Recipes   /   IL MIO PANE – MY BREAD

IL MIO PANE – MY BREAD

Jan 21, 2017 by Gabriele Corcos

DIFFICULTY

Making bread gives meaning to my day. It means a beautiful loaf to have with dinner, followed by toast the next morning, then that mouth-watering panino for lunch. If there’s any left over, I let it get stale to give heft to a soup or become croutons in a salad. That cycle goes straight to the essence
 of the joy I get from feeding my family. It’s a daily activity I wholeheartedly recommend mastering, because there are few household aromas as wonderful as a freshly baked loaf of bread reaching its full potential in your oven.

Deborah and our daughters can tell you how obsessed I became when I decided to master 
the process of baking bread. I tried every kind
of flour, yeast, and dough hydration. Longer rising times, shorter rising times. Wetter dough, drier dough. I knew the taste I wanted: a very lightly salted loaf of rustic goodness, with a
dark crust crunch that nicely offsets the pillowy consistency inside. But getting an Italian to spell out a recipe for me wasn’t so easy. I asked our local baker in Italy: “How do you make your bread?” The baker: “Some water, some flour, some yeast.” Me: “Um, proportions?” The baker: “What?” Later, me to my grandmother: “Nonna, how did you make bread when we were little?” Nonna: “Oh, some water, some flour, some yeast.” Me: [Sigh.]

Eventually I found inspiration from other bakers, but it was learning about the use of a heated cast iron pot as a de facto bread oven for the initial baking process that proved revelatory. I also hit upon a way to keep rising dough from temperature inconsistencies in the kitchen, like an open window, or a door that keeps opening and closing. One day I pulled my pizza stone
out of the oven—I always keep it there—and noticed that it was slightly warmer than room temperature. I realized the oven light had been on the whole time, and had been gently heating up the oven. Guess where my dough rises now?

In the oven, with the light on. The temperature will eventually reach anywhere between 70Fº and 75Fº (depending on the oven) and there won’t be any drafts to alter the rising time!

When you start making bread, also think about your schedule. When do you want it freshest? In the morning? Afternoon? Right before dinner? Once you have a good idea how long it takes to make your optimum bread, put yourself on a schedule to start the process so
it’s ready when you want it. As I mentioned earlier, it helps keep me on schedule. I know when I have time to do all the other things in the day that need to get done: picking up the kids, running errands, arranging a meeting. In some ways, making bread is like having an extra baby in the house you must take care of—it’ll bring out your nurturing side.

As for the finished product, farmers in Tuscany believe good bread needs to rest for
a day, so the gluten can relax, the crust can achieve its ideal crunch, and the inside can reach a premium texture. It can be difficult to resist cutting into a warm loaf when that special aroma pervades the kitchen. But if you slide a knife through it, the dough might still be a little sticky inside and start compressing. Then you’ll be changing the shape of your bread before it’s had time to cool, get settled, and release some moisture. If you don’t want to wait until the next day, give it at least an extra 30 to 45 minutes of rest. If you wait overnight though, you can embrace the traditional saying in Tuscany about a farmer’s food calendar: L’uovo di oggi, il pane di ieri, ed il vino dell’anno scorso. “The egg from today, the bread from yesterday, and the wine from last year.”

THE STARTER 

The starter is a mixture of water, flour, and yeast that, when fermented, allows bread to rise. Though it’s popular to use an active dry yeast to kick start the fermentation process, I like to rely on natural yeast that colonizes the water-flour mixture. It’s that extra poetic touch I like about bread making, in that you’re allowing the environment to create something. Since whole wheat our, less refined than white, attracts more natural bacteria, I recommend using a flour mixture of 50 percent Italian 00 flour and 50 percent whole wheat when making a first starter. Once the starter is ready and healthy, I then use it to start new “cultures” with different flour percentages (70-30 / 80-20).

Remember, when starting from scratch, it takes anywhere from 1 week to 10 days to develop a starter, depending on factors such as the temperature of your kitchen. (The higher the temperature, the faster the fermentation.) Once you have your starter, as long as you keep it fed—and I’ve occasionally assigned starter- babysitting duties to Deborah if work takes me out of town—the ability to make bread will always be at your fingertips. Also, you’ll need a digital kitchen scale for weighing out your ingredients, so buy yourself an inexpensive one.

50 grams water

50 grams flour mix

Twelve hours before you plan to make bread dough—preferably the evening before creating a dough in the morning—discard 80 percent of the starter, replenish with 100 grams water and 100 grams all-purpose flour, and mix well. This will become the starter you use to make Pane. After you master this first important step you can start playing with different flour proportions and different kind of breads. And if eventually you become as obsessed as I am with bread making, you will start traveling with your mother-dough everywhere you go!

  • In a 2-cup container, combine the water and whole wheat our and stir well. Let it sit in a cool, shaded area of the kitchen for at least 2 days.
  • On the third day, discard 80 percent of the mixture and replenish with equal amounts of all-purpose flour and water. This is called “feeding.” (If beginning with more than 100 grams of our and water, a good discarding rule is to save about 2 tablespoons of starter per 100-gram mixture.)
  • Feed the starter every day after that. By the fourth or fifth day, look for small air bubbles on the surface. At the end of each 24-hour cycle after that, the scent of the starter will change from its initial creamy, buttery overtones to distinctly vinegary, once the fermentation process has occurred.
  • By the end of the first week, with regular feeding at the same time each day, the starter will have reached an especially lively, predictable rhythm cycle of culture- forming and decay. Your adventures in bread making can begin!

BREAD

Tuscan bread doesn’t have salt! Origin stories vary: One legend attributes it to how expensive salt became during the economically depressed Middle Ages. Another theory—
which appeals to my fighting spirit as a Tuscan—involves the ancient rivalry between
coastal Pisa and inland Florence, and how Pisa tried to punish Florentines by halting the transportation of salt from the shore. The Florentines decided that their food was so good, salt was superfluous.

The culinary reality, however, is true, in that Tuscan food is so flavorful already, due to fresh ingredients and wonderful herbs, that the bread really didn’t need salt. If you must have that bread bite before the pasta arrives, a drizzle of high-quality extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt—both readily available at any Tuscan tavola (table)—will offer plenty of flavor. But if you wait until you have sauce to soak, that’s when you’ll need the best use for our salt-less bread. To make a pane Pugliese (named after the Puglia region in the boot of Italy, known for their rustic, hearty breads), just add . . . salt!

MOTHERDOUGH

A quick note to avoid confusion. The term Mother Dough is absolutely more in fashion than Bread Starter, and most of the times (I do it to), the two names get confused… in fact, they are not the same thing. The Starter, as you just learned, lives in its own container; it gets fed, it ferments, it rises, and the cycle never stops…. unless you stop feeding it, in that case it would go sour and die. Mother dough is a piece of your bread dough that is separated right after all ingredients are mixed together, and before the loaf is set to rise. A Mother Dough has to be used every day, as it cannot wait to be mixed to fresh ingredients more than 24 hours. I suggest working with a starter as you might not need to bake a new fresh loaf every day.

COMMENTS

This is possibly the more complicated recipe on the site. It requires time, devotion and a good attitude toward failure; it took me about 3 years to learn this process on my own, and at times mistakes still happen. Please use the comment section below for any questions (or requests for help), I will make sure to follow up on all of them.

Prep Time: Always on / Yields: 1 Kg loaf

350 grams warm water (80° to 85°F)

120 grams Bread Starter or Mother Dough

500 grams bread our, plus more for dusting and coating

7 grams salt (for pane Pugliese; optional)

1In a large bowl, combine the warm water and starter and, using your hands, break down the starter until the excess water is absorbed completely into the dough.

2Add the our and mix with your hands until a dough forms and there are no lumps. The dough should feel elastic and slightly wet. (If making Pugliese bread, add the salt now and mix well.) Transfer the dough to a plastic container and cover with a cloth. (If you’re working with a mother dough, which is a saved piece of the previous day’s bread dough, remove approximately 120 grams and set it aside in a partially ventilated plastic container. This will be the starter the following day.)

3Every 30 minutes, for 2 hours, wet your hands and gently pull the dough away from the sides of the container, toward yourself, then fold it back inside the container. Let the dough sit for 3 hours, after which the first rise will be complete, and the dough should have grown by one-third to one-half its original volume.

4Transfer the dough to a work surface lightly dusted with flour. Using a bench knife (also known as a dough scraper), mold the dough into a round shape and let it rest for 30 minutes. The dough will relax and look like a deflated ball at this point.

5Coat a round, lined proofing basket—a banetton—with bread flour, or, if using a new banetton, a four mix of 70 percent bread our and 30 percent rice flour. (Rice flour is very dry, and will help prevent the dough from sticking to the sides.)

6With the bench knife, flip the dough, then stretch it to about 3 times its original length. Fold it back to its original size, roll it lightly in your hands, and place it in the banetton. Cover with a kitchen towel and let it rise undisturbed in a warm spot for 3 hours. (An oven with its interior light turned on works quite well, protecting the dough from sudden temperature changes.)

7Place a pizza stone and 5-quart cast iron Dutch oven in the oven. Preheat the oven to 500oF, then let the pot sit in the oven for 30 minutes longer.

8Place a sheet of parchment paper over the banetton, place a pizza peel on top, and gently turn upside down. Carefully remove the banetton to uncover the bread, which should now be resting on the parchment paper–lined pizza peel. Be careful not to rip any potentially sticking dough, especially if using a new banetton. (Ripped dough won’t rise properly in the oven.)

9Using a very sharp knife, make 2 or 3 short cuts in the dough along the white our lines left on the dough by the sides of the banetton.

10Gently slide the parchment paper with the dough onto the pizza stone and cover with the overturned cast iron pot. Reduce the temperature to 450Fº. (All ovens are different, so after a trial run, you may determine the heat needs to be higher.)

11Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the cast iron pot. The loaf should be golden in color, with a smattering of dark edges. Bake an additional 10-15 minutes uncovered, moving the bread occasionally to ensure the loaf bakes evenly on all sides, until the crust looks lightly toasted in color, with a slightly blistered appearance.

12Remove the bread from the oven and cool on a wire rack, uncovered, for at least 1hour.

  • Pauline Muccia

    This recipe scares me, since I’m new to bread making. Would like to make a rustic bread that has a nice crust & not doughy in the inside. Something with a nice bite. Do you have an easier recipe to recommend for a newbie? Thank You

    • http://www.thetuscangun.com/ Gabriele Corcos

      Hi Pauline,
      sorry this is the one and only recipe I have been using in the past few years. Good bread is possibly one of the hardest things to achieve. But give it a shot, it will keep you entertained, I am sure of it.

      • Pauline Muccia

        Thanks for answering & for the encouragement…Will put it on my list of new things to learn & try for 2017!

  • http://www.knoxbronson.com/ Knox Bronson

    Gabo – Funny you should post this. I’ve been thinking about learning to bake bread a lot recently. But I can’t get all the ingredients in the small town where I am living now. Heading up to the Bay Area tomorrow, so I can pick up some Italian & Wheat flour. A three-year learning curve? Oh well! Thank you!

    • http://www.thetuscangun.com/ Gabriele Corcos

      Find the four that works best and stick with it. My starter always acts up when I switch flour, it drives me crazy!

  • Catherine Roldan

    Has anyone converted this recipe to cups for the flour and water? Salt to teaspoons? I think I converted okay but would appreciate it it anyone could post their conversions. Thanks

    • http://www.thetuscangun.com/ Gabriele Corcos

      I encourage you not to convert any bread recipe, as at times 1 gram of salt can make the difference. Also grams are a very small unit to work with, and that can be useful in situations like: it is a very humid day, even if you go by the recipe your dough will be wetter, you might want to add a few grams of flour to the dough. Finally measurements in cups and teaspoons are never exact in weight… flour or sugar can be packed or looser, weight will be different. Also grams are used for both wet and dry ingredients, you won’t have to deal with fluid oz either.

  • Catherine Roldan

    Thank you I will not convert the recipe. If possible can you tell me what brand of food gram scale you would recommend?

  • khrysee

    Thank you so much for posting this recipe. It is Exactly what I’ve been looking for!
    Three years of R and D are truly appreciated.
    When is your next book coming out?

    • http://www.thetuscangun.com/ Gabriele Corcos

      October 2017

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