Provincial Italian Beer Bread – Italy is more than wine
Thoughts of Italy invoke images of dark completions, sultry women, Italian accents and wine. Italy is so much more. The strategic geographical position of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea has made it a prime objective for any ruler wishing to conquer the world and over the eons of time Italy’s regions have been conquered by numerous cultures. The Egyptians, the Greeks, the Turks, the Spanish, the French, the Germans and finally the Americans have all spent time on the Italian peninsula and left their mark.
Sicilians with blond hair and blue eyes, Pugliesi delicacies that seem Greek, Kebabs as part of local cuisine, and Beer are, among many other characteristics, signs of the presence of other cultures. There is an Italian region where German is the primary language, where hotels and restaurants speak Italian with difficulty and a very heavy German accent, and where the primary beverage is Beer! Alto Adige is located on the Austrian border. Bavarian food is prevalent and the beer is fantastic.
I would often drive to Munich for business. From the Val Cavallina (BG) I would simply take the provincial road through the Alps to Bolzano and then the expressway through Austria and into Germany. This meant a stop in Bolzano for “Wurstel e Krauti” and maybe a Weiss Bir. That is where I first tasted this Pane alla Birra. The locals indicate that it is part of their culture from the times of Bavaria. This bread is savory with a distinct flavor of Malt. It is a perfect compliment for wild game, flavorful meats and sauces, and just as a quick snack in the afternoon.
3 cups (350 gr.) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups (150 gr.) rye flour
1 cup (100 gr.) whole wheat flour
1 package (7 gr.) active dry yeast
12 oz. (340 ml.) Malt beer at room temperature
1 tbs. malt
1 tbs. honey
30 gr. shortening [rendered lard] (I use 2 tbs. Olive Oil)
2 tsp. salt
beer and sesame seeds
The best way to prepare this bread is by hand. It is not difficult and the results will be much better than those when using a mixer.
Dissolve the yeast in the beer. To allow the yeast to activate, let it sit for a couple of minutes.
Sift the flours together into a mound on a hard, clean work surface. Make a well in the center of the flour. Pour the beer, honey, malt, salt and shortening (or olive oil). Work the liquid into the flour from the inside out. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes. The dough should be soft and pliable but not wet. If the dough is wet, work in additional flour.
Roll into a ball and place in an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel. The dough will require 8 hours to double in size. Give the dough sufficient time to rest.
Place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Push the air out of the dough by flattening the dough with your hands. Work into a ball again. Place the dough on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Press the dough ball down, reducing the height by one half. Cover with a moist towel. Let the dough rise for another hour.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. When at temperature, Spray the sides of the oven with water from a spray bottle.
Brush the dough with beer. You may also add sesame seeds or other seeds for decoration.
Turn the heat down to 425 degrees and bake the bread for 35-40 minutes. The crust will be golden brown. If you are not sure of the color let the bread, cook for another 5 minutes.
Cool on a rack.
Special thanks go to Francesca at Fior di Zucca for the photographs of the bread. Francesca writes a wonderful blog in Italian with some great recipes and insights.
Tags: Gourmet Foods Bread Alto Adige Beer Italian Recipes Food and Wine Travel Italy