Modena Mountain Bread
The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food
Lynn Rossetto Kasper
The Splendid Table is a wonderful book for anyone who loves to prepare and eat Italian food, as I do. Others apparently agree, as it won both the James Beard Foundation Cookbook of the Year award and the IACP Cookbook of the Year award. The author's aim was to collect and preserve the culinary heritage of this region before it disappears due to the encroachment of modern industrial food production and the accelerated pace of modern life. The book has a chapter on breads of the region, which is very interesting. This recipe was the one that appealed to me. Most of the other breads she described have been included in other books I already have, such as Carol Field's The Italian Baker. And when she introduces the recipe by writing, “If I could make only one bread for the rest of my life, it would be this loaf.” How could I not make it, at least once?
Ms. Kasper reports that, until quite recently, most homemade breads in Emilia-Romagna were made with what we would call pâte fermentée (a piece of dough saved from the prior day's baking. The Italian term for this is pasta di riporto, or “dough that is carried over.”) However, all her bread recipes are made with a yeasted pre-ferment she calls a “sponge,” which is equivalent to a French poolish, actually.
After consideration of various approaches, I decided to make this bread with a biga naturale, figuring that would be closer to the original bread than Ms. Kasper's recipe. I kept the proportion of pre-fermented flour and the total dough hydration the same. I would assume that, in the past, a higher extraction flour or even whole wheat flour predominated. For this first bake, I kept to Ms. Kasper's formula. Pretty much. I did increase the percentage of whole wheat flour a bit. I have also modified her procedures somewhat. For example, I do an autolyse, specify a shorter mix and add a Stretch and Fold during bulk fermentation.
I converted the “English” weights Ms. Kasper provides to grams, calculated the bakers' percentages (after my slight modifications in proportions and switch in pre-ferments) and scaled the formula to make a one kilogram loaf.
All purpose flour
Whole wheat flour
Pre-fermented flour = 27% of total flour
DMS Sourdough feeding mix*
Firm (50% hydration) starter
Dissolve the firm starter in the water. Add the flours and mix thoroughly.
Cover tightly and ferment at room temperature for 12-16 hours.
* My sourdough feeding mix is 70% AP, 20%WW and 10% Whole or medium rye flour.
All purpose flour
Whole wheat flour
Boil the unpeeled potatoes in water to cover until very tender. Cool and peel.
Reserve 188g of the water in which the potatoes were boiled, cooled to room temperature, and purée the potatoes in it. (I mashed the potatoes with a fork, added the reserved water and stirred.) Reserve.
Put the wheat berries in a sauce pan and cover well with water. Bring it to a boil and boil for 10 minutes, or until tender. Drain and cool. Use a blender, food processor or mortar and pestle to lightly crush the berries. Set aside at room temperature.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the potato purée, whole wheat flour and the all purpose flour. Mix at low speed for a couple minutes to combine the ingredients well. Cover the bowl and let it stand for 20-60 minutes. (Autolyse)
Switch to the dough hook. Add the salt and the biga and mix at Speed 2 to achieve good gluten development (about 6 minutes). The dough should clean the sides and the most of the bottom of the mixer bowl. It should be elastic but still soft and tacky.
Add the wheat berries to the bowl and mix at Speed 1 for 1 to 2 minutes to distribute the berries evenly. If needed, transfer the dough to a lightly floured board and knead an additional minute or so to better distribute the berries.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly.
Ferment at room temperature until the dough has increased to 2.5 to 3 times the original volume (2-3 hours). Do a Stretch and Fold at 1 hour. (It was 68ºF in my kitchen – a bit cool – and the fermentation was moving slowly, so, after an hour, I put the dough in my proofing box, with the temperature set at 76ºF.)
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured board and pre-shape round. Cover the dough with a towel and let it rest for 15-20 minutes.
Shape the dough as a boule and proof at room temperature on a peel coated with polenta, on a linen couche or in a lined banneton. Cover with a towel or place in a plastic bag. Proof fully (until doubled in volume). This should take about 90 minutes. Note: Kasper calls for proofing on the peel. The other options (couche or banneton) are my suggestions.
45-60 minutes before baking, pre-heat your oven to 480ºF with a baking stone and your steaming apparatus in place.
Transfer the loaf to a peel. Turn down the oven to 400ºF. Steam the oven. Transfer the loaf to your baking stone. Note: Kasper does not mention scoring the loaf. With the very full proof, this may not be needed, as there will be less oven spring than in a less fully proofed loaf. (For this first bake, I proofed the loaf to the point that a finger poke resulted in the dough springing back very slowly. I chose to score the loaf with a simple cross, and got exuberant oven spring.)
After 15 minutes, remove the steaming apparatus. Continue baking for another 45-60 minutes or until the loaf is fully baked. (The loaf sounds hollow when thumped on its bottom. The internal temperature is at least 205ºF.) Note: If you have a convection oven, after the first 15 minutes, you can switch to convection-bake and reduce the oven temperature setting 25ºF. This will result in a crisper crust and more even browning.
Remove the loaf to a cooling rack and cool completely (90-120 minutes) before slicing.
Note: My wife's persimmon cookies photobombed my crumb photo!
The crust developed some nice crackles. It was very crunchy, and when you bite into a wheat berry you get a pronounced nutty flavor hit! Yum! The crumb is not as soft as expected and rather chewy. A shorter mix next time, perhaps. The wheat berries within the crumb are nice and chewy. The flavor of the crust was sweet and nutty. The crumb was wheatier than expected, given the low percentage of whole wheat. Perhaps the wheat berries contribute more flavor than expected. I think I would still increase the percentage of whole wheat the next time I bake this bread. The bread was moderately sour.
This is a delicious bread, and I expect it will be even better tomorrow. I think it's a keeper! I'll be making it again.
Submitted to yeastspotting