Pane Pugliese – Loaf Bread from Puglia
This is a big, crusty, country bread. Originally made with coarse flours and cooked in hot wood-burning ovens, Pane Pugliese is chewy and porous, a perfect compliment for a lunch or dinner with cheese, dried meats or foods with sauces. The loaves are large 2-4 pounds each and are cut into large pieces.
Many Pugliese regional foods dip the bread into flavored oils or as the carbohydrate base for soups, gravies, or savory sauces. The thick crust results in a flavorful and filling bread. One of my favorite traditions is dipping it directly in a fruity new wine from Puglia.
There are several versions used today but the original, said to have origins in the Turkish Empire, uses a mix of unrefined flours. When working this bread it will seem a bit soft and wet, do not worry this is how it should be.
1 package active dry yeast (7 gr.)
¼ cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
3 cups water at room temperature
1 cup (200 gr.) Biga
4 ½ cups (600 gr.) all-purpose unbleached flour
3 cups (375 gr.) wheat flour
5 teaspoons (20 gr.) salt
Stir the sugar in the warm water. Dissolve the yeast in the water and let sit for 10 minutes until creamy. Place the biga in a large bowl. With a spoon, stir the yeast mixture. Stir in the water (room temperature).
The traditional method:
Pour the flour mixture onto a flat hard surface. Shape into a mound and create a well in the middle with a spoon. Pour half the biga mixture into the well. With a pastry spatula begin moving flour from the walls of the well into the biga-water. Add the remaining biga-water and fold the remaining flour. The dough will be very soft and “runny”. This will take about 5 minutes. The dough should be soft but just firm enough to maintain its form.
The quick way:
Mix the all-purpose and wheat flour and the salt. Pour the flour mix into the bowl with the biga and mix for about 3 minutes until the dough separates from the sides of the bowl.
Knead on a floured surface for about 10 minutes. The dough will be soft and velvety.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Allow to rise about 3 hours, until tripled.
Shaping and Second Rise:
Place on a lightly floured surface. Flatten the dough delicately with your hands and roll from the back to the front. Press down again. Turn the dough 90 degrees and roll again from back to front. To create a round ball, cup your hands and slide them, pulling the bottom portion of the dough, under the dough ball. Turn 45 degrees and repeat. Continue until a perfectly round ball has formed.
If you are using a baking stone place a bit of corn meal flour on the stone, if using a baking sheet, place parchment paper and flour the surface. Position the dough ball in the center. Make sure you have sufficient room on the side as this bread will expand laterally.
Cover with a heavy slightly humid towel and let rise for at least 1 hour, until doubled.
At least 30 minutes before baking, turn the oven on to 450 degrees. Five minutes before baking dust the top of the dough with flour and delicately dimple, with your fingers, the top of the dough. The dimples will disappear when baking but will allow the dough to rise evenly. Place in the oven. After 10 minutes reduce the temperature to 400 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes. If using a baking pan, remove the bread from the pan and place the bread directly on the oven rack. Continue for another 15-20 minutes.
Cool on a rack.
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