Sandwich bread is for toasting. There is no other reason to sell bread in perfectly uniform slices, other than to achieve the ideal crunch to butter ratio. It’s the perfect fast food: pop it in the toaster, slather with a pat of golden goodness, and go.
Toast is why you need to make this loaf. If you have ever been on a quest for the perfect toasting bread, this is it. It features semolina flour (the finely milled stuff,
which we buy in bulk at a local Indian market which we will soon be able to buy from Food Connect), which makes for a soft crumb, kind of like those old-fashioned wheat breads you find at the grocery store. The crust is smooth and golden-brown. When toasted, a thin outer layer of this bread gets all firm and crispy. The center? It’s nice, warm, soft, and slightly sweet. Not too much — you can still dunk this in soup — but enough to remind me of cornbread baking in the oven, summer on the horizon, and better times ahead.
It is, at the very least, a nice antidote to the endless snow.
Recipe after the jump.
Pane in cassetta di Altamura
Makes 1 loaf.
Cost: Not the cheapest bread you can make, but if you find semolina in bulk and use lower quality olive oil, you can turn out a loaf for less than $2. The olive oil does make a difference, but it’s still pretty delicious even with pomace oil.
This recipe is from Daniel Leader’s Local Breads, which is an excellent book if you’re interested in baking. It’s one of the few recipes you can make without an overnight rest, and takes about 4 hours, start to finish. All told, it’s a pretty easy loaf.
The only warning I would give you is that you should weigh ingredients if you follow his recipes — I guess there are a few places in the book where the weight to volume conversion wasn’t quite right (and an aside to my Australian readers: This recipe uses American volume measures. American and Australian cups and tablespoons are different; teaspoons are the same). I use a $5 “Diet” scale I found at a drugstore (chemist), which is no good for measuring out small quantities, but works well enough for flour. So I give you both quantities here, but should warn you: I weighed out the flour.
- 1-1/2 c. (10.6 oz / 300 grams) tepid water (70-78 ºF, or room temperature in the springtime)
- 3-1/4 c. (17.6 oz / 500 grams) fine semolina flour
- 1 t. (0.2 oz / 5 grams) instant yeast
- 1 T. (0.5 oz / 15 grams) granulated sugar (I think I’m going to try honey next time — I think it would go well)
- 1/4 c. (1.8 oz / 50 grams) extra virgin olive oil
- 1-1/2 t. (0.4 oz / 10 grams) sea salt. Use a bit less if you only have table salt handy.
Mix all the ingredients together until they come together in a rough dough. Sprinkle a clean surface lightly with a bit of flour, and knead for 10 minutes or so. You want it to be soft, smooth, and stretchy, but not very sticky. (This is a wet dough, so if you have a mixer handy, you might want to use that — just use the dough hook on medium speed for 8 minutes or so.)
Place the dough in a lightly-oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit somewhere warm for 1-1/2 hours or so. It should double.
Oil and lightly flour a loaf pan. After it’s done rising, take the ball of dough in your lightly oiled hands, and tuck the sides of the bread under. Keep doing this until the surface is taught. You should have an oval ball by now. Place this seam side down in the loaf pan, cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap, and let rise for another 1-1/2 hours or so, until the dough rises just above the rim of the pan.
About 20 minutes before you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 ºF / 190 ºC. Bake the loaf for 35-40 minutes, until the crust is golden and the sides are just pulling away from the sides of the loaf pan.
Take out of the oven, let cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, and then turn out on a wire rack. Cool completely before you slice into it, if you can resist.