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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My favourite Baguettes (French bread stick)

Baguettes are, quite possibly, the western world’s most-loved bread. The reason being that this starchy good, with its morish texture and savoury crumb is simply and utterly divine…It’s the ideal accompaniment to any cheese and cold cut of meat, it’s best friend with terrines and  pâtés and it doesn’t fail to impress when married with jams or chocolate spreads. It’s practically perfect in every way…Apart from the fact that, unless you are in France or you own an industrial strength oven and proving cell, it is very difficult to re-create at home. Lucky for you, I am a bread-obsessed woman, and I have spent the last few weeks attempting to adjust various baguette recipes to suit my very normal oven and kitchen appliances. I have had many disappointments, and then eventually, last Sunday..Eureka! I cracked it. I cannot wait to share this with you, bread-lovers worldwide. For those of you as obsessed (read “insane”) as I am, I have worked out a recipe that uses natural sourdough yeast. But I have not forgotten the rest of you, probably a much saner percentage of readers, who will never go through the trouble of cultivating natural yeast for weeks and would rather use the readily available dried one. It’s good news all round: the bread will turn out incredibly good, no matter which  rising agent you decide to use.

Where’s the catch?… You have to be patient and let the dough prove for, at least 8 hours. Mix it at night before you go to bed, forget about it, than shape your sticks in the morning, prove them for another couple of hours, and for your Sunday lunch you will have your much deserved reward.

Ingredients

220 gr (1 cup) of sourdough starter or 1/2 teaspoon of dry yeast

410 gr (3 1/2 cups) flour (baker’s or 00)

210 ml (3/4 cup) of filtered water, at room temperature

1 teaspoon of diastatic malt powder (or barley malt syrup, or honey)

2 teaspoons of salt

1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil

semolina flour for dusting

How to

1. In a large non-metallic bowl, mix the sourdough starter or the dried yeast with flour, a teaspoon of diastatic malt (or barley malt syrup -or honey-) and water.

2.When the starter/yeast is well incorporated add  salt and  oil.

3. Mix it with a wooden spoon just so the ingredients are amalgamated. The dough shouldn’t be too smooth, nor elastic. In fact, it should feel a little rough and slightly damp.

4. Cover the bowl with a lid or with cling wrap. Prove at room temperature for 8 to 14 hours. You will observe that in very warm climate, and if using dried yeast, the dough will bulk prove quicker than in colder climate.

5. When the dough has tripled in size and looks bubbly, gently tip it onto a floured surface. It will feel quite sticky. Do not panic! Grab a small handful of flour and delicately work the dough to turn it a bit more pliable, being mindful never to actually knead it. It is important not to over work the gluten in the flour otherwise your bread will turn out too dense. Also, you don’t want to knock  out  those precious air bubbles as they hold the secret to a light-as-a-feather crumb and crunchy crust. Gently flatten the dough with the palm of your hand then roll it onto itself, lenghtways,  and form a long sausage shape, seam side down and slightly narrower at the extremities. At this stage, you can sprinkle them poppy or sesame seeds, if that takes your fancy.

6. Prove for two hours at room temperature, on a tea towel dusted with semolina flour, and well covered. Then, carefully tip the logs into a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Rest for another 20 minutes and bring your oven to  200 Celsius (390 Farenheit). Place a metal bowl in the oven to heat up.

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7. Score the sticks with a sharp knife quickly, yet gently, place the tray into the oven and pour a cup of cold water onto the metal bowl, to create steam. Close the oven door immediately after. The steam will favour the creation of a moist crumb and a crackly, bronzed crust.

Bake for 25/30 minutes or until the top looks crusty and golden and the bottom looks sunburnt and slightly rusty in colour.

Your home will smell like like a French bakery…

Bon Jour!

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No-knead Bread

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“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 Artisanal 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:

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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.

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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’s 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 220 C (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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