Pumpkin Seed Wholemeal Bread Rolls

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I was overjoyed when my friend Alessandra, the talented woman behind Dinner in Venice, asked me if I could write a guest post on her blog. I had been inspired by her writing, her photography and her honest quest for the authenticity of Italian food since I started my own blog back in 2011. Like Ale, I am an italian-born woman, recently migrated in an English speaking country (Australia) and, just like Ale, I have been fascinated and enamoured with the bounty of local produce and diverse cuisine my new home-land had to offer. But, after migrating, I could not help missing my Bella Italia, the very scent of it, it’s flavor. My most unsatisfied carving was bread, real bread,  Il pane. Fragrant, crunchy and bronzed, with its inviting crackly crust and a moist and airy crumb. I have learnt to make it at home, from slow-prooving sourdoughs to yeast-risen ones, for more immediate gratification. And everytime a loaf is baking in my oven, I can simply close my eyes and smell my beloved Italy from my sunny Sydney kitchen.

INGREDIENTS, makes 6-8 rolls

2 cups of wholemeal (wholewheat) flour

1 cup of strong baker’s flour (or plain, or 00 flour)

300 ml (1-1/4 cup) of lukewarm water mixed with 1-1/2  tablespoons of dried yeast

1 teaspoon of honey or barley malt syrup

2 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil

1-1/2 teaspoons of salt

milk for brushing

2-3 handfuls of pepitas or any seeds you prefer

HOW TO

1. Place the flour in a large bowl, add the water and yeast, honey (or barley malt syrup) and oil.

2. Knead onto a floured bench for 3-4 minutes, then add the salt and keep keading for 3-5 minutes or until the dough is smooth and soft.

3. Rest the dough into a floured bowl and cover with a tea-towel.

4. After 30 minutes, stretch the dough to shape a rectangle, then fold it into three and onto itself. Place the dough back in the bowl. Repeat a second time after 30 minutes. Folding the dough will ensure the softest, moistest crumb.

5. Prove the dough in a warm spot until it has doubled in size.

6. Shape he dough into 6-8 rolls and place them closed together onto an oven tray lined with baking paper. Brush the top with milk, or buttermilk and top them with pepita seeds. Rest the rolls covered with a tea-towel for 30-45 minutes. In the meantime bring your oven to 200 C (390 F)

7. Bake the rolls for 30-35 minutes or until crusty and bronzed and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Allow to cool at room temperature before eating.

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Craving Italian Tomatoes…(Oven roasted Tomatoes with Evoo and Balsamic)

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Italian cooking is always associated with the abundant use of tomatoes, may they be fresh, placed on a chunck of crunchy bread smeared with extra-virgin olive oil and garlic, or used in a sauce. The reason behind it is that in Italy we are blessed with the sweetest and most flavorsome  varieties. It has to do with a combination of great soil and holy water, and maybe a miracle by the Madonna thrown in for good measure, but what is certain is that it poses quite a challenge for me to find a red fruit that can stand the comparison with Italian Pomodori. So, when I am away from my Bella Italia, and I crave the Campania sun-ripened jewels of the vine, I make do with what I can find and use a few tricks to enhance it and turn it mighty good. This is my secret revealed…

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

3 cups of cherry tomatoes (or heirloom tomatoes), halved

3 tablespoons of Extra-virgin olive oil (evoo)

2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar

a small pinch of sugar

salt and pepper to season

fresh herbs (oregano, basil, parsley…)

2 garlic cloves, bashed with the back of a knife

1 small chillie (optional)

HOW TO

1. Turn your oven onto 160 C (330 F)

2. Line an oven tray with baking paper

3. Mix the tomatoes with the rest of the ingredients and tip onto the oven tray

4. Roast for 1 hour or so or until the tomatoes look sun-brunt and wrinkly and are oozing out their delectable nectar… that’s when you know they are ready to meet their match, a large chunck of home-made sourdough bread…This classifies as the best lunch ever. Especially if you pair it with a glass (or two) of  chilled rose’ …

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You can also use them  as a dressing for pasta,  as the ultimate bruschetta topping, served with Italian savory donuts or as a side dish to accompany meat or fish

Buon appetito!

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Schiacciata con Olio e Rosmarino (Italian Flat Bread with EVOO and Rosemary)

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You may call it schiacciata, pizza bianca or focaccia toscana, but the fact remains that, if you grew up in Italy or you have holidayed there at some point in your life, this would have been part of your daily ritual, offered to you as a snack, merenda, by your mamma, nonna or a friendly neighbour. Italian gulp it down with exceptional gusto in its plain incarnation or accompanied by a few slices of prosciutto or a squashed tomato. Comes September, married with ripe, bursting figs, heralding the end of summer and making the thought of going back to school a little more bearable!                                                                                                           Schiacciata is an intrinsic part of an Italian upbringing and it is more often than not confused with its more notable cousin, Focaccia. Although the two bare an obvious resemblance, they differ greatly in texture. Schiacciata ditches the soft, chewy texture in place of an irresistible crispy crust, each bite so satisfying you will find yourself licking your finger in between morsels, oblivious of social niceties and table manners. Such ineffably light crunch is the result a long, slow fermentation of the dough. It is easy enough to make, but be sure to start this recipe a day ahead or even three, for that matter. The schiacciata here pictured is the offspring of a batch of dough that had been resting in the fridge for that long, the baked product turning out wondrously crunchy and savoury.

INGREDIENTS. serves 4

3 1/2 cups  00 type flour (or plain)

1/2 cup  wholemeal flour

1 teaspoon of dry yeast

1-1/4 cup  lukewarm water

1/2 teaspoon of sugar

2 teaspoons of salt flakes+ more for sprinkling on top

Extra-virgin olive oil, to grease the bowl and to drizzle on top.

Rosemary sprigs

Cheese, figs, salami to serve

HOW TO

1. Dissolve yeast and sugar in water. Stand for 5 minutes or until frothy.

2. Place flour in a large mixing  bowl, add the yeasted water and mix for 1-2 minutes, then tip the dough onto a floured surface, add the salt and knead vigorously for 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Shape it into a ball. A standing mixer fitted with a dough hook will make short work of this. As all flours tend to differ slightly, you may have to add a little more water of a little more flour in order to have the perfect dough. You want a soft, pliable dough, but not too sticky.

3. Rest the dough in an oiled bowl, covered with a tea-towel for 30 minutes, then lift it out, place it back onto a floured surface, stretch it with your hands and fold it into three and then back into a ball. Put the dough back in the bowl to rest for another 30 minutes, then stretch and fold again. As tedious as this process sounds, this is paramount for obtaining a light, crispy and easy to digest base.

4. After the second stretch-and-fold, place the dough in a large oiled container fitted with  lid (like a Tupperware one). Place in the fridge (with the lid on) and slow-prove for a minimum of 6 hours, up to 4 days.

5. When you are ready to make you pizza, take the dough out of the fridge and place it in an oiled bowl and cover it with a tea-towel. Rest at room temperature for 30-45 minutes.

6. Preheat you oven to 200 C (395 F). If using a pizza stone, put in the oven now to heat up. Roll the dough onto a a sheet of baking paper to 1/2 cm  (0,2 inches) thick. Drizzle with EVOO, salt flakes and rosemary and slide onto the hot pizza stone or onto a baking tray. If using a pizza stone, slide off the baking paper after 15 minutes to allow the bottom of the crust to go crispy. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and crunchy. Serve hot, warm or cold with your favorite antipasto snacks.

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No-knead Bread (baked in a pot)

“What?? Is she going mad?” You are probably wondering. No, I haven’t lost my mind, my friends. In my recent bread-making frenzy, I have come across an ancient,wondrous recipe that will turn each one of you into an Artisan Baker. In Italy this bread used to go by the name of Pane Cafone, Boorish bread, but it was only in 2006 , when Jim Lahey shared his formula for this miraculous breadmaking technique, that something like 8  million food bloggers world wide have gone mad about it and have baked  it , and blogged about it incessantly. Honestly, this is so easy that I had my 4 year-old Raffi mix a loaf a few days ago. The end product looked like this:

Now that I have your attention…

The principle behind this recipe is that if you mix your ingredients just so they are amalgamated and you let the mixture prove for a very, and I mean very, long time, it will turn into a bubbly, light-as-a feather dough. Because you won’t knock the air out by kneading, those same bubbles will stay trapped in the dough resulting in a crusty loaf with a moist, soft and airy crumb. Genius, if you ask me. Because of the long proving required, I would suggest you make the mixture at night before you go to bed and bake the next day. I have adapted Jim Lahey’s recipe to suit my oven and my personal taste, and I proudly confess I have not bought a single loaf of bread for over a year now.

Ingredients (if using dry yeast)

450 g (3-3/4 cups) All purpose flour
350 ml (1 -1/4 cups) filtered water, at room temperature
1/2 scant teaspoon dry yeast
2 teaspoons  of salt

If using your own sourdough starter home-made-sourdough

400 gr (3 1/4 cups) All purpose flour
280 ml (3/4 cups) filtered water at room temperature
200 gr (7 oz)starter
2 teaspoons of salt

Semolina for dusting

How to 
1. Mix flour, water and yeast together with a wooden spoon until combined.

2. Add salt and mix again. Your mixture will look and feel quite sticky. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and let it prove for 10/14 hours, or until it grown three times bigger and looks bubbly.

3. Dust your cooking bench  and your hands with flour and try to shape the sticky mix into a ball. Let it rest for 1 1/2 hours, wrapped in a kitchen towel generously dusted with semolina flour.

4. Turn the oven to 220C (430 F).

5. Put in a cast iron pot or a dutch oven, without the lid, to heat up  for about 40 minutes

6. Gently tip the risen dough in the  pre-heated pot, cover with the lid and bake for 25 minutes. Please, use oven mitts!

7. Take the lid off and bake for another 10/15 minutes or until it looks crusty and browned. Take the pot out of the oven and let the bread come to room temperature before you slice it.

ECCO!

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Home-made Sourdough (Pane di Casa)

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Before you venture into the exciting world of sourdough baking, let me give you a word of warning: this method is not meant to be approached if you need instant gratification. Sourdough-making is a labour of love and it requires dedication, constance and patience. The mature and robust flavour of sourdough can only be obtained by proving the dough for a a very long time, and by that I mean something around 12 to 18 hours. And this is only after you have manage to create a living wild yeast…Why would anybody even attempt to make it at home then? The answer is that sourdough making is an addictive pleasure, one you may never get rid of…  These days I am committed to travel 40 km to source the finest ground milled baker’s flour, I plan my outings according to my starter’s feeding schedule and I have managed to initiate several friends to this ancient ritual, so that, in the event of a cataclysm and my starter cases to live, its offering still lives in someone else’s kitchen.. You do believe me now when I said I was addicted!

First off, let’s talk about the yeast, which is the rising agent of your bread. Making your own is relatively easy, but it requires daily care and attention. The principle is that if you mix flour and water in a bowl, the bacteria in the air and in the flour will react together creating a living organism that will then be fed by those same bacteria to become strong and lively. Like all living things yeast requires regular feeds and care in order to grow healthy and vigorous. You can create a sourdough starter, which is Italian is called Pasta Madre (mother dough) in about 10 days and , if kept well, it can last forever. And I mean forever. I know of some bakeries in Italy that have been using the same Pasta Madre for centuries. Talk about legacy! Once you succeed in creating the wild yeast, you have to sustain it to help it stay alive and strong. The flavour of your bread will be determined by the strength and fermentation of your starter. The older and the stronger your starter, the better tasting you bread will be. There are many methods you can try to follow in order to create you Pasta Madre. I have read countless books and spoken to many bread-making folks and I have had many more failures than I wish to recall. This is because each yeast will be slightly different from the next, therefore you have to take all tips and advise with a grain of salt and learn to trust your instinct. The method below is relatively quick and easy and it is tried and tested by me, and produces a lovely, crusty bread. I noticed that the more mature it gets, the better loaf it produces. I am looking forward to tasting my bread in the years to come, if I don’t kill my starter, that is!

HOW TO MAKE YOUR PASTA MADRE or STARTER or SOURDOUGH YEAST (they are all the same thing…)

 Day 1
In a large plastic bowl mix together 120 gr (1 cup) plain or baker’s flour with 95 ml (1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons) of filtered water at room temperature and 1 teaspoon of honey or barley malt. The sugars will kick-start the fermentation process. Cover with a lid and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 2

You will notice your dough will have risen slightly and may have already formed small bubbles. Get rid of half of the dough and add 50 gr of flour  (1/2 cup) and 40 ml (1/4 cup) of filtered water.
Repeat for 8 days. Every day you will notice the starter will grow bigger and develop more bubbles. It will smell a little like a cross between lemon juice and alcohol.

Day 10 – it’s alive!

This is the day your yeast will officially be born and may be used to mix your first loaf. You need to ‘refresh’ it and give it strength and vigor for your bread to rise. In simple terms, you need to feed it.

First feed

As soon as you wake up in the morning, discard 100 g of the ferment then add 2/3 cup (100 g) plain flour and 90 ml water. Cover with a lid and rest for 3 hours.

Second feed

Feed your ferment 2/3 cup (100 g) plain flour and 90 ml water. Cover with a lid and rest for 3 hours.

Last feed

Feed your ferment 2/3 cup (100 g) plain  flour and 90 ml water. Cover with a lid and rest for 3 hours.

After it has rested, your yeast will look healthy, airy and full of bubbles (in colder climate this may take longer than 3 hours). It will have a slightly sour, yet pleasant smell. Congratulations! You have succeeded in making a living wild yeast. You can now use it to mix your first loaf.

How to maintain your lievito madre

The wild yeast you have created will happily live in your fridge, stored in an airtight plastic container. You will have to feed it at least once a week to keep it healthy and alive. If you don’t have time to mix a loaf, but only need to give your starter some dinner, rest it at room temperature for 30 minutes, then discard one third. Add 1/3 cup (50 g)/4 tablespoons plain flour and 40 ml (or 2 tablespoons) of filtered water (at room temperature) for every 100 g of yeast you have left (aim to always have at least 100 g yeast in your container). Mix with a wooden spoon or a chopstick, cover the container with its lid and stick it back in the fridge until next time. A well-kept yeast will live a long, prolific life. Some Italian bakeries are known to be using centuries-old lievito madre. As a rule of thumb, the older your yeast, the more flavoursome your bread will be. No wonder sourdough bread is so good!

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SOURDOUGH LOAF RECIPE (Pane di casa):

240 gr (1 cup) starter
500 gr (4 cups) organic flour
300 ml (1 cup 1/4) filtered water
6 gr (2 teaspoons) of salt
A teaspoon of honey or barley malt (optional)

1. Mix flour and water in a large ceramic or plastic bowl with a wooden spoon, and let it rest for about 1 hour. This process is called Autolayse and it allows for flavour and texture to develop. It is not a mandatory step, but I recommend it.

2. Add your starter and knead for about 5 minutes, then add salt and honey , if using any. Knead well for about 10 minutes, until your dough is smooth and silky.

Shape it into a ball and let it rest, covered, for 20 minutes, then stretch it gently with your hands to form a rectangle and fold into three. This process will give your dough strength and texture.

3. Cover with oiled cling wrap and let it prove in a warm place for 3 to 4 hours.
Kead again, gently, for a minute ,  fold into three and shape into a ball and then place it a proving basket or a colander lined with a tea towel and dusted with semolina. Rest it the fridge covered, with a moist cloth, to slowly prove for 12 hours. I normally put it in the fridge at night before dinner and forget about until the next day. You can leave it to slow prove in the fridge for a few days, if you wish so. This process is called Retardation and it will develop the fermented flavour of the crumb and the characteristic crunchiness of the crust.

4. The next morning, leave your dough at room temperature for at least 2 hours. It should grow in size by 1/3 third.

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5. Preheat you oven to 200C (390 F). Place a small metal bowl in the oven to heat up. Gently, turn the bread onto an oven tray lined with baking paper, sprinkle it with a little water and score it in a X pattern. Immediately insert the tray into the even, pour a cup of cold water into the metal bowl to create steam and close the oven door. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until crusty and bronzed, the bottom sounds hollow when tapped and the fragrance of freshly baked bread is intoxicating. Rest at room temperature for at least 1 hour before slicing.

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