Wednesday, May 22, 2013

sweet bread from valtellina

If everyone in the world had to bake a loaf of bread from scratch, the world would be a better place. 

Let me elaborate.


Basically, bread baking is a huge pain in the butt.   It requires patience, planning skills, and upper body strength -- all things that I lack...

If it's such a pain, then why do I bake bread from scratch?  Because baking bread has taught me many life lessons... and because that first slice, fresh out of the oven with a big smear of melted butter (because I totally deserve it) is worth all the hassle and *minor* mental breakdowns. 


Anyways, here are the things that bread has taught me: 

Bread has taught me to plan ahead.  I've learned the hard way that if dinner's at seven, I better start the loaf at four.  There are few things more painful to watch than hungry people crunching on spinach salad while the bread is still in the oven -- especially when they can smell all of that carby-goodness wafting out of the oven. I've also learned not to run out the door while the dough is rising.  Personally, errands always take twice as long as they should.   Thus, I end up  returning to a kitchen that smells like a brewery and being confronted by a ball of dough the size of a large toddler. 


Bread has taught me perseverance (and given me some *somewhat* defined biceps).  Sure, there are dough hooks, bread machines, and other fancy kneading gizmos -- but I'm a firm believer that the best loaves come from some good, old-fashioned pounding.  The glutens in the dough need to be stretched and warmed by human hands.  It's a labor of love.  With every loaf of bread, I knead a little bit of my soul and spirit into the dough.  That sounds so incredibly cheesy, but you can taste the difference, I swear.  


Bread has taught me that patience pays off.  I am the kind of girl who seldom uses measuring cups and has no idea where my teaspoons are.  I have one "cup"-ish sized mug that I use for everything.  I've got to admit I love to cut corners (and hate doing dishes).  I feel like I'm totally winning at life when I make a layer cake in one salad bowl with a fork.  But bread baking requires patience and a lot of spoons. I've learned to even break out the kitchen scale when baking a loaf of bread.  Crazy stuff, I know...  But it's all for the love of bread.  


Lastly, sometimes, yeast can just be a little bit of a bitch.  You can use all the measuring spoons in the world, and your bread will still sometimes come out of the oven looking like a hot mess.  Bread has taught me how to say "hey, it's ok."  When my country boule ends up looking like a giant chicken McNugget, I've learned just to call it "rustic." No one complains. Trust me.  Especially when I serve it with Vermont maple butter. 

This my adaptation of a traditional recipe for bisciola -- an artisan fruit and nut loaf from the Lombardy region of northern Italy, bordering Switzerland.  The addition of figs and anise seeds makes it both sweet and savory.

Have you ever made bread from scratch?

With love, 
Erica
 

  • 1/3 cup hazelnuts
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water 
  • 1 package dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped dried mixed fruit (I used apricots, figs and dates)
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons anise seeds 
  • 1 large egg, beaten 
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
Combine 1 cup of all-purpose flour, warm water, and yeast in a large bowl, and stir well with a whisk. Cover and let stand at room temperature 1 hour.

Add the nuts, 1 cup all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, dried fruit, anise, sugar, 2 tablespoons oil, salt, and egg to yeast mixture, and stir until a soft dough forms (dough will feel tacky). Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. 
Knead dough until smooth and elastic; add enough of remaining all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands.  Place dough on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray.
Shape into an 8-inch round loaf. Brush dough with 2 teaspoons oil. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 45 minutes or until doubled in size. (Press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, the dough has risen enough.)
Preheat oven to 375°.
Uncover dough. Bake at 375° for 35 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Remove loaf from baking sheet; cool on a wire rack.
Adapted from La Cucina Italiana
 
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14 comments:

  1. What a lovely commentary :) Such a great/different way to look at baking a loaf of bread, I feel much better about the world already!
    Needless to say, I'm sure it tastes delicious!!
    x x

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    1. Thank you! I'm glad I could make you feel a little better about the world hahah :) This comment sure put a smile on my face :)

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  2. I loooove baking bread-so far I've been lucky and haven't had anything not turn out, but I'm sure someday it'll happen to me!

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    1. Hahaha lucky you! If the bread gods are ever not on your side, just serve it up and call it "rustic" -- no one will ever know ;)

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  3. I took a sour dough bread class once. The teacher was a free thinker and was insistent that bread making is easy and doable as a daily activity. He taught us how to knead the dough, feel for the consistency, and smell for the correct amount of yeast. He kept saying, "It'll just feel right when it's right." Well, I went home and tried the technique, using only one cup and a proofing basket. I smelled the dough, kneaded it, let it rise, kneaded it some more and I was convinced that it just did NOT feel right. I baked it anyways. Magically it was actually good. He is winning at bread making. haha ;)

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    1. Wow! That's so cool! I would love to take a bread baking class some day... and I would love to be able to "feel" when a loaf is right (instead of having to cover up my mistakes with maple butter). Thanks for the comment!

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    2. Let me know if you're in SF again, the sour dough class was only about two hours and is pretty affordable, it would make for a memorable vacation activity. I'd make mistakes on purpose to use up the maple butter. haha

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    3. I will definitely let you know! That sounds so fun! Was it at Boudin Bakery?

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    4. Nope, it was with Sour Flour: http://www.sourflour.org/workshops/ I had a groupon coupon so it was only $40 and worth it at that price. From the their photos it looks like the class may be more structured now.

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  4. Congratulations on your blog. I love the valtellina bread and will try it. I like your take on making bread and I agree that the world would be a better place if everyone baked a loaf of bread. I have to say that I have been baking no knead bread which is delicious but makes me feel a little guilty.

    Great blog, I am glad I finally found it.
    Laura (Monica Pisoni's friend)

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  5. Congratulations on your blog. I love the valtellina bread and want to try it, I also really like your take on baking bread. I agree that if everyone had to bake a loaf of bread the world would be a different place. I have to confess that I have been baking no-knead bread, delicious, though I feel a little guilty.

    Congrats again,
    Laura (Monica Pisoni's friend)

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    1. Thank you so much Laura! I'm so glad you found my blog as well :) I love baking no knead bread (it saves cleaning the counter, which is always a plus). I hope you stop by again soon! :D Erica

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  6. I love the way you write, I am the exact same! I always forget about my rising dough until about 5 hours later, my sourdough always ends up as a pancake as I break it getting it out of the proving basket and I am possibly one of the least impatient people EVER! But bread is an exception, it just is!
    this sweet bread sounds good, I'll have to try making some sweet dough!
    from Emily x

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    1. Thank you so much! Hahahha I'm glad there's someone else out there like me who struggles with sourdough :).

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