The Fresh Loaf

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Italian Star/Horn/Bolognese Bread is really a variant of La Coppia Ferrarese

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Italian Star/Horn/Bolognese Bread is really a variant of La Coppia Ferrarese

This is a follow-up to the Italian Star Bread thread. That thread has not had any recent response and this is somewhat lengthy, so I thought it warranted a new thread.

I read the above-mentioned thread with much amusement. I first came across it when searching for anything I could find about what my family in Boston called Bolognese bread or 'horn' bread. I once saw the name 'star' bread in a bakery that I believe was in Plymouth, where we spent a few summers. I found very litte on either name but 'horn bread' yielded more useful hits. I found two articles from the Boston Globe that put me on the right track:

Famed for horn bread, cafe hears final trumpet - about a bakery in Plymouth

Interesting facts about 'horn' bread - comment by Marty Balboni of the Balboni bakery mentioned in many of the posts in the original thread

This is something like what it looked like but it was smaller, less 'bloated', the horns were straight, and the scoring was either one score in the middle, or two scores, one along each side, lengthwise, but this shows the general shape:

I contacted a few of the bakeries that I used to frequent in Boston's North End to see if any of them either still made this bread or had made it in the past. I struck out. My grandfather used to bring loaves of Bolognese bread home from his restaurant and would distribute them among his children. When I was older, I was able to buy this bread in the North End but I don't know which bakery sold it.

A funny anecdote--when I was a young boy, someone had left a small 2" pen knife on the kitchen counter that happend to have a fresh loaf of horn bread right next to it. The next morning, to everyone's astonishment, the bread had been completely gutted! It was hollow like a turkey ready for stuffing. My youngest sister had very skillfully pulled every last shred of the soft interior out without leaving any highly visible entry hole. LOL!

So starting from the Globe articles, I did a lot of online research and found what I believe to be the origin of this type of bread. It is a bread called la Coppia Ferrarese, the Ferrarese Couple, and is the exclusive domain of the province of Ferrara, a neighboring province to the province of Bologna, both of which are in the region of Emilia-Romagna. According to what I have been able to find, this bread is found in bakeries throughout the region of Emilia-Romagna, but according to the strict Italian food laws, can only be called 'Coppia Ferrarese' in the province of origin. Italians are very protective, understandably so, of the naming and origin of their regional foods, just like they are of their regional wines.

This is what it looks like:

It has the four horns but is much smaller all around and has no bloat in the middle. It has a smooth, crispy crust and a soft fine-crumbed interior.

This bread is famous throughout Emilia-Romagna and goes back to at least the 13th century when a statute was written on exactly how it must be prepared. This statute was updated in 2001 by the IGP, the governing board that regulates the naming of the bread and its source of origin, the province of Ferrara. Ironically, almost no bakery in Ferrara has met the requirements of this statute and so, can no longer call the bread by its regional name. One well-known bakery was fined € 6000 for selling bread called 'Coppia Ferrarese' that did not comply with their draconian statute. So all the other bakeries in the province immediately changed the name of their bread. How's that for politics?

According to IGP specs, the dough, called la pasta dura, 'hard dough', is an unbelievably low 35% hydration made with il lievito "madre" or lievito naturale, basically a sourdough starter of 45% hydration. The specs even specify exactly how the lievito "madre" is to be produced. I have been struggling (literally) to reproduce this bread by hand and have had some success, though I'm not happy with the results yet. The 'hard dough' is aptly named. It is almost impossible to knead it or incorporate the starter uniformly. I'm sure it would burn out the motor of any home mixer and probably some commercial ones as well. No wonder bakeries can't adhere to the specs. There is a video of an 80+ year old Italian woman, who runs a baking school, beating the dough with a huge long wooden dowel-type rolling pin to knead it. This has to be one of the most unusual, most difficult of breads to make.

Getting back to horn/star bread, the recipe given by italiano in the original thread, Pane comune – ricetta base , is closer in form to this American adaptation of 'la Coppia' but, judging from the photos in another one of the original articles, Pane comune con pasta madre , it is not a low enough hydration, despite dabrownman's incredulity that it could be as low as 52%. The crumb is too coarse and the crust is too rough:

Horn/star bread has a very smooth crispy crust and a fine soft crumb. So I can only conclude that this type of bread is closer in origin to la Coppia Ferrarese with its incredibly low hydration. The bread I have made does have the crispy smooth crust and the fine soft crumb, just a tighter, smaller, more authentic form.

As further evidence of this, Marty Balboni, in the above-linked article, states:

My grandfather, Celeste, and his brother Raffaello founded the bakery when they came over from a little village near Cento (in the province of Ferrara) in 1912 … The shape of the bread has been modified over the years. In Italy, which I visited a few years ago, they still make it the "old" way. The four "horns" are much longer (about eight inches each) and are in a tapered shape curved into an arc. If you hold the loaf sideways, it looks like two sets of horns attached to each other - thus the name "corno" ("horn" in Italian). Over the years, the horns have become more stout due to the packaging problem encountered on store shelves. The horns would easily break off of they were too long.

He can only be describing la Coppia Ferrarese. He goes on to say:

The recipe given in your paper is missing an ingredient and an important processing step - but my lips are sealed!

The recipe is absent from the article but I found it elsewhere--Italian Horn Bread.

Aside from the fact that this is not an authentic recipe, the fairly important ingredient that is missing from this recipe is lard. The IGP specs specify lard, as it increases the shelf life of the bread, which remains crispy on the outside and soft on the inside for days, even when it is broken open. Lard also gives it a great taste and smell. Kind of an old-time doughnut smell.

I have not yet attempted to make horn bread. I'm still trying to perfect my Coppia Ferrarese, though I shouldn't call it that lest the IGP cops get wind of it. ;)