Pane Festivo. Christmas Walnut Bread

Pane di Noce
Pane di Noce

A walnut bread, dark and nourishing, is quick and easy to make. I was thinking how nice this bread would be for Christmas Eve with some soft cheese, perhaps a handmade goat cheese, or some Italian Stracchino. My first practice loaf was eaten over three days, remaining moist and fresh, requiring only a scrape of butter, French demi-sel as it happened to be. I will be making this loaf again very soon and hope that it gets to meet some cheesy friends.

Bread and Butter. Nothing more.
Bread and Butter. Nothing more.

Pane di Noce/Walnut Bread

200 g walnut pieces

7 g active dry yeast

85 g honey

320 g warm water

30 g olive oil

500 g unbleached plain flour, plus extra for kneading.*

7.5 g salt.

Preheat the oven to 180c. Toast the walnuts on a baking sheet for 10 minutes. Let cool and chop to course crumbs  or in a food processor.

Using a stand mixer, stir the yeast and honey into the water in the mixing bowl: let stand until foamy or for 10 minutes. Stir in the oil with the paddle. Add the flour, salt, and walnuts and mix until the dough comes together. Change to the dough hook and knead until soft, moist, and fairly dense, 5 minutes.

Knead briefly by hand on a lightly floured surface.

First Rise Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 ¼ hours.

Shaping and Second Rise. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Without punching down or kneading, shape into a log. Place the loaf onto a floured or oiled baking sheet. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Baking. Pre heat the oven to 200°c . Slash the loaf just as you pop it into the hot oven. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to  175°c and bake for 40 minutes longer. Cool completely on a rack.

 

walnut bread
walnut bread

Abbreviated and simplified from The Italian Baker, Carol Field.

*I used Baker’s Flour instead of plain flour, which worked well

Pane Integrale con Miele. Wholemeal Bread

Now that we are six, four adults and two children, bread making has become an imperative. My extended family continue to buy white packet bread for school lunches, a bread that I am unable to eat. The other breads used in the household- bread to go with soup, bread after school with vegemite, toasting bread, bread for bruschetta or crostini, come from my oven. This is not just about economy, domestic goddessing or matriarchy, although some of those factors do kick in from time to time. Melbourne’s winters are unpleasant, to put it kindly, and when I’m not running away from the cold, I’m baking, a great excuse to stay indoors and keep warm.

This month, I am revisiting yeasted breads thanks to Leah of the ‘Cookbook Guru‘, who is featuring Carol Field’s The Italian Baker this month. I love this book; it is a great read even if you never bake from it. Her discussion of flour, although comparing Italian flour with American, is enlightening. To date, I have only tried five of her recipes: focaccia, (her method is unusual and produces a great result), pizza, ciabatta, a nut cake and pane integrale. My plan is to stay with Carol Field, twice a week, for a month and to post the results.

Wholemeal Bread with Honey – Pane Integrale con Miele.

Recipe makes one round loaf.

STARTER

  • ¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 160 g or 2/3 cup warm water
  • 200 g unbleached white flour

Stir the yeast into the water in a mixing bowl: let stand for about 10 minutes. Stir in the flour with 70- 100 strokes of a wooden spoon. Let rise, covered, for 6 to 24 hours. Measure 50 g for the recipe and discard (or stash) the rest.

DOUGH

  • 1¾ teaspoons or 5 g dry active yeast
  • 35 g honey
  • 360 g or 1½ cups warm water
  • 500 g wholemeal flour ( organic and stoneground if available)
  • 7.5 g or 1½ teaspoons salt.

METHOD.

In most of her recipes, Carol Field offers instructions for making bread by hand, by stand mixer ( such as a Kitchen Aid ) and by processor. I use a standard sized Kitchen Aid in all my bread recipes.

BY MIXER

Stir the yeast into the honey and water in a mixing bowl. Let stand for 10 minutes. Add the starter and stir with the paddle until the starter is shredded or disappears. Add the flour and salt and mix with the paddle until the flour comes together. Change to the dough hook and knead for at least 2 minutes at low speed, then 2 minutes at medium speed. The dough should be fairly smooth and have lost most of its stickiness. Finish kneading briefly by hand.

First rise. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 2 hours. ( or do an overnight slower rise in the fridge)

Shaping and Second Rise. Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface and shape into a round loaf without punching down. Place the loaf on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornflour. Cover with a tea towel and let rise until doubled ( around 1 hour).

Baking. Preheat oven to 220ºC, fan forced. If you are using a baking stone, preheat it, then sprinkle with cornmeal and slide the loaf onto it. Otherwise, use the baking sheet. Bake at 220ºC for 10 minutes, spraying the oven three times with water. Reduce heat to 200º C and bake for 25 minutes longer. Cool completely on rack.

This recipe results in a dense, slightly sweet bread. At 100% wholemeal, you feel healthy just thinking about it.

wholemeal convert

In the good the old days, Italian fornai still produced a dark wholemeal bread. I recall hard, nutty little wholemeal loaves and focaccie made in the forni around Assisi during the 1980s. I couldn’t find any decent wholemeal bread during my last trip there in 2011. Carol Field mentions that whole wheat flour, containing the husk and wheat germ, has almost disappeared from Italy. Often breads passing as Pane Integrale are made from refined white flour with a quantity of bran thrown in!

It turns out that I have posted on this bread before- it must be good!

https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/italian-wholemeal-and-honey-bread-pane-integrale/

And other posts from the Italian Baker:

https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/my-italian-baking-bible/

https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/flattery-will-get-you-a-pizza/

 

Flattery will get you a Pizza.

Flattery will get you everywhere, or is that nowhere? Flattery is often associated with obsequiousness or false praise. But for the hard-working cook, a little flattery, a little praise, or just a heartfelt ‘thank you’ goes a very long way.

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I remember those who dine at my table, the ones who say ‘thank you, I enjoyed that, it was really tasty’. I don’t care if they are telling the truth, although I sense that they are. I also remember those who either say nothing at all, or proceed to tell me how they, their wife or the restaurant up the road, makes a delectable version, remaining oblivious to the presence of the food on their plate and in their mouth.  I distinctly recall laboriously making a rich, buttery pastry for a summer Charlotte, filling it with spiced plums and apples, and ‘taking the plate’ to a friend’s house to share with him and the assembled others, who had arrived plate- free, for lunch.  As the host ate, he recalled the quince tart made by a mutual friend, whose pastry was so much shorter and how delectable it was. This story was related at length with a big spoonful of my **tart in his big ** mouth. I tried to disguise my annoyance, but I have never forgotten that incident. Another chap, enjoying a three course meal with us, spent the time breathlessly talking about his wife’s superb cooking and the wonderful things she makes.  No praise for the meal, and only a meagre parting thanks. Don’t you hate that?

Then there is my lovely niece, Louise, who came to stay recently, and commented on every dish she ate – the yoghurt and stone fruit breakfasts, the home-made but stale bread, the soup, the Flamisch, the pasta, the broadbeans.  She made proper Maeve O’Mara noises – Mmm, Ahhhh, followed by lovely text messages the next day. “Can you text me a slice of your sourdough,” was her latest amusing message. She is an excellent cook herself and certainly doesn’t need any guidance from me, but she requested my recipe for pizza dough. Since she is such an appreciative guest as is her hungry nine month old bambina, I am finally posting it. Warning, the recipe is short, but the post is long.

Pizza dough from Carol Field’s Italian Baker, with a few variations.

Ingredients for Two Large Pizze

This dough is made in a stand mixer, and lists by cups then in grams. I prefer to weigh. You can make it by hand or in a food processor. Use cold water if using a processor. If using a bread making machine, use the dough setting and cold water,  adding the water first.

  • 1 3/4 teaspoons/5 g active dry yeast
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups warm water/320 g
  • 1/4 cup/ 55 g olive oil
  • 3 3/4 cup/5oo g unbleached all-purpose flour*
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons /7.5 g sea salt.

Stir the yeast and sugar into the water in the mixer bowl; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oil with the paddle. Mix the flour and salt and add to the yeast mixture. Mix until the dough comes together. Change to the dough hook and knead at medium speed until soft and satiny but firm, about 3 minutes. Finish kneading briefly by hand on a lightly floured surface and form into a ball.

Rising and Baking.

  1. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat with the oil, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until not quite fully doubled. Depending on the weather, and the room temperature, this may take up to two hours.
  2. Shaping and second rise. Shape the dough with a rolling pin or by hand. Knead the dough briefly and gently on a lightly floured surface, for 1-2 minutes. Divide the dough into two ( this amount will make two large pizze).  Roll each piece into a ball on a floured surface then flatten to a thick disk. The easiest way to shape the dough is with a rolling pin*.  Roll out thinly, leaving a cornicione, a thicker edge along the rim to keep the sauce in. ( The Cornicione is a favourite of babies, gastronomes and dogs named Bill).

    My favourite rolling pin, bought in an asian Grocery for $6.00.
    * My favourite pizza rolling pin, bought in an Asian Grocery for $6.00.
  3. Place the dough on large trays dusted with semolina or polenta and let them rise another 30 minutes, covered with a towel. Dress the pizze with your favourite topping.  Turn oven to full ( 250c), and wait until the oven reaches that heat which may take 30 minutes.  Cook for around 20 minutes. You can usually smell when the pizza is ready. It is done when the crust is crisp and golden brown. Remove from the oven and  brush the crust edge with a little olive oil.

My Notes.

  • Either place the dough on trays dusted with semolina or polenta, OR, roll the dough out on non stick paper and let them rise on the paper. This allows the trays to be heated in the oven, then you lift the dressed pizza onto the super hot trays.
  • If using a pizza stone, you need to work out a way of transporting your wobbly pizza base to the stone. The simplest way is to make it on the paper, carry onto the stone, then slide out the paper at the 15 minute point when the pizza has firmed up.  As I tend to cook two pizzas at once, the pizza stones seem like hard work to me. I simply use the ‘cooking paper method’ on pre heated trays.
  • * Flour. So much has been written before about flour. I am not a fan of Farina ’00’ flour for Pizza, although I think it has a place for making fresh pasta and tarts. I’m adding an extract by Carol Field here, who discusses flour types as used in Italy:

Flour in Italy commonly comes from the species Triticum Aestivum, which is divided into two major varieties, soft wheat and hard wheat, (grano tenero) – and from which all bread is made.

Durum hard grain ( grano duro), or Triticum Durum, a different species, is the hardest wheat grown and is usually milled into semolina. It is a golden grain that has a higher protein and gluten content and is used almost exclusively for pasta production.

The Italian baker has five grades of grano tenero to choose from, although they are classified not by strength and protein content like ours but by how much of the husk and whole grain have been sifted away. The whitest flour has the least fibre. The lower the number, the more refined and whiter the flour, so that of the five categories, “00” is the whitest and silkiest flour, “0” is a bit darker and less fine, since it contains about 70% of the grain, and “1” is even darker. Darker and courser is “2”.

For all the talk of the prevalence of whole grain in the healthy Mediterranean diet, only a fairly small percentage of Italian breads are made with whole wheat (Pane Integrale)…Millers simply take refined white flour, stir in a quantity of bran, and pronounce it whole wheat.

The Italian Baker, Revised. Carol Field. P 18

  • It is good to know a little about flours when we bake. I always use a local flour by Laucke mills ( South Australia) for Pizza baking. Wallaby Flour is described as a Bakers Flour due to the high 12% protein content. I check the date and make sure it has been recently milled. Laucke mills also produce an Australian ’00’ flour, a stone ground, organic wholemeal flour and Atta flour, the latter being great for Indian bread. A range of bulk wholemeal flours may be found at NSM in Brunswick, Victoria and a range of spelt and unusual flours at Bas foods, Brunswick, Victoria. I like the idea of eating local products: the wheat grown and processed in Australia means it is fresher and, as Italians are not averse to chemical use, purer. ’00’ type flour is too refined for Pizza but my dear friend Rachael uses it successfully by adding semolina to the mix, which would give it more strength via the higher gluten content. Sometimes I add 20% spelt flour to the mix for variation but I am mindful that a little extra water may be needed. Playing with different flours is always interesting and all recipes evolve over time.  But, like Olive Oil, buy the local product.

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Thank you and a little praise goes a long way. Mr T receives praise for all his hard work, grass cutting and maintenance in the gardens and paddocks. He praises me for the food he eats. We take nothing for granted.

 

My Italian Baking Bible.

Ciabbats cool. They don't last long in this house.
Two  Ciabatte cool. They don’t last long in this house. Trying to capture that slipper look.

There is one cookbook that keeps finding its way back to the kitchen bench, the big table, and the couch. Sometimes it likes to come to bed too. The Italian Baker by Carol Field is definitely my favourite cookbook, or perhaps I should say, book!  It is a bible and just a joy to read. I am suggesting to Leah that this inspirational book should become her Book of the Month for the Cookbook Guru.

Prawn Pizza
Prawn Pizza

Why do I love this book so much? Let me recount the ways.

  • It is well researched. Field spent more than two years travelling throughout Italy to capture regional and local specialties.
  • The opening chapters discuss bread making in Italy, ingredients, equipment and techniques. The discussion on flour is very informative.
  • The recipes include traditional breads, festive breads, torte and dolci ( biscuits and cakes) as well as chapters on modern varieties.
  • Instructions are clear and easy to follow. Measurements are given in metric, imperial and cups. Separate instructions are noted for mixing by hand, mixer and processor.
  • I love that she employs traditional ‘biga’ starters.  Less yeast and slower to make means easier to digest!
  • The photos are few; there is no celebrity chef talk.
  • The Italian proverbs and sayings regarding bread would appeal to any Italophile.
  • Before each recipe is a wonderful short prologue.
A traditional walnut cake made by the older folk in Vaireggio, Toscana
A traditional walnut cake made by the older folk in Viareggio, Toscana

Here is a shortened excerpt from the  prologue for Pane Toscano.

“Tuscans have been making this saltless bread for many centuries. Dante even referred to it in the Divine Comedy. Anticipating the difficulties of his exile from Florence, he speaks of them figuratively, “you shall learn how salty is the taste of another’s bread’. P 84.

All rather wonderful. Time to read Dante’s Inferno. In the meantime, I plan to cook every recipe from this book, a rather ambitious idea,  given that I don’t eat many sweets and only a little bread each day. In the meantime, I propose this book to the cookbook club, and to all readers in search of an inspirational baking book.

These photos show a few things that I have made in the last few weeks. I plan to post a ‘new’ recipe from this book before the month is over.

Torta Rustica do Noci e Caffè
Torta Rustica di Noci e Caffè