Sunday, August 24, 2008
I'm a sucker for anything Italian because it always sounds so wonderful. Doesn't pane di Genzano sound better than bread from Genzano? And much better than "bread from a small town about 20 miles from Rome"? Although I believe that part of my soul may be Italian, that doesn't extend to my ability (none) to speak Italian. So I just have to satisfy myself with the occasional loaf of bread from Carol Field's The Italian Baker. My mother always told me that when I was a toddler, I charmed the Italian ladies in our Chicago neighborhood by eating the butter off the bread they gave me, and handing the de-buttered bread back, saying, "More." Today I eat both the butter and the bread before I say, "More," and I'm pretty sure it was cuter when I was two than it is now.
As I'm pretty sure I've mentioned, we were disappointed in the bread in Italy when we travelled there, every bread I've made from Carol Field's book has been better than good. When Jim tasted the pane di Genzano, he said, "Why is this bread so good?" It was almost like he wanted to know, "Why don't you always make this bread and quit messing around with lesser loaves?"
I think there are a couple of reasons this bread is extraordinary. First, it's a wet dough.
As Carol Field says, "The wetter the dough, the better the bread." This may or may not be an old Italian saying. Second, the bread has a long, slow rise. Its first rise is three to five hours in a 70-degree kitchen; fortunately, this is the first day in a long time where the outside temperature was below 70 when I started my bread-baking, so the kitchen was the perfect temperature. Third, Genzano bakers are known to use an especially soft flour.
Now, I really should just stop after this sentence because it sounds like I know what I'm talking about. "Ah, yes, the soft flour effect," you might be saying to yourself. If you are, I wish you'd explain it to me because I don't understand why bread flour is hard, but in this case, bread is better because of soft flour. I used, as the recipe specifies, three cups of all-purpose flour and one cup of pastry (soft) flour. If I were a food scientist, I'd explain it, but it would probably be a boring explanation anyway, so it's just as well.
The other thing that makes this bread unique is that it's covered in wheat bran. After the first rise, you shape the bread into a boule, and put it in a pie pan in which you've spread about a quarter cup of wheat bran. Then you gently dab another quarter-cup of wheat bran onto the top and sides. Besides adding taste, the idea is that the bran makes an especially golden, even mahogany, crust.
I baked this loaf in La Cloche, and when I took the top off, it wasn't mahogany, or even golden. It was barely beige. Even after another 20 minutes of baking, it still wasn't magnificently dark, but it was done.
Aside from its habit of shedding wheat bran whenever it's touched, it's at its best when it's sliced and eaten.
We had some for a mid-afternoon snack, and we had more with dinner. It's supposed to have other virtues, such as keeping well and making good toast. I'll test both of those hypotheses tomorrow morning.
Pane di Genzano
--adapted from The Italian Baker by Carol Field
1 t. instant yeast
1 2/3 cups minus 1 T water
3 cups (400 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (100 grams) pastry flour
2 t. (10 grams) salt
1/2 cup bran
Mix yeast, water, flours and salt and mix in stand mixture with paddle attachment for 2 to 3 minutes. Change to dough hook and knead for 3 minutes at low speed and another three minutes at medium speed. Pour the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a cool room for 3 to 5 hours.
Oil pie pan and coat the bottom with 1/4 cup of bran.
On a floured surface, pour dough and shape into a round loaf. Place the dough in the pie plate and pat on the remaining bran so that the dough is covered. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, 1 to 2 hours.
If you have a Sassafras LaCloche, preheat that in the oven at 425 degrees F. Otherwise place pie pan on pre-heated baking stone. Bake for about 1/2 hour and remove top of LaCloche, if using. Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes (about 45 minutes all told). Turn loaf out of the pie pan onto a rack to cool.