Traditional Italian No-Knead Sourdough Bread

It had been a non-working Wednesday. It was raining and both me and my little one felt too sleepy or lazy to get out or do anything constructive. Luckily, I had some sourdough bread getting ready to be baked (and eaten) so I did not feel like I was totally wasting my day.

As usual, some research was needed before I could find a recipe that made me feel comfortable. After consulting a couple of Swedish books on bread and a few Italian ones, plus several really well-made bread dedicated websites, I was more confused than before. Sourdough bread is apparently not as easy to make than bread made with yeast, which I just started to master. Hours and hours of fermentations are necessary for sourdough, the naturally rising, bread and it also seemed that complicated turns to the dough were needed at fixed intervals. Also shaping looked, oh so, difficult. I needed somewhere to start. An easy “ice-breaking” method to make bread with my new-born starter. And then I found it. Hidden in an Italian food-blog there was the picture of a beautifully rustic-looking loaf. The directions were brief but the author, a very talented La Cuoca Felice (the happy cook), was prompt in answering to all my (oh so many) questions. Including those on how to convert a recipe using a 50% hydration starter into a 100% one. The main problem with Italian bread recipes is that they ALL use 50% hydration sourdough. In fact, they call it “pasta madre” (mother dough), which gives you an idea of how thick the typical Italian starter is.

So I adapted the recipe, taking away some water. What attracted me most of this method is that there was no kneading involved. I really do not know yet how to treat sourdough and I was nervous about ”working” it. Differently from what I thought, no-knead methods are not recent development, but are part of many ancient bread baking traditions, included one that comes from Central Italy. To such tradition belongs the famous “Pane Toscano” (Tuscan bread) and also the bread I am going to describe. When I asked to La Cuoca Felice where did her recipe came from, she said it was the result of her experience in making bread… so, since this gifted cook is from Nepi, a beautiful ancient town not so far from Rome, I named this bread “Nepi Sourdough”.

NEPI SOURDOUGH

You need: 400 gr  (little more than 1 and 1/2 cup) 100% hydration sourdough starter, 320 gr (little less than 1 and 1/4 cup) water, 400 gr (little more than 3 cups) bread flour (or Manitoba), 200 gr (little more than 1 and 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon sugar or honey, 3 teaspoons marine salt. Suggestion: get a scale!

How to: The evening before you are planning to bake, mix the sourdough with the water and the sugar. Add the flours and the salt (last). Work the dough as little as possible, just enough to get all the ingredients mixed together. If using a machine, put it on the lowest speed and work the dough for no more than 2 minutes. Pour the mixture in a big bowl and let it rest at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius, 68 Fahrenheit) for about 3 hours, covered with a kitchen towel. Passed this time, cover with plastic foil and place in the fridge until the following day.

Pour the baby in the bowl and mix with all the other ingredients. Don’t forget: salt last

The morning or the early afternoon after (depending on your schedule), take the dough out, cover with the kitchen towel again and let rest at room temperature for 2 hours. Now the dough is ready to be quickly shaped.

Transfer the dough on a wooden surface covered with some semolina (durum) flour and fold the 4 corners of the ball into a rectangular “package” (this is how I understood the original “tirare i 4 lati” instruction).

Flip the ”package” over a semolina flour covered kitchen towel, making sure that the top of the folds is on the bottom. Close delicately the kitchen towel and let rest for 3-4 hours at room temperature.

Passed the 3-4 hours, place a little pot with water on the bottom of your oven and put in also the oven tray you are going to use to bake the bread. Turn the oven on 275 degrees (Celsius, 525 Fahrenheit) and, when it reach the temperature, flip the dough on the hot baking tray, making sure that the folds are now on the surface again. To do this smoothly, I first flipped the dough on a baking paper sheet and then gently placed the baking sheet with the dough over the hot baking pan. When you put the dough in, also spray some water on the sides of the oven, to create more steam. Close the oven and lower immediately the temperature to 200 degrees (Celsius, 390 Fahrenheit). Bake for 30-35 minutes. After this time, open the oven and remove the pot with the water. Take away also the baking tray and place the bread directly on the oven grid. Close the oven and lower the temperature to 180 degrees (Celsius, 355 Fahrenheit). Bake for further 20-25 minutes. Now turn off the oven, open and let the bread rest there for 10 minutes. Take the bread out of the oven, cut in half and place on a cooling rack to allow the steam to come out (and keep the crunchy crust). The bread is ready!

Still warm and steamy… not bad for a first-time experience with sourdough bread!

CONSIDERATIONS: Yesterday, when eating this bread with some Parma ham, I had a reverie… a taste long forgotten came back to my mind. I remembered the bread I used to eat as a kid each time we, me and my family, went to the lake (in the beautiful Roman country side). The memories from our Sundays at the lake, with the amazing rustic bread sandwiches we always bought there, are among my dearest ones. However I could not, up to yesterday, recollect the exact taste of that lovely bread. Now I can. It must have been a no-knead sourdough loaf. This whole bread baking experience is giving new meanings to so many things. Try to make your own and tell me. It brings bread to a totally different dimension. It is good. And nurturing. For our souls even more than for our bodies.

Hope this bread is good enough for YeastSpotting.

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  1. Didn’t making a successful loaf of sourdough with your own starter make you feel like a super-hero or something? Wow, it’s lovely! There are few things more delicious or comforting than the smell and taste of freshly baked bread. It’s wonderful that the taste was able to bring you back in time–I LOVE it when that happens. :) Lovely, lovely photos, Barbara.

  2. Beautiful bread as usual Barb! You’ve got this break making down. Love the last pic w/the olive oil on the piece of bread…I wanna bite! :)

  3. Non ho parole! Ti ringrazio infinitamente per quello che hai scritto! Inutile dirti quanto sono contenta di esserti stata utile! Non mi stancherò mai di rispondere alle domande dei miei “seguaci”. Ricordo che quando ho iniziato ad informarmi su internet sui diversi metodi di lavorazione, parravo ore e ore di notte a cercare di mettere insieme tanti pezzi di informazioni presi qua e là… So quanto è delicata la partenza per imparare a fare il pane con la pasta madre, e mi fa immensamente piacere che altri possano sperimentare tutto questo!
    Ti mando un abbraccio dall’Italia, sperando di passare un giorno anche da quelle parti!
    Un bacio!
    La cuoca felice

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