Monday, February 27, 2012

Spaccatini - Little Cleft Rolls

These little rolls from The Italian Baker by Carol Fields are probably my new favourite roll. At first I was wondering why these rolls from Lugano which is actually in Switzerland were featured in The Italian Baker, but upon further investigation I learned that this scenic and picturesque town on Lake Lugano on the Italian border also known as the "Monte Carlo of Switzerland" is the largest Italian speaking city outside of Italy. So having these fabulous rolls in the Italian Baker makes perfect sense.

I was attracted to the recipe for how easy it was to make. The night before I prepare a biga; a little flour, water and yeast mixed together and allowed to sit in a cool room overnight where it triples in volume.

In the morning I add this biga to more flour, yeast, water and salt and knead it to a smooth dough and set it in a greased bowl to rise.

In about a hour and a half the dough has come up to the top of the bowl and is ready for shaping. By the way may I mention here that this is one of the most velvety doughs I have ever worked with, to say that it feels like a baby's behind wouldn't be far off.

The recipe makes 16 rolls; I divided the dough into quarters then each quarter was divided into 4 pieces each weighing 55 grams.

The most time consuming part of making these little rolls is depressing a small dowel into each one to form a cleft. Now I suppose if you wanted to elimate this step, say because you were in a hurry, and just let the rolls rise and score with a knife no one would be the wiser. However if you did this just call them something else. I looked up the word spaccatini and found nothing, but the word "spaccare" is the verb for "to break or to split" so I am guessing that the little split in these rolls is where they got their name.

These are then placed top side down on a floured surface, covered with a towel or in my case plastic wrap and allowed to rise for about an hour or until they are doubled. I forgot to take a picture of the rolls on the parchment upside down and also of the rolls turned back cleft side up where I reemphasized the cleft by scoring the crease with a sharp knife.

They are baked in a 425 degree oven for about twenty minutes and when they are done you are rewarded with these crusty rolls with a lovely slightly chewy crumb. So whether you are Swiss or Italian I can't imagine that you would turn these down.


Spaccatini – Little Cleft Rolls


Makes 2-1/3 cups (about 585 grams)
¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
¾ cup warm water
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon water, room temperature
2-1/2 cups (about 350grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
Stir the yeast into the warm water and let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining water and then the flour, 1 cup at a time.
Mix with a wooden spoon for 3 to 4 minutes or mix with the paddle attachment of the mixer at low speed for 2 minutes.
Remove to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at a cool room temperature for 6 to 24 hours. The starter will triple in volume and still be wet and sticky when ready. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. When needed scoop out desired amount.


¾ teaspoon active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
2 cups (500 grams) Biga
About 2 cups (250 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (5 grams) salt
Stir the yeast into the water in a mixer bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Add the starter and mix with the paddle until the starter is broken up. Add the flour and salt and mix until the dough comes together. Change to the dough hook and knead at low speed 2 minutes, then at medium speed 1 minute. If you want, finish kneading briefly by hand on a floured surface; you will probably need 1 to 2 tablespoons additional flour.
First Rise. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
Shaping and Second Rise. Cut the dough into 16 pieces, each about the size of a lemon. Shape each piece into a ball on a floured surface; then, with the edge of your hand, a dowel, or the floured handle of a wooden spoon make a deep indentation down the center of each ball. Place the rolls cleft side down, on a well-floured surface. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Baking. Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Just before baking, turn each roll over and reemphasize the cleft. Place the rolls, cleft side up, on lightly oiled or parachment-lined baking sheet. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, spraying 3 times with water in the first 10 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Banana Nut Bread

It had been such a long time since I'd made this banana bread, but finally I had enough bananas at their peak to whip one up. You see, I don't usually buy a whole lot of bananas but when I do I buy enough to hopefully have some left over to make this quick bread. But then one of two things can happen that changes my plans: for one, all the bananas are eaten or two, I don't have time to bake and the bananas go from being too ripe to eat to overly ripe and ready for the garbage bin. But this time the timing was right - I had three fragrant bananas that I could smell from another room and perfect for putting into this bread.

I have had this recipe for such a long time that I don't remember where it came from but it is easy and a very good one and I wanted to share it.

I begin by toasting some walnuts in a moderate oven for about eight minutes. This prevents them from turning blue while baking in the bread.

Meanwhile I mash the bananas in a bowl with a potato masher.

In another bowl I beat the oil and sugar together and then add the eggs, and vanilla and mashed bananas and beat vigourously until the batter is well combined.

Instead of adding the walnuts at the end, I decided to add the nuts to the flour mixture to prevent over beating which would make the bread tough. It turned out that this wasn't such a good idea. You see the flour got into the small crevices in the walnuts and after it was baked and sliced you could see tiny bits of flour in the nuts. The bread was still very good but not esthetically pleasing if I were to serve it at a fancy afternoon tea party. But since I wasn't having a fancy schmancy tea it really didn't matter. However, next time instead of being clever I will just follow the recipe.

Anyway after I added the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients I poured the batter into a 9 x 5 inch bread pan and baked it for about one hour.

When it was a deep golden brown I removed it from the oven and inserted a wooden skewer into the bread to make sure it was done.

This banana bread is moist and fragrant from the bananas with a nice crunch from the walnuts. Over the years I have made many different recipes of banana bread but I always come back to this one and with good reason.

Banana Nut Bread

½ cup cooking oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3 ripe bananas, mashed
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
3 tbsp. milk
½ tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup chopped toasted walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Beat oil and sugar together, Add eggs and banana pulp and beat well. Add sifted dry ingredients, milk, and vanilla. Mix well and stir in nuts. Pour into greased and floured loaf pan (9” x 5” x3”). Bake for 1 hour. Cool on a wire rack and store overnight before cutting.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pane di Fichi - Fig Bread

I am sure I have mentioned before my weakness for fruited breads. Whether it is raisin, cranberry, blueberry, currant or you name it, it is sure to make me salivate. And if I am in a bakery and I spy a loaf of crusty raisin bread then you can bet it will find its way into my shopping cart, even if I know that I have a couple of homemade loaves in the freezer. I don't care that I can feel my hips expanding with every bite, (well maybe a little) the sheer pleasure each sweet morsel brings outweighs the cons. And not only that, once in a while for a special indulgent treat I top a slice or two with soft, melt in your mouth blue cheese like cambazoola. This delightful fig bread by Carol Fields is no exception.

In her book The Italian Baker she describes this bread as "succulent and delicious as well as easy to make" and it is. This bread probably dates back to the middle ages when the Sunday bread was enriched with honey, fruit and nuts. Fortunately we don't have to have this bread on Sundays only. Paired with some soft cheese it really is a treat to eat. The only problem is limiting how many slices to allow yourself.

The recipe produces one round loaf but I divide the dough into three smaller portions. That way I can freeze a couple of loaves and enjoy them on a later date.

I highly recommend this deliciously sweet bread and whether you have it for lunch or for breakfast, you can't go wrong.

Pane di Fichi - Fig Bread

2-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast or 1 small cake (18 grams) fresh yeast
1 cup warm water
1½ tablespoons olive oil
About 3 cups (375)grams unbleached all-purpose flour, plus 2 tablespoons for the figs
1 teaspoon (5 grams) salt
1 cup (200 grams) figs, preferably Calimyrna or Greek string figs, cut into about 12 pieces each

Stir the yeast into the water in a mixer bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the oil with the paddle and then 3 cups flour and the salt. Mix until the dough comes together. Change to the dough hook and knead until velvety and moist, 3 to 4 minutes.

First Rise. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Filling. Toss the figs in 2 tablespoons flour to coat the surfaces. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Without punching it down, pat the dough into an oval and spread half the figs evenly over the surface; roll up the dough. Pat the dough into an oval again and sprinkle evenly with the remaining figs; roll it up again. Shape into a round loaf, being gentle but, at the same time, pulling the skin taut over the figs. Place the loaf, rough side down, on a lightly floured peel or oiled baking sheet, cover with a towel, and let rise until doubled, 1-¼ to 1-½ hours.

Baking. Thirty minutes before baking, heat the oven with a baking stone in it to 450°F. Sprinkle the stone with cornmeal just before sliding the loaf onto it. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375°F. and bake 15 minutes longer. Cool completely on a rack.