Pane Siciliano

So this is the last 'back post' I'm going to do before moving on to current baking projects. This isn't even that old; I made it on Tuesday and there's still half a roll left in the kitchen (though it's too stale for anything but toast.)

Recently, I've been trying making up my own bread recipes, with moderate success. Last week I made two loaves, one a sourdough made with rice and wheat flour, and the other an attempt at some pain au maïs I had in France. I forgot to add any salt to the sourdough rice bread, but it was still edible, despite being made with only flour and water. The bread made with cornmeal was also good, especially with berry jam, but it wasn't as flavourful as what I'd had in France. My improvised sourdough sauerkraut red onion bread was also good, but not what I had been hoping for. Still, I am impressed it's possible to improvise with bread recipes at all, and I am pleased with my progress.

Just after making those, I started reading Peter Reinhart's books on baking bread. I found both incredibly helpful because they focus on general methods to make any loaf of bread better, instead of just offering recipes. They also explain what makes breads turn out how they do, and how to get your desired results.

I decided to make the Pane Siciliano mostly because the shape was so cute, but it also would offer me practise in retarding the rising of the dough to increase flavour and in shaping the dough without degassing too many of the bubbles that formed in the first rise to give it a nice uneven crumb. I was slightly annoyed though that his recipe called for a special pâte fermenté made with commercial yeast. I had my nice sourdough starters, and I wanted to use them, dammit!

So I took Scully out of the fridge, added more flour to give her the thicker consistency it looked like the pâte fermenté would have, and let her sit out a few hours for the wild yeast to activate, but not so long that it would give my bread a very sour flavour. Apart from that one change, I followed the recipe exactly (as far as I can remember).

I rolled the dough out into baguettes, then coiled those up into the 'occhi di Santa Lucia' shape. I sprayed them with water to hold the sesame seeds on, then with oil to make the crust delicious and let them take over an entire shelf of the fridge for 12 hours before baking.

That's the loaves just before baking. They were baked with a water bath and frequent mistings of water on the walls of the oven to create humidity, and when they were done, I had gorgeous crust with the bubbling that tastes so good. The bread is delicious -- you can taste the subtle flavour of the honey and olive oil in the dough. It would have been interesting to try it with a higher quality olive oil and raw French honey for a stronger flavour.

Recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.