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!