I have researched and tried many authentic Italian bread recipes in the past five years or so. Many were edible, even pretty tasty, but the texture I was looking for seemed impossible to make.
If I am going to eat bread, it needs to have a thick, crunchy crust with a soft tender interior. The kind of bread I can make the most delicious toast with for a morning zuppa of espresso, hot milk and sugar with hunks of this deeply toasted bread floating and soaking up my espresso and milk.
I want the bread to be used when stale for recipes like pappa al pomodoro and insalata di panzanella. Lastly, I want to put those remaining stale pieces of bread in my food processor to make homemade breadcrumbs, the best kind really.
I recently found an article in one of my Italian magazines for a rustic peasant bread called Pane d’ Altamura. This classic regional bread is prized for its quality, texture and taste found in Puglia near the mountains of Murgia.
This bread’s history is long, a recipe that was made in all of pugliese society and brought to local bakers to bake in communal wood ovens.
The famous poet, Horace would visit this region and steal away loaves of this bread for his personal enjoyment, so in love with the flavor was he. I must visit this lovely small village of Altamura soon to explore the home and creators of this wonderful pane.
The original process has five stages: using durum wheat semolina flour, the dough was made and then came formation and proofing (rising). The traditional shaping of the loaves was next and finally the baking in a very hot wood oven shared by the community.
This recipe I found is a simple version of this classic rustic bread and from the first time I made it, it was perfection.
I used an organic unbleached flour and have also made a version where I mixed this same flour with spelt flour (a darker, nutty flavored flour) that we loved.
I use the same yeast I purchased for making my panettone, this yeast works beautifully every time and it makes me feel like a true baker in my cucina.
I hope you try this bread recipe soon. I wish you all the same delicious success I have enjoyed since finding this classic recipe from Altamura.
Note: Recipe yields one medium size loaf (you can double the recipe and freeze some if desired)
pane d’ altamura (rustic italian bread)
approx. 3 1/2 to 4 cups unbleached organic flour
(you can alternate flour and add in spelt or whole wheat; test it for yourself and be aware of texture changes)
1 1/3 tbsp. SAF Gold dry yeast
1 1/2 cup warm water
1 handful of sea salt (about 1 to 1 1/2 tbsp.)
Using a large wooden or stone cutting board, form all the flour into a volcano like shape in the center. Make a space or “well” in the center of the flour.
Add the yeast and warm water in the center and mix with a fork until yeast begins to foam a bit. Start forming the dough by mixing the flour with the liquid with your hands or a fork; mix in the salt during this process and continue mixing for about 15 to 20 minutes until a soft dough forms.
Lightly add flour as needed and form the dough into a soft round. Lightly oil a large deep bowl and place the dough in and cover with a clean tea towel and set aside to proof (rise) for at least three hours.
Once the dough has risen remove from the bowl and on the board, dust lightly with flour and knead the dough for about 5 minutes or so until soft and smooth. Let this rest for 10 minutes, covered.
At the finish of the second proof (rise), make a rectangular form of the dough and make it round by rolling it onto itself with the edge on the side of the form.
Place on a well greased large baking sheet; using a serrated knife cut slits or the custom cross shape from end to end then dust the top liberally with flour and set aside to rest for a minute or two; covered.
Place the rested dough into a pre-heated 480 degree oven on the center rack and bake for approximately 40 minutes.
Do not open the door as the heat needs to remain consistent and the aroma will draw you back often, but don’t be tempted.
Remove the bread from the oven and set aside to cool before cutting and serving.
This is wonderful for morning breakfast (colazione) with butter, honey or marmalade.
Note: Photography provided by Annette L. Venditti