Wednesday, November 11, 2009
This recipe is from Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking, but, luckily for me, Rose put the recipe on her website just a month or so ago, and I don't have to type it out. Also, it got the RLB Seal of Approval, so you know it's good.
Tortano and casatiello seem to be used interchangeably, and they refer to a round-shaped Italian holiday loaf which, in its full glory, contains lard, salami, and cheese and also has four raw eggs, still in their shells, which are placed atop the unbaked bread and cook while the bread bakes. This version looks like a full-meal bread and then some, but the version I made has no lard, no salami, no cheese, and no eggs, raw or otherwise. It takes a long time to make, but is otherwise not particularly difficult. In fact, although Glezer lists it as a bread requiring "intermeditate," rather than "beginning" skills, I think the only reason for the upgrade is that the dough is wet and sticky. Don't let that deter you from making this delicious bread--if you soldier through, you'll be impressed with yourself when you realized you turned out this artisan bread from your own kitchen.
It takes just a wisp of yeast to make this bread--a quarter-teaspoon dissolved in a cup of water; only 1/3 cup of this yeast water is used, making a total amount of about 1 1/2 teaspoon of yeast. I was doubtful that this would work and was tempted to cheat by adding a little more, but I didn't. I mixed this pre-ferment up on Tuesday at about 5:00 in the afternoon. When I got up on Wednesday morning, it had bubbled up and grown enough that it was clear that it was working. (I had a chance to bake on Wednesday because it was Veterans' Day, and government workers get that day off).
The dough is made with the pre-ferment, more flour and water, some honey, and about a quarter-cup of potato puree. I used half a leftover baked potato, but you could also use a boiled potato. It takes about 10 minutes to turn this mixture into a smooth, silky dough--very moist and sticky, but not a problem to handle if you flour your hands.
It needs another four or five hours to rise, and you can't just walk away and leave it. For the first 80 minutes, it requires tending every 20 minutes, when you take it out of the bowl, flatten it, and fold it.
The dough scraper is a fine invention. If you didn't have it, you'd really fight with the dough when you were folding it because it would want to stick to the counter.
Finally, after about five hours, you get to punch a hole in the center of the round loaf that you've shaped. (This is the shape that makes it a tortano). With your hands, you enlarge the hole. You should enlarge it more than I did, because when you bake it, the loaf gets quite a bit bigger, and you can end up losing most of the doughnut shape.
Here is the bread just as I'm about to make four slashes in the top and put it in the oven.
Below is as it comes out of the oven, 40 minutes later.
The bread is supposed to bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until it is a "very dark brown." After a half-hour, it seemed brown enough, but I let it go another 10 minutes, by which time it was indeed very dark.
It had taken so long for the two risings that the bread didn't come out of the oven until after 6:00, so there was no time to sample it before we went to Gigi's for our usual Wednesday pizza and bottle of wine. When we came home, we had to have bread for dessert. Seriously. If you live in fear of carbs, the idea of bread after pizza should make you tremble.
This is probably not the ideal way to appreciate this bread, but I'm glad we had some the same day it was baked. The only down side to this tortano, aside from its taking its sweet old time to get ready, is that its life span of perfect freshness is not that long. 24 hours later, it was still good, but not as spectacular. Its crust is crusty, the holes are, as promised, as big as radishes. The bread itself demands savoring--with every bite you can taste the earthiness of the potato and the slight sweetness of the honey.
Every ingredient counts in this wonderful bread, and you are again reminded that the simplest, homiest ingredients can result in something spectacular.