(Makes 2 1lb. round loaves)
In southeastern Italy lies the Apulia region. In Italian, it’s called Puglia, where this bread rustic loaf originates. What distinguishes it from other breads is the liberal use of finely milled durum flour that is sometimes packaged as "fancy." "extra fancy," or even "durum whole wheat," depending on your source. This is the same type of flour used in imported Italian pasta, and it gives the bread a distinctive, almond-like flavor. Look for it in bulk stores or Italian markets.
Like several other breads discussed here, Pane Pugliese takes two days to prepare, but the first day is a snap.
Day One, Biga (18 ozs.)
- 11.25 ozs. unbleached bread flour
- ½ tsp. instant yeast
- 8 ozs. filtered, bottled (no salt added) or spring water at room temperature
Combine the flour and yeast in a good-sized bowl. Add the water and stir until a coarse ball forms. Transfer it to a floured surface and knead by hand for about 5 minutes. It should be pliable, soft and tacky, but not sticky. Use your digital thermometer to take the internal temperature; the range is between 77 and 81o F.
Turn the biga into an oiled bowl, mist the top of the dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it ferment from 2 to 4 hours, until it nearly doubles in volume. Remove it from the bowl, knead a bit to degas it, then return it to the bowl, cover it and put it in the fridge overnight. This formula makes more than you need, but you can freeze the remainder in an oiled bag for up to three months.
Day Two, Dough
- 10.8 ozs. biga
- 5 ozs. durum flour
- 5 ozs. unbleached bread flour
- 1 ½ tsp. sea salt
- 1 tsp. instant yeast
- 9 ozs. filtered, bottled (no salt added) or spring water at 90-100o F
You might want to add a quarter cup of leftover mashed potatoes that have already been seasoned with salt. If you do, you may have to add more flour (either type) to make up for the added moisture. A 50/50 blend of flours is recommended here, but you can experiment all the way to 100 per cent durum, but be prepared to add more water if you do. If you use 100 per cent bread flour, be prepared to use less water, because durum absorbs more water than it does. You can also use this dough for pizza, but like No-Knead Bread and Ciabatta, it is very highly hydrated and should be treated gently and folded as shown in the Handling Wet Dough video clip.
Take the biga out of the fridge, cut it into a dozen or so pieces, cover it with plastic wrap and let it warm up for an hour before making the dough.
Add the water and the biga to the bowl of your mixer, then put in the flours, mixed with the yeast. Mix on low speed until a sticky, wet ball forms. If loose flour remains, add a bit more water. Sprinkle the salt over the ball. Switch to speed two and knead for about 4 minutes. You’re looking for a smooth, sticky dough; don’t worry, the wetter the dough, the better the bread. The dough should not stick to the sides of the bowl, but it should stick to the bottom.
Sprinkle the counter with flour to make a bed 8 inches square. As shown in the Wet Dough video clip, transfer the dough using a plastic scraper dipped in water. Proceed with the folding method shown there, then mist the dough with spray oil, sprinkle with flour and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for half an hour, then fold it once again, mist, flour, cover and let rest for another half hour. Quite apart from making the dough less sticky, each time it’s folded the gluten structure in the dough becomes stronger.
Now mist a large bowl with spray oil. Fold the dough for the third time, transfer it to the bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough ferment for 2 hours.
Coat your hands and your bowl scraper with flour and gently transfer the dough to a well dusted counter. Divide the dough into two roughly equal pieces using a metal pastry scraper dipped in flour. Gently form the pieces into two rounds as shown in Boule Shaping Video, but this time lightly flour your hands. Let them rest on the counter, seam side down, covered, for about ten minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare two cloth-lined proofing bowls by misting the cloths with spray oil and dusting them completely with flour (otherwise this sticky dough will not release from the bowls). Very gently transfer the boules, seam side up, to the bowls. Pinch seams closed if necessary. Mist the tops of the dough with spray oil and cover them with the dusted flaps of the cloth. Proof the loaves in their bowls for 60 to 90 minutes, depending on the warmth of your kitchen. Before baking, they should have increased to 1 ½ times their original size.
Steam the oven for 10 seconds, 10 minutes before baking. Dust your peel with brown rice flour and turn the Pane out onto it as gently as you can. Score or slash the tops quickly, then load onto a 550ºF hearth. Steam again for 10 seconds. These breads should take no longer than 15 to 20 minutes to bake to an internal temperature of 205ºF, and they should be deep golden brown color. Release the steam by cracking the door open after about 10 minutes of baking time. Check the internal temperature after 15 minutes.
Cool on a rack for at least half and hour before serving. As the Pane cool, the crust will soften a bit.
Pane Pugliese might just be the definitive rustic loaf. It’s a hearty bread that goes well with spicy soups, gravy-rich stews or a dipping sauce of EVO and balsamic vinegar. Once you get used to handling wet dough, it will become a favorite.
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*This recipe has been adapted for wood-fired baking from the formula given in Nancy Silverton’s Breads from the LaBrea Bakery.
Perhaps the perfect Italian rustic loaf.
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