I have made this bread again. I will nail it. If you are interested here is a post on my 5th and 6th attempts.
I was reading Celia’s post, My Daily Bread, the other day and it brought a smile to my face as I realised just how different we are. When it comes to bread making, Celia seems to be happy to go with the flow… whatever will be, will be. Not me! No way! I want to be boss!!
I sat back and had a little chuckle. It is the story of my life. I was a driven child and adolescent, determined to do well in school and get ahead. As a young adult, I was driven to achieve, first in one field and then another. As I got older, I tried not to care so much and felt proud of myself when I was able to accept that I would not reach that pinnacle in the sky (whatever it may have been).
But, in retirement, I am out to achieve, all over again. Now, it is all about those pictures in bread cookbooks that get me going. I want to make a loaf of bread just like that ….
If my first try doesn’t look like the picture, then I try again and again … Luckily, it is a rare loaf of sourdough that doesn’t taste wonderful, no matter what it looks like.
One of the loaves I have been trying to ‘achieve’ is Pane Accavallato (overlapped bread). It is a speciality of Altamura, a town near Bari, Italy, on the Adriatic sea.
Little did I know but I have been eating Pane Accavallato for years and years.
When I was growing up in Perth, you could buy two sorts of bread: a sandwich loaf or an upright loaf. My mum clearly preferred the upright loaf because that is what we had all the time. Then, somewhere during my adolescence or young adulthood, the Italian loaf appeared. Yep, that is what they were called. They were white, dense bread with a hard, dusty crust. They had a seam on one side that opened up when cooked.
When I started being in charge of the bread purchasing, I bought Italian loaves. As time passed, ciabattas appeared, and then sourdough bread and now there is an unlimited choice but still you see Italian loaves in most delis in suburbs where there is a significant Italian population.
One day, I was reading Local Breads, by Daniel Leader, and I nearly fell out of my chair. There was a photograph of a bread that look exactly like the Italian loaf but it had the fancy name Pane Accavallato di Altamura (overlapped bread from Altamura). I saw the light. Clearly, an enterprising immigrant had been a baker in Altamura and this is the style of bread he made in his hometown. When he came to Perth, he made bread how he had always done. He, obviously, did very well as his bread was in most Perth delis.
So armed with my achievement ethos, I was out to make a loaf just like the ones in the deli. It is a 100% semolina bread and should have a dense crumb. The crust should be hard and dusted with semolina flour. The loaf should have a fold on one side that opens up during the baking.
I have tried 4 times.
The first time, I used white semolina that I put through my Vitamix several times to make it fine. I followed the instructions exactly and got a close approximation to the photo. The only mar was in the crust – it looked a bit like crocodile skin. Why? I will tell you later.
Equipped with beautiful remilled durum semolina flour, I thought I would try again. It surely would be better with this Italian flour. We shall not mention the second try. It was not a good look.
Here is a photo of my third try.
In this attempt, I decided not to follow the instructions but make the loaf how I would normally do it. I, essentially, followed this technique. I shaped the loaf before second proof. It had the dense crumb but the shaping left something to be desired (the flap merged with the loaf) and I didn’t get that dusty-floured look on the crust.
Here is a photo of my fourth attempt. This time I decided to more or less follow the instructions. When all else fails…. I had one hiccup. It took longer for the first fermentation than I anticipated and I had guests knocking on my door before I could shape the loaf so I retarded the dough overnight in the fridge. Apart from that, and a small deviation I thought would solve the crust issue from my first attempt, I did exactly as instructed.
Look at the amazing open crumb. I reckon if I had added a bit more water and shaped it appropriately, I would have had a perfect ciabatta. Just when I don’t want large holes, that is exactly what I get.
So I must learn to let go of that pinnacle in the sky, the perfect sourdough loaf, and take a leaf out of Celia’s book and go with the flow a bit more. I have to accept that, in the home kitchen, I am not going to get a loaf exactly like the one in the photo but a yummy individual loaf, nonetheless. My Pane di Altamura may not be close and dense, and my ciabatta may not be open with large uneven holes, but they will taste great, anyway.
Here is the recipe for Pane Accavallato di Altamura. It is from Local Breads by Daniel Leader.
The evening before you wish to make your bread:
Take your wheat starter out of the fridge:
Take 50g of the old starter, feed it with 50g of bread flour and 50g rainwater or filtered water and put back in the fridge or do whatever you normally do to feed your starter.
- 75g old starter
- 62g rainwater or filtered water
- 82g superfine remilled durum semolina flour. Daniel Leader emphasises the need for superfine semolina flour.
Mix together, cover with plastic wrap and leave on the bench top.
- All of the semolina starter you prepared the evening before – about 200g
- 350g rainwater or filtered water
- 500g superfine remilled durum semolina flour. If you are in Perth, you can buy Granoro Semola de grano duro rimacinata at Balcatta Fresh on Karrinyup Road. The ‘All About Bread’ durum semolina flour is not fine enough – though, if you have a Thermomix, a Vitamix or other quality blender, blend it for about 4 minutes in 4 x 1 minute bursts, and it will be fine.
- 2 tsp salt
- Put all the ingredients in the bowl of your electric mixer and stir until just combined.
- Knead the dough in your mixer for 10-12 minutes or by hand until it is smooth (about 20 minutes).
The dough should clear the sides of the bowl of the mixer and, near the end of the time, begin to clear the bottom of the bowl. If it clears the sides and the bottom early in the kneading process, add a bit more water. I find the amount of water in this recipe is about right. I don’t usually need to add any more.
- Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover and leave until it has nearly doubled in bulk. Mine took about 5 hours.
- This is where I varied from the recipe. The recipe says to shape the dough into a round, dust it with semolina flour and then place the round in a clean dry cloth and tie the opposite corners together. This is to mimic what the villagers used to do. They would tie up their loaves in a tea towel and carry them to the local baker to shape and bake.
I did this the first time I made the loaf – I even hung it from a stool to proof – but the dough dried out and formed a crust and cracked when I stretched it. The crust between the cracks was perfect but the resultant loaf looked a bit like crocodile skin.
This time, I put the dough in a cloth-lined bowl and covered it with some plastic wrap. I also retarded the loaf about 12 hours because I had guests coming.
- Allow the dough to balloon in the tea towel or bowl. It is ready when you press your finger into it and it bounces back.
- An hour before you are ready to bake, put a tray on the bottom shelf of your oven and an unglazed terracotta tile about a third of the way up from the bottom.
- Preheat your oven to the highest it will go.
- Dust your counter with semolina flour and place your dough on your bench. Pull two sides away from the centre to stretch the dough into a rectangle about 15 cm x 40 cms. Fold the bottom edge to meet the top, press down. Take the folded edge bring it about three-quarters of the way up the top to create a lip. If you have Local Breads check out the photos in the book. I didn’t press down too hard as I didn’t want to deflate the bread totally.
- Pour about 2 cups of boiling water into the tray on the bottom shelf of the oven.
- Slide your bread onto the tile and close the door.
- Turn your oven to about 200° C. Cook for 40-50 minutes or until the loaf is mahogany-coloured all over and golden where it splits open.