing.

Daniel Leader advises that the loaf should be very dark, almost charred-looking.  He also advises not to worry about this as it needs this much time for the interior to fully bake.  I got nervous and placed alfoil over my loaf but I probably didn’t need to.

This bread tastes absolutely wonderful.  I am going to try it again.  I will report back on my progress.

Postscript:  I made this bread again with a few refinements.  If you are interested, here is the link.

2 thoughts on “Italian Country Bread

  1. I absolutely love crunchy bread, although I must admit I might feel a little cheated with those holes in the bread, but obviously part of the texture of the loaf.
    Glad you are enjoying it so much!!

    • Hi Gail, Don’t forget we will be back in Perth on Friday, so you can come around whenever you like for the verjuice and kaffir lime leaves.

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