Breads of Italy: Pane Ibleo or ‘U Pani Ri Casa

Pane Ibleo

The inspiration for reconstructing this traditional Sicilian bread comes from a drawing I saw in an agricultural article comparing different flours [L'Informatore Agrario, Supplemento 13/2006]. More and more my interest for bread is moving away from books about baking technique to go closer to the source. The bakers, the millers, and the farmers. The article, provided by the mill I have recently visited during my trip to Sicily, described some of the durum wheat varieties I brought with me to Sweden. The bread in the drawing, traditionally made in the Iblei region with Russello durum flour, was so oddly shaped that it captured my attention, driving it away from the text of the article (which I have not yet finished, I admit).

After some research of online sources, I came across a couple of recipes with tutorials for this Pane Ibleo, also called simply ‘U Pani Ri Casa. As the name suggests (pani ri casa means home-made bread) these loaves were made at home by women. This tradition was repeated every week, using mother dough from the previous week, and baking it in the closest wood-fired oven. The bread is based on a stiff levain and a stiff dough, it is folded on itself and cut in a particular way. I realize now that the central fold and the cuts may have served to better cook the crumb, a pretty dense one which does not incorporate many bubbles -and consequently does not incorporate much steam either, which tends to fill the air pockets during baking, helping the crumb to cook well (I have read this beautiful explanation in Pollan’s chapter on bread in his recent “Cooked” book).

Pane Ibleo

Since I was using stiff levain like in the traditional bread -rather than commercial yeast like in the tutorials I found- and since I was using whole wheat durum from an ancient variety of Sicilian durum (Russello wheat) -rather than finely ground modern varieties- I had to figure out the recipe myself. The tutorials did help with the shaping, although I feel still far from being able to recreate the real thing as seen in drawings and pictures. My central cut did not open quite as much as it should have had, and this is because of the flour I used and because I don’t have a wood-fired oven. According to a local belief these loaves should not hold large hole or something bad could happen- maybe to warn home bakers from those fake air pockets given by the detachment of the crust?- so I am quite happy about my dense crumb here. And the bread was truly delicious eaten in the traditional way. Cunzato with fresh tomato juice and olive oil dripping into further cuts made into the crumb and seasoned with oregano and sea salt. Sicily in a nutshell.

Pane Cunzato [Read More...]

A Sicilian Heritage Wheat Bread For A German Knight

Madonita Sourdough

Each time I go to back to Italy, my homeland, I try to make the best out of it as I know that I am not going to be there again for another year or so. This time I made sure to visit two artisan bakeries and a mill specialized in rare heritage grains. I will talk diffusely on all these experiences in later posts. For now I want to focus on the first of the several Sicilian heritage wheat flours I bought at the mill.

Madonita Sourdough

In Southern Italy the most commonly cultivated type of wheat is grano duro (durum wheat, also called semolina flour in the US and UK) but there are also some rare examples of local grano tenero (the “usual” type of wheat we all use). Madonita wheat is a grano tenero which grows around Le Madonie mountains in Sicily. As far as I know, Madonita wheat is not generally used to make bread by locals -they use grano duro for bread- but it is instead used in some traditional local cookies and cakes. The flour is stone-milled and sold whole, but I asked the miller to burattarla, which means, to sieve part of the bran away in order to make it a tiny bit lighter. Isn’t it wonderful to know in person and be able to make requests to your miller? As I am the daring type, I decided to make my first coming back home loaf using this flour. I may have been the first person in decades -or longer- to make a sourdough out of this flour but now that I have tasted the bread I am very happy I did.

Madonita Sourdough

Incidentally these loaves, naturally leavened and hand crafted using an ancient Sicilian wheat, would have fit perfectly on the table of Götz von Berlichingen, the German Knight With the Iron Hand, who lived and died in the 15th hundred. So I am dedicating this bread to him and to my dear friend Karin, author of Bröt and Bread and skilled community baker, who kindly invited me and other fellow bakers to bake a loaf worth of the fame and carisma of this unstoppable warrior. I am sure the nobleman would not have been turned away by a Sicilian sourdough. To make bread out of this flour was not the easiest of things and I guess that the flours available for Götz von Berlichingen‘s bakers were not much easier than the one I used. But oh the pleasure to eat a non industrial loaf, made out of non genetically modified grains, grown without pesticides, milled in a 150 years old water stone mill. I invite you to try my method on any heritage wheat you may find. Or simply on a good whole-wheat flour. Still you are crafting it by hand and with natural leaven and I am sure Götz von Berlichingen would like such a bread, too. [Read More...]

Artisan Bread: What Is It and Why Bother About It? A Conversation With Don Sadowsky and Eli Colvin

"Artisan Bread" Mix

There are few things I like even more than making bread and one of them is talking about bread. So when my bread pal Don Sadowsky started one of his mind challenging –and insanely interesting– discussions around my favorite topic, bread, I was totally captured. The discussion revolved around threats to artisan bakers from supermarket bread labeled as artisan, so we decided to bring into the discussion a professional bread baker and not just anyone but Eli Colvin, the head baker of the acclaimed Model bakery and the initiator of the rEVOLUTION Bread project.

Eli Colvin

We asked ourselves, what does artisan mean and why did it suddenly become so relevant to some of us? The first time the term artisan is known to have appeared in the English language in the 16th century was referred to a “Few artysanys of gud occupation”, in other words, to a class of skilled manual workers such as carpenters, weavers, pottery and shoe makers. “It’s about making things with a high degree of skilled labour” says the owner of Gail’s Artisan Bakery, UK [source: Brett Ryder, An Artisan Article, Intelligent Life magazine July/August 2014].
Considering the origins of the term artisan, we can conclude that an artisan product is to be made by a skilled manual worker. And what is so fancy about that? Why is it suddenly so incredibly relevant that a food item like -just a random example- a loaf of bread is made by a person, and not by any person but an artisan, i.e. a person initiated to the craft of bread making?

Probably the contemporary appeal of the term artisan applied to food in general, and bread in particular, is because food in general, and bread in particular, are increasingly made by machines rather than skilled artisans. So it is a little revolution, as Eli says, to buy that loaf of bread that does not come out of a factory but out of the hands of a real baker. And following Pollan way of thinking (Michael Pollan’s book “Cooked” is full of insights), it means giving ourselves more decisional power, because the independent baker made a loaf according to his knowledge and liking rather than following standardized factory procedures. By supporting that baker we are clearly standing for independence and for a closer connection to the production of our food.
Too bad, industrial food is already extending grasping hands towards the term artisan, especially in relation to bread. And so our discussion with Eli began… [Read More...]

Barley Semola Sourdough

Barley Semola Sourdough

Some loaves just come out happy. This dough, made with no other ambition than having bread for the week, just happened to make loaves with a perfectly moist and open crumb and a crunchy and fragrant crust. That’s why I feel like sharing this simple, yet rewarding, recipe.

barley semola sourdough

Of course the main ingredient is a lively starter, there is no way around it. So go check my previous posts on how to rise and keep a starter cause my beloved 3-year old wheat sourdough culture is a good 70% of my satisfaction in bread baking.

barley semola sourdough

For the variety of shapes showed here, including the cute margueritte you can spot at the end of the post, I used the same dough. The dough was mostly made out of stone-ground organic wheat (also called high extraction wheat) where the majority of the seed is ground into the flour (80% in the one I used). Since I like to experiment with different flours I have also used a part of freshly milled barley flour and a part of finely ground semola (super fine durum) flour. Scroll down to read the simple, yet complete, method. [Read More...]