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Do You know Julia Child? I bet you do! She’s of course quite famous in the US, she is often considered the woman who brought the French cuisine on the other side of the pond. But she’s famous in Italy too, mostly thanks to the successful movie starred by Meryl Streep.
Julia is not just an everyday cook. She mastered the art of cooking quite thoroughly, as she had learned the ropes at the famous Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris, and then continued with private lessons.
I am completely fascinated by her, because I feel quite close to her to some extent. I often mention her on the blog, and I certainly will time and again. Sometimes clumsy and awkward, but with a neophyte passion that she never lost.
I do feel like her when I talk about my baking experiments, and even more so when I prepared these lovely sourdough Ciabatte bread, a recipe from Sara Papa’s books. I made any possible disaster! But as they came out of the oven, they were so good that I forgot all the trouble I went through.
Ciabatta means slipper in Italian, and the shape of this bread is quite like that, don’t you think?
The preparation is, I admit, quite lengthy. I am suggesting also the use of the brewer’s yeast to shorten the rising time of the dough. However, sourdough bread is something different, and needs to be tasted!
For the poolish
300 gr baking flour
300 gr water
95 gr sourdough (or 8 grams of brewer’s yeast)
For the dough
600 gr baking flour
375 gr water
113 gr sourdough (or 9 gr of brewer’s yeast)
9 gr malt
10 gr salt (I don’t like it excessively salty, you can add some 5 gr if you want more flavour)
Extra virgin olive oil
Durum wheat flour (for dusting)
Start by preparing the polish: in a bowl soften the sourdough with the water (at room temperature, not cold or warm). Then add the flour (sift it first!) and knead it gently trying to avoid lumps. Let it raise for two hours at room temperature, covered with cling film.
Then pass to the dough: take another bowl, or the one of the kneading machine if you have one (I do recommend it!), and put in it the flour, the malt, and the salt. Give it a little whisk, then add the water with the sourdough dissolved in it, and then the polish.
Start kneading from ten to fifteen minutes. Dust your hands with flour, if you knead by hand. Remember that the dough will be quite soft and sticky. It’s quite annoying, but it has to be. Not annoying – sticky!
When it looks silky, pur it into a well-oiled bowl, cover it with cling film and let it rise for one hour.
Then put the dough onto the working table, pre dust it before with durum wheat flour.
Cut your ciabatte from the dough, each piece should be approximately 5 x cm centimetres. Dust the surface of each ciabatta with durum wheat, flatten them slightly with your fingertips and place them on a baking tray, already covered with parchment paper.
Let them rise until they double in volume two or three hours should ne enough, it depends on the temperature of your kitchen. To avoid that annoying little crust, cover them with a canvas when they rise, so to keep them moist.
Then preheat the oven at 220 degrees and bake them for 20 minutes.
Before putting the ciabatte into the oven, put on the bottom of it a small pan (it must be oven-proof) with a bit of water, so to create the steam into the oven.
Let them cool on a grid.
This is quite a peculiar year for many reasons. The pandemic turned our life upside down, and from now on whenever we make a reference to anything, we’ll just acknowledge a before and after. Many of us are striving to go back to their life before, this meaning going out, seeing friends, go clubbing perhaps.
In June Italians usually start discussing about their upcoming summer holidays, and this too is a way to go back to before. We would all need a good vacation. A vacation from fear, sadness, from the signs that lockdown left on us. Mid June is also generally acknowledged to sign the beginning of the swimsuit season, the beginning of the harshest dietary restrictions to fit in the bikini of twenty years before.
I wish everyone could finally fit in their own bikinis, and go back to our wonderful Italian beaches, and for this I am leaving you a low calories dessert to indulge on after lunch or dinner.
The almond puddings with strawberry coulis (but you could use raspberries, or any other berry) are also gluten and dairy free, so they’er perfect for vegans and for most of the people suffering from food allergy. They’re ready in no time at all, so no more excuses for this – you’ve got to try them!
500 gr almond milk
30 gr almond flour (or almonds)
90 gr caster sugar
50 gr corn starch
50 gr strawberry jam
Juice of one small lemon
Heat the almond milk in a casserole.
In the meantime, put into a bowl the dry ingredients – that is almond flour, corn starch and sugar.
If you use almonds, you should finely chop them in your food processor with the sugar, then add them to the corn starch
As soon as the milk starts simmering, pour it onto the dry ingredients, and mix well to avoid lumps.
Use a hand whisk, if you have one.
Pour the mixture into the casserole again, and cook for a few minutes, until it starts thickening.
That then the casserole off the heat, and pour the mixture into the moulds of your choice.
Let them cool down a bit then put them into the refrigerator for at least three hours.
You can now prepare the coulis. Punt the jam into the blender jar together with the lemon juice (filtered) and blend it for a few seconds.
Put the strawberry sauce on top of your almond puddings and serve.
I remember that, when I was a child, my group of then friends and I were experimenting the first moments of independence. In the summer, soon after the end of the school, we used to meet in the mornings in the communal courtyard and we went all together to the baker’s on the top of the street to buy the bread for the day,
There ten girls of approximately the same age, between the end of elementary school and the first years of junior high.
Every family had its own bread, every day the same.
One of these families used to buy bananas, which is not the fruit as you may have thought, but a shape of olive oil bread which vaguely bore a resemblance to a banana. I remembered this when I was preparing these olive oil bread rolls from the well-known Roman baker Gabriele Bonci, who first prepared them live during a TV show on the national broadcasting television, and ever since they have been a popular hit in every Italian household.
These bread rolls have a nice little crust and a lot of soft white part, and they are a hit when stuffed with salami or cheese, but they go as well with butter and jam. Honestly, I have them plain, they’re so delicious!
The preparation is quite simple, if you have a kneading machine it’ll do the work for you.
Are you ready to taste this bakery Italian delicacy?
500 gr bread flour
275 gr lukewarm water
10 gr sugar
10 gr salt
5 gr fresh brewer’s yeast
35 ml olive oil
Dissolve the yeast in the water with the sugar. Stir well.
Put the sifter flour into the kneading machine bowl, or on a working surface if you haven’t the machine, e pour the water with the yeast little by little, and start to knead. It will take about ten minutes to have a nice dough. Then add the salt, and the oil as final ingredient. Pour it into the dough little by little, allow it to absorb pretty well- you will need another 10 minutes of kneading for this. The dough will be slightly sticky, but it was to be.
Oil a clean bowl and put the dough in it covered with cling foil, and let it double (when it is warm it should take two hours, if it is colder you may allow it 3 hours to rest).
Take the dough and using a rolling pin roll it out about half a centimetre thick. Cut then even stripes of dough (I got away with 8 stripes), lightly wet them with water and roll them up, forming little cute bread rolls.
Put the bread rolls onto the baking tray covered with parchment paper, cover them with cling foil again and let them rise for another 90 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees; put the bread roll into the oven, spray their surface before with some water (if you cannot spray them, pass a moist finger on the bread surface) and bake them for the first 10 minutes in the high part of the oven.
Then turn the oven down to 180 degrees and complete baking (approximately 15 minutes)
Let the bread rolls cool down on a grate before serving.
I’ve spent most of my summers in Tuscany.
As long as I can remember, the summer started at the end of the CISA highway, when the Tyrrhenian Motorway begins, and so do its oleander-filled traffic islands.
This image is so impressed in my mind that any time I see an oleander, I so much crave for the Tuscan sun.
Before it was Versilia, then ten or more years at the Elba island, and in the last fifteen years Maremma has been my land of escape.
I feel sad somehow as maybe this year (thanks Coronavirus…) I will not make it there. I will sorely miss the Uccellina Park, the baby wild bears crossing the street in search of food in the night, the view from Vetulonia, the narrow streets of Volterra, the grass diving into the sea at the Baratti Gulf, the castle at Castiglione della Pescaia, the Thursday market in Grosseto, the rotten egg smell of the spas in Saturnia.
I’ve been often nostalgic and sad in the past week, and all I could to do cure this nostalgia was to bake the Tuscan bread, that is a saltless bread. This bread is the main ingredient of the Panzanella, another typical Tuscan recipe.
The preparation is not so difficult as it may seem, and it is one of the breads I find so much satisfaction in the making. I love to hear the sound of the cracking surface as soon as it comes out of the oven. It sounds like the bread is singing, and it’s a lovely music altogether.
The Tuscan bread has its own production specification, requesting the use of sourdough. This time I tried the quickest way, and I prepared it with a biga, that is a an acidified dough of the previous day, so everyone can bake it, even those who have not their own sourdough.
For the biga
300 gr bread flour
10 gr fresh brewer’s yeast
200 ml lukewarm water
For the dough
500gr bread flour
250 ml lukewarm water
On the night before prepare the biga by pouring the lukewarm water in a bowl, and melt the yeast in it. Then incorporate the flour little by little, using a spatula. Sir for about ten minutes, and you’ll see the dough become silky and smooth. Cover with cling foil and let it rest for 12 hours.
On the day after, pour in the bowl the lukewarm water and then the bread flour of the dough, and knead for about 10 minutes. The dough will be quite soggy and soft, but it has to be.
If you use a kneading machine, put the biga in the machine bowl first, and then add the other ingredients.
Then let the dough rest for at least one hour, always under the cling foil.
Then put the dough onto a flour dusted work surface and fold the dough as if it were a letter, then shape the dough like a loaf.
Put it on a tray covered with parchment paper. Dust the surface with the flour and let it rest again for one hour. I covered the surface with cling foil this time too.
Preheat the oven at 230 degrees, put on its bottom a small pan full of water (it must be suitable for the oven so no plastic parts are allowed) and then when the oven is hot and ready take the cling foil off the bread and put it into the over and let it bake for 35 minutes.