A baker’s lessons

Pane di Altamura

I should know better by now. Really, I should. Bread cannot be rushed, no matter how many projects you have going on, or how many people you’re having over that evening. Usually, the more impatient you are, the slower the rise happens to be. This is when you should throw the dough in the fridge and give up for the night. But me? I’m impatient — I think I’ve revealed this particular character flaw before — and here’s the evidence of what exactly this little quirk gets me (aside from burnt grilled cheese, which is another story).

Pane di Altamura

Not that this is a complete disaster. The bread tastes good, I can assure you of that much. But I know I could do better. The last batch? It was like our oven’s golden child. It was perfect, fluffy, gorgeous, tasty bread, which did exactly as it was told. This one’s a bit depressed, I’m afraid, and it’s all my fault.

Split on the bottom - not good!

But I think you can learn from my mistakes. Don’t make bread unless you have time for it. If the loaves haven’t finished their second rise, they’re not going to recover in the oven. Not really, anyway. And slash the loaves, for goodness sake! Then you won’t end up with craters the size of the Grand Canyon on the underside of your bread, as pictured above. Nor will you inhibit their rise in the oven. Yeah, that’s right — I was working against myself from multiple angles this week.

Altamura post shaping

But my mistakes are mine alone — I really should have known better. The recipe itself is golden. It shows off semolina’s true potential, I think, and is relatively easy if your house is warm enough (or if, of course, you have a bit more patience than I). And strangely enough, throwing a few cubes of this stuff in soup makes some of the most delicious dumplings I’ve had in a while. So if I were you? I’d go find some semolina flour and start mixing.

Pane en cassetta di Altamura (Semolina sandwich loaf)

Makes 1 loaf.

This recipe is from Daniel Leader’s Local Breads, which I highly recommend if you enjoy baking. Every recipe I’ve tried from this book has been excellent, and I can’t wait until the weather’s a bit warmer so I can try some of the sourdough recipes in this volume.

Make sure you get semolina flour for this recipe. It’s finer than plain semolina, and should have the consistency of all-purpose flour, with a slightly yellowish tinge. One last thing: I’m not sure if this had anything to do with my troubles, but I had better luck when I didn’t double the recipe.

  • 1-1/2 c. (10.6 oz.) water, room temperature.
  • 1 t. (0.2 oz.) instant yeast.
  • 3-1/4 c. (17.6 oz.) fine semolina flour.
  • 1 T. (0.5 oz.) granulated sugar.
  • 1/4 c. (1.8 oz.) extra-virgin olive oil.
  • 1-1/2 t. (0.4 oz.) sea salt.

In a large mixing bowl, pour in all ingredients. Stir with a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula (or your hands, for a flashback to pre-school) until the ingredients come together into a rough dough.

On a lightly floured surface (use semolina here, too), knead the dough until smooth, shiny, and stretchy. It’ll take you 10-12 minutes, so if you’re impatient and have a mixer, you can knead the bread with a dough hook on medium speed (4 on KA) for 8-9 minutes.

Lightly oil a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl, toss to make sure the bread is lightly coated in oil, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place somewhere warm and let sit until the dough is two times its original size; this should take 1-1/2 to 2 hours, if you’re lucky.

Next, shape the dough. If you want a sandwich loaf, all you have to do is turn the bread out of the bowl onto a floured surface (use a rubber spatula; it will make your life easier). Hold the bread in your hands and tuck the ends under on either side, until you have an oval shape. Pinch the bottom together, and place in a lightly oiled bread pan. Cover with a tea towel, and let sit for another hour or so, until the bread is just bulging above the mouth of the pan. This should take 1 to 1-1/2 hours

About 20 minutes before you start baking the bread, pre-heat the oven to 375°F.

When the bread is ready to go in the oven, place it on the middle rack and cook for 35-45 minutes, or until the bread starts to pull away from the side of the pan. If you decide on another shape for the loaf, you can thump the bottom to check the bread; if it sounds hollow, it’s done.

Let cool completely on a wire rack before enjoying. This bread is awesome toasted, with a bit of butter (and Vegemite, if you’re into that sort of thing).

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1 Comment

Filed under baking, baking tips, bread, semolina

One response to “A baker’s lessons

  1. I have the same problem a lot. I will start some bread when I get home from school, but not realize how much time it needs to rest, shape and rest again. I end up getting to bed after 12 frequently. lol.

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