The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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These are such fun I can’t believe I never made them before! I substituted about 15% milled and sifted hard white wheat for part of the bread flour and increased the hydration accordingly. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! 



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First a shout out to JustJoel whose post lit a fire under me to get this post finished!


A few years I visited Puglia (Apulia) in Southern Italy, where I was introduced to grano arso.  Translated as "burnt wheat," it is the flour made from the few grain kernels remaining after the farmers burned the stalks in the fields but before they were plowed under to prepare for a new planting. The poor workers would collect these grains and use them to supplement their already meager subsistence by incorporating them into pasta and bread products. I was able to find and bring home a small amount of grano arso semola which was made from durum wheat. I used it in making some very good pasta, but did not have enough for bread. I tried to reproduce the flavor by roasting some extra fancy durum flour in a smoker for several hours. It worked, kinda sorta.

Fast forward to couple of weeks ago when I saw this article that rekindled my interest. The difference between now and a few years ago is that I have acquired a grain mill in the interim, so now I could roast whole berries and then mill them, which makes the process much more like the original.  I experimented with a couple of bread bakes using Italian emmer wheat (farro medio), which I had on hand (and I think is more flavorful than the hard white or red varieties of wheat berries).


Preparing the burnt wheat was a fairly straightforward process. I placed the berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet into an oven heated to 375˚F for 13-18 min.  The berries darkened considerably and started to smoke after around 10 min. I called them done when they were a light chestnut color, though I believe I could have roasted them even darker for more flavor. They were milled finely in a single pass using a Mockmill. The grains lost about 11% of their starting weight after roasting, probably mostly the loss of water from within the grain.

I assumed that the roasting process would destroy the glutens, so most of the flour was white and whole wheat with the grano arso contributing only to the taste and presumably not to the structure or texture.  I blended in about 13% of the total flour weight for the first bake.  The grano arso was also quite thirsty, so I kept adding water until it "felt right" and I reached almost 100% hydration. In retrospect, this was a bit too much water and although the gluten developed quite well and the crumb was very open, the loaf was a bit flatter than I had hoped.


This is what the first loaves and crumb looked like.  The crumb was extremely creamy, as you would expect with such a high hydration. The crust was good but softened fairly quickly. The taste of the grano arso was immediately apparent, not unlike burned popcorn, but in a nice way. In the crumb shot there are black specks that I believe are from the grano arso.  The loaf was very tasty, but I think the grano arso was a little too much and the sweetness of the other grains was overpowered. But I do love the rich coffee color the grano arso brings to the loaves.


For the next attempt I reduced the hydration a bit and also reduced the grano arso to under 8% to make the flavor a bit more in the background. This worked flavor-wise: the burnt flavor was more subtle so it paired well with more foods. I kept the salt low for these first bakes, but I think the grano arso can take a fair amount of salt, maybe up to 2.5%. 


I used a lower hydration because of the reduced grano arso, but I think I went a bit too far in the opposite direction.  The gluten was well developed but the crumb structure was not quite so open. I think between the two bakes I've seen the upper and lower limits of hydration, so the next bake will be somewhere in the middle. 

The two loaves on the left of this photo are made with grano arso. The other two are basically the same formula using einkorn flour that I made in case the first ones didn't work out.


There is a huge flavor range to explore here - different grains, different roasting times, different percentages depending on what it will be served with. I look forward to the challenge.









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There are too many good breads to make! This weekend was my chance to be a copycat and try a couple of newly posted loaves plus one old standby.

The first loaf that intrigued me was Danni's Cranberry Pecan Orange Blossom Water sourdough, based on Lechem's original post. I don't usually bake with ingredients like Orange Blossom Water so it was my chance to experiment. Plus I thought the fruitiness would pair well with some strong, hard cheeses that we were sharing with friends for dinner. The results were everything I hoped for.


This time I omitted the pecans because our friends do not eat nuts, but I can see that they would be a very tasty addition. The crumb was a bit closed, but very creamy, and the sweetness of the cranberries and the fragrance of the orange blossom enhanced the cheeses. Definitely one to bake again!


The next loaf was Valentinaa's very showy Pane Incamiciato with its outer shell cut into petal-like features that curled around the loaf (and incidentally (note to self) worked very well as crackers). This was not as hard as I had imagined and the shaping went off without a hitch. The most difficult part was scoring just the outside shell, and you can see that most of my cuts hit the central loaf. It got lots of oohs and aahs, and the flavors were mild and unobtrusive. I don't have a crumb shot but it was fairly closed. Maybe the lower hydration is what helps keep the inside separate from the outside shell.



Finally, the old standby is (recently updated) David's San Joaquin Sourdough. So much as been written on TFL about this loaf, and it is one of the best, most reliable formulas out there. If you haven't tried it yet, you owe it to yourself to try.



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It is becoming a theme of mine when I travel, I like to seek out excellent breads in the new location, something shared, no doubt, with many other TFLers. It also has become something of an obsession that when I find a special loaf I try to reproduce it. Such is the case with this bread.

Let me step back just a bit. We had been planning a trip to Prague for several months. A couple of months before we left, my wife and I dined at a favorite restaurant, and in the course of the meal we learned that our server was newly arrived from (wait for it) Praha, the Czech name for Prague. Being in the food business, she gave us a list of several restaurants that she thought we might like. As I read about these restaurants before we left, I discovered that one of them was quite well known for their house-made bread. Obviously, that sealed the deal.


      A couple of views of the Charles Bridge in Prague


Eska is a very modern restaurant barely 18 months old when we went there the beginning of June. They are part of a large restaurant group, apparently with enough money to seed the place with a very large space, modern appliances (including a wood-fired oven, but I’ll get to that in a moment), and open architecture where diners can see everything that goes on in the kitchen. They served us as much bread as we wanted with our meal, and it was really tasty and moist.


      Eska's 33 bread, crust & crumb (somewhat blurry, apologies)



They were extremely friendly, especially Niki, who speaks excellent English. We talked for a long time, and she let me watch the bakers as they prepared the loaves and loaded them into the oven.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take photos of the oven, but it was an Italian-made deck oven with 3 individual 30-inch or so wide doors for loading. The wood is loaded into the back corner, and steam is injected manually with a sprayer. They are rightfully very proud of what they make there. Niki then offered to give me a sample of their starter, which I was glad to have. We arranged to go back the day before we left to minimize the time the starter would not be fed. The liquid starter survived the trip back in the checked bags (without leaking I’m happy to report). She also gave me a few details about the two different breads they make so I was able to reproduce a decent loaf without much problem. It even tasted nearly as good as the original.

      Three loaves from my second attempt with only 27% rye flour


About the bread: Eska makes only two types, 33 and 66, named for the percentage of rye flour in the formula. Niki told me that they also use 10% boiled, grated potatoes to keep the crumb moist. The liquid starter they gave me was quite liquid, I am guessing 150% hydration all rye. I don’t know if that is how they maintain the starter or if they use it at that hydration. Clearly some caraway seed was visible in the crumb, as was the potato.  And I tasted some malt as well.

      Crumb of my attempt. If you look closely you can see some yellow potato bits incorporated.


For my loaf I chose to cut back on the levain hydration to 125% and most of the rye flour is in the levain. I also kept the overall hydration of the dough fairly high at 82% since their final product was quite flat. I observed that at Eska, they proofed the loaves in large wooden boxes, possibly as large as 12” x 16”. The 66% rye loaves were baked whole while the 33% rye loaves were cut in half before baking. Here is the formula that I used:


If you ever make it to Prague, I recommend Eska without hesitation. Besides the bread, the food dishes were novel and innovative, ingredients very fresh. It is in the Karlin district so it was a short subway ride to get there, but well worth it. And who knows, you may get to take home some starter, too.



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Happy New Year fellow bakers!
It has been a little while since I have posted anything new, but it’s not for lack of baking.  I have a little list of favorites that I have written about before that I keep going back to.

But a few weeks back, Gaetano (inumeridiieri) posted a loaf that inspired me to get back to my two-year-on-again-off-again attempt to reproduce Pane di Altamura.  I have gotten some excellent results the past month to share.

In his post, Gaetano described a type of leavening that, as far as I have found, is not available in the U.S. It is called Lievisol (pictured about ¾ down the page of his post), and though I could not find a lot of information about it, it appears to be a blend of wheat flour, a malted flour and either instant or active dry yeast. I began my trials by simply adding a little barley malt and a small amount of instant yeast (IDY) to the dough mix along with my 100% extra fancy durum starter.

Initial results were very encouraging. My first bake followed his formula as closely as I could, using 1.5g IDY and 11g malted barley flour as a replacement for the Lievisol and an overall hydration of 68.5%. The levain was 100% hydration and 43% of the flour was prefermented. The loaves turned out ok, but they were quite overbaked and a bit underproofed. I repeated the bake, correcting for these things and here are some photos of the loaves.

The malt seems to have little effect other than to darken the crust, at least in my trials, so I have eliminated it.  However, the addition of the IDY seems to give exactly the boost to the dough that I had not been getting with the levain alone. The flavor was more tangy than I expected, perhaps because of the long proof times. The crumb on this loaf is nice but much more uniform than the loaves found in Italy.

I baked a few more batches, playing around with overall hydration, pre-fermented flour %-age and bake times and temperatures. I even tried to do the traditional folded shape of Pane di Altamura, but it was not a real success as the two halves of the loaf didn’t really integrate into a single loaf. Some of the results below.


I did have some shaping issues, the large groups of holes were probably due to over flouring the bench during shaping. However, the taste was improving, the uniformity of the crumb is a bit more like artisan bread and the crust is blistery and crackly.  At this point, after some 5 tweaks, I have baked this last version a few times with really good results.

This version has an overall hydration of 73% with 36% PFF. [6]

The main things that I have learned so far:
-Durum needs a long proofing time to develop flavors.
-Temperatures in excess of around 72˚F tend to make the dough sticky and unmanageable for me.
-Using a couche for final proof helps a lot. And don’t try to proof dough directly on parchment.

For the purists out there (and I consider myself among that group), bakers yeast is not traditionally added to Pane di Altamura. So my next batch of trials will be an attempt to eliminate it.  I have also not mastered the folded over shape, and I still consider it a challenge for the new year. However, the results so far, thick,brittle and nicely honeyed crust, open crumb and good flavor suggest this is the right direction.


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Even after nearly 7 years of making sourdough breads, I can still be surprised.

One of the frustrating aspects to me about bread making is the difficulty in achieving consistency from bake to bake. Of course, for most of my career I was a process engineer in the semiconductor industry, where repeatibility in process is essential, a fairly high bar.  Breadmaking is more of an art for me, in part because we are working with biological systems where the chemistry behind the process is much more complicated, and in part because we just can’t control the entire process in our homes.

I baked some of my “standard” sourdough the other day. When I say standard, it is really a riff on something I have made before, but with a twist (yes, I know changing things doesn’t help the consistency thing, but…). David’s (dmsnyder) San Joaquin Sourdough is just a fantastic bread as it is. I use it as a baseline to experiment with alternate flours. I often substitute spelt for about 20% of the total flour, but I had some khorasan wheat (Kamut®) that I needed to use up for this bake instead.

I made a 3kg batch of dough, and divided it into 2x900g and 2x600g. The larger loaves were put into lined oblong baskets while the smaller loaves were placed into floured round brotforms.  All were put into separate plastic bags and retarded overnight in the refrigerator and baked the next morning.

All the loaves had nice oven spring and looked pretty much like my other bakes. Now, here’s the surprise: The large loaves had huge blisters, and an overall shine to the crust, while the smaller loaves did not. OK, maybe the lack of shine on the small loaves was masked by the flour coating the brotforms, but why the lack of large blisters?

It was such an unusual and unexpected result, I had to see if I could repeat it.  I even used exactly the same formula, and the result was indeed the same.  Why? It seems to do with the linen liner that may wick away moisture from the top surface. This is consistent with you bakers out there that use a couche for proofing. But doesn't the flour also wick moisture away? If anyone has an explanation, I'd love to hear it.

Just for completeness, here are some crumb shots.


And a shot from the second bake.

The breads tasted fantastic.  The khorasan wheat adds a very distinct nutty and rich flavor to the breads. Regardless of the baskets used, the crust was crispy and chewy and the crumb was moist and quite fragrant. No doubt I'll be using the khorasan flour more frequently.


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The last few weeks have seen a flurry of Pane di Altamura posts.  For me, it started with Michael’s (mwilson) post on the behavior of Durum flour, the semola rimacinata di grano duro used by the bakers in that famous region.  Abe (ABakEr) posted a very nice loaf with an open crumb using a pretty inventive technique. David (dmsnyder) followed up with his version that also showed off a beautiful crumb.  I first posted about my attempts about a year and a half ago after returning from my visit (pilgrimage?) to Altamura and being wowed by the bread.  I tapered off my trials after some medium successes: while the breads tasted great I was stymied in my attempts to shape it in the traditional u sckuanète folded shape.

I have been baking a lot since then, practicing and honing my skills, so it was time to try my hand at the Pane Tipo di Altamura (as David rightly calls it) again.  Lots of reading and rereading, watching and rewatching videos, and learning from others, I decided on a 65% overall hydration dough using a 100% hydration durum starter (biga naturale) that was 16.7% bakers percent of the flour, minimal proofing but assuring that there was sufficient fermentation.  The starter was refreshed 3 times at roughly 12-hour intervals.  The bake was done without steam, leaving the oven door very slightly cracked open as is done in Altamura, to try to get the 3 mm thick crust that is written into the DOP regulations.  Here is the formula and method.

I’m pretty pleased with the result, at least the outward appearance.  The shape of the loaf is as close as I’ve ever gotten to the traditional shape, although there is room for improvement. The crust darkened too fast, so I think the temperature was too hot in the beginning, so I will reduce it and bake longer next time.


[Update 4/4/16] I cut into the loaf this morning, and the crumb is a bit disappointing.  It is too dense and tight.  I also had some shaping issues that left a couple of caverns in the loaf, though I think this can be corrected with a minor adjustment.  I think my main mistake was being a bit too aggressive on the bulk ferment because of not wanting to allow the structure to degrade by proteases if overfermented. 

I am already preparing for another bake later this week, and this time I'll incorporate some ideas from both Abe and David: I like Abe's idea of letting the dough rest after final shaping, even if just a few minutes, before peeling into the oven.  I also like David's thinking that using a higher hydration for increased extensibility would be helpful.

The taste was decent, but not quite as nutty or flavorful as expected, which, I think, argues that the bulk fermentation was insufficient.

Onward and upward.


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About a month ago I wrote about my attempts to reproduce a Pane di Altamura that I tasted on a visit to Italy.  For the past few weeks I have been working on the formula and on my technique, and I’m happy to post my most recent results, which are much closer to the original look I was after.  I researched the techniques a bit more and found some information I had missed the first time around.  The key one was that I had not achieved sufficient gluten development.  A post on TFL (with much thanks to nicodvb) described a 30+ minute knead to fully develop the dough, which was contrary to much of what I had read about gentle kneading requirements of durum.  I had been doing S&Fs every 30 minutes previously and although the strength felt right, it was apparently insufficient.  A couple of other important changes came from the D.O.P. document which said that the preferment should be 20% PFF (I was using 17.5% based on other recipes), and mixing the dough with cold (~55-60˚F) water.  (While I perform these experiments I am keeping a 100% durum starter as well as my normal wheat starter.)

My two last bakes shown in the photos below differed primarily in the overall hydration.  Most of the formulas available indicate hydration around 65% for Pane di Altamura, which I stuck with at first.  The dough was easy to work with, but it was quite stiff, and the resulting crumb was very closed and tight.  The aroma was lovely and taste was mild and somewhat sweet.  The sourdough flavors were mostly undetectable.  My shaping technique is still not perfect, although it is improving. The finished loaf is pictured at the top of the post and the crumb is shown here.

On the most recent bake I increased the hydration to 72%, more like the minimum I would use for a wheat-based sourdough.  Keeping with 20% preferment, I split the batch into 2 loaves and shaped them into boules.  One loaf was proofed for 2½ hours and baked as a boule.  The second was retarded overnight, then shaped in the traditional folded loaf and baked the next morning.  No steam was used during the bake and the oven was propped slightly open during the first 15 minutes of bake.

     Active starter after 12 hour fermentation


     Boule and crumb with 72% hydration dough.

     Folded loaf and crumb


I plan to work with this general formula a bit more, making adjustments as the mood strikes:

17% prefermented flour using 110% hydration durum levain. This was based on a misreading of the regulations that the levain is 20% of the overall dough; it should actually be 20% prefermented flour. The levain was fermented for 12 hours at 75˚F with the ratio of seed:water:flour of 1:3.5:3
72% overall hydration (the calculation includes the levain)
100% patent durum extra fancy flour (fine grind, or Italian rimacinata)
1.9% salt
Final dough weight ~1300 grams (this large because it makes it easier for me to accomplish all the folding needed to shape the loaves) kneaded for at least 20 minutes, plus 4x S&F for the first 2 hours.
Bulk ferment 3 hrs @ RT, final proof 2½ hrs or retarded overnight.
Baked in a falling oven for 1 hour, starting at 460˚F and finishing at 400˚F, dropping the temperature in 2 steps, without steam.

They both had chewy crusts and the crumb less so, but had a bit of resistance.  The folded loaf had noticeably more flavor and a more pronounced but not overpowering sour tang and came out really tasty. Another major difference was that the crumb of the boule that was scored was drier than the boule shaped in the folded loaf form, which was quite moist.  They were baked with roughly the same temperatures and times but clearly the scores allowed more water to evaporate.  They both had thick crusts reminiscent of the authentic loaf.  I plan to extend the baking time and lower the temperature more quickly for the next folded loaf to dry it out a bit more.


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Hamelman's 5-grain Levain is one of our favorite breads.  My wife and I always have some on hand in the freezer (it freezes quite well), ready to toast a slice for breakfast or for a sandwich.  It also lends itself to all kinds of variations since it is easy to modify the ingredients and relative amounts of the soaker.  I have used cracked rye (as called for in the original recipe) and have also had success with bulghur wheat.  This time, inspired by this post earlier this year, I tried it with freekeh, something I just recently discovered.  Freekeh is green durum wheat that is lightly smoked, so I was hoping to impart that smokey flavor to the bread.  Another variation this time was when making the levain, I doubled the amount of the seed starter, shortening the fermentation time to reduce the acid formation and yield an overall sweeter bread.  The two loaves were retarded in the refrigerator overnight and baked after resting at room temperature for an hour or so.

The bread is really delicious, although the smokiness is not as pronounced as I had hoped.  The sweetness nicely complements the dark caramel of the crust.  I will make this again and probably increase the amount of freekeh in the soaker for a more smokey character.



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It began innocently enough, as these things often do.  Ever since I started baking in earnest several years ago I have been intrigued with Pane di Altamura.  Not that I knew exactly what it was, mind you, but the name appeared in many breads that had the golden glow of rich butter in the crumb from the durum wheat.  I was able to buy loaves from several local bakers, most notably Acme Bread, to sample.  These are good breads!  I started experimenting with various formulae and making my own.  Il Fornaio, Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Amy’s Breads, Dan Leader’s Local Bread, Maggie Glezer’s Artisan Bread all had versions and I made and enjoyed each of them. I even shared them with friends, who all left with smiles after eating them. Some of them may have been smiling after drinking that 20 year old Barolo, but they liked the bread, too.  

My wife and I spent the last two weeks of October in Southern Italy.  Needless to say, we had to make the pilgrimage to the town of Altamura - after all, it was only 15 minutes away from where we stayed in Matera, a city continuously occupied since prehistoric times that’s worthy of a post of its own.

Before we left on the trip I learned about twice milling the durum flour to achieve a flour texture suitable for making breads.  Semolina, the coarser grind of durum wheat has sharp edges that tended to cut the gluten network and therefore reduce the ultimate height of the loaf.  The double milling is supposed to reduce these spikes.  In the U.S. it’s called Extra Fancy or Extra Fine Durum, and in Italy it’s called Rimacinata (re-milled). I've used the Extra Fancy Durum before but I never knew exactly what it meant.

Pane di Altamura is, I believe, the only bread that has a Denominazione d'Origine Protetta, or D.O.P., an E.U. designation that specifies a product and protects the name from being co-opted and used to promote an inferior product. We bought a loaf from a local Paneficio in the city center, and another loaf from a D.O.P. certified bakery on the way out of town. This last loaf was a complete eye (and mouth) opener!  It was nothing like any bread I had ever tasted. The loaf had a honey-colored crispy crust that begged to be torn into.  The crumb was very yellow, slightly moist and chewy and, at the same time, fluffy and very aerated.  There was an ever-so-slight sourness with a rich, a little nutty, earthy flavor.   The DOP regulations say (among other things) that the crust must be at least 3 mm thick.

If you are interested in the regs you can download them here (the link doesn’t always work - not sure why)

When we returned home I set out to reproduce the bread as best I could.  The quest started by my dragging home a 5 kg bag of the local flour, Semola Rimacinata Grano Duro, in my checked luggage. 

Although it wasn’t that expensive there (€8 or roughly $10.50 at the time, less than $8.50 at this weeks exchange rate) for 11 pounds of flour, my supply was obviously very limited, so I wanted to practice on something more available in case the imported version was truly different.  I had some Extra Fancy Durum flour from Central Milling (in California) that seemed to be as fine as the Italian version so I decided to use this to develop a bread formula before trying my import.  

But where to start?  At first I was unsuccessful tracking down any authentic Italian recipes (more about this later), so I took parts from Il Fornaio’s Altamura and Amy’s Breads Golden Italian Semolina for a couple of bakes.  These loaves were not worth spending much time on - flat, dense, nearly tasteless, certainly nowhere near the loaf in my minds eye.

On my third attempt working with the Extra Fancy Durum I opted for Leader’s version, which is 72% hydration and 18% pre-fermented flour from an 81%H all durum starter. I several some changes to the formula mostly because the flour seemed unusually thirsty, and ended up with about 77%H dough made with an 86%H starter.  Instead of following Leader’s shaping technique, I tried simply to fold the loaf in half trying to achieve that authentic look.  This resulting loaf looked OK, but the crumb was very tight.  Also, in the photo you can see some unincorporated flour due to the simplistic shaping. And it certainly wasn’t the same color as we had in Italy.


At this point I felt I had to try the flour I brought back to see how it behaved.  The first thing I noticed as I prepared the starter was the ease with which the flour hydrated.  The flour from Central Milling was very thirsty - building an 80%H starter felt as thick and dry as a 65-70%H whole wheat starter. Using the Grano Duro, the same 80%H more closely resembled an 85-90% WW starter and the flour hydrated as readily as sugar into water. The second major difference is the color.  The Grano Duro is a bright yellow compared to the creamy yellow of the CM. Clearly I would have to lower the hydration for this flour.  The initial results were unspectacular and disappointing, and it was back to the drawing board.

Since the first attempt with Leader’s formula have baked versions of Pane di Altamura a dozen more times.  I found another domestic flour from Giusto’s Vita Grain (sourced from North Dakota Mill) that behaved and appeared more like the Grano Duro. Rather than bore you with the details of each and every one, here are some representative photos of the results.

I also found this blog (translated by Google) that gives a pretty detailed formula, although she, too, uses the boule shape.  My results are not quite as open a crumb as hers, but pretty close.

My most recent bake was done at a slightly lower hydration.  It was a direct comparison between the Italian Grano Duro and the Giusto (North Dakota Mill) Patent durum flour.  I was also playing around with long refrigerated overnight bulk ferment rather than retard after shaping, as was the case with loaf shown above. 

Comparison between Giusto Flour on the left and Grano Duro from Italy on the right.  The respective crumb shots are below.


In the interim and after some intensive web searches I found a few Italian videos that describe the shaping process. Unfortunately I don’t speak Italian, and there is a lot more dialog than action in these clips, but I began to get a sense of how the loaves are shaped.

In this video the various finished shapes are shown in the beginning.  You have to wait until around halfway through the video until you see the shaping techniques.

In another video you can advance to around the 10:00 mark to see about 10 seconds of shaping.

At this point, I am fairly happy with the breads when I make basic boules.  I think the results are not as good as they could be, and for whatever reason my gluten structure isn’t strong enough to hold up to shaping after long fermentation.  Presumably this is why I can’t shape as in the videos.  If there are any Italian speakers out there who can translate from the videos I’d be happy for any tidbits that may shed some light on what I am missing.  My goal is to be able to shape a loaf like the one at the top of this page.

If you have read this far, thanks for sticking with this long-winded post.  My version of Pane di Altamura is still a work in progress.  The lack of a wood-fired oven, though, will insure that I never can match the flavor of the original. That’s fine with me - it makes a perfect excuse to go back for more.



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