Long live bread (or Viva il pane!)

Bread is something Italian people simply can’t live without. We love bread. No Italian table is complete without some bread on it. I still remember the shock I had when I first came to live in England all those years ago and realized that a) the most common type of bread you could find in the UK was the plasticky, already sliced variety (God knows the preservatives and chemicals they contain, considering they stay fresh for weeks!) and b) bread is not automatically served at the table when you go to a restaurant. You might get a small slice or a bun with your starter (soup, etc.) if you are lucky, but that is your lot! You are certainly never offered it with your main course. We Italians live on bread. Every region has its own regional varieties. The bread you buy in Lombardy doesn’t look anything like the one you find in Puglia, for example. I have got to say things have GREATLY improved in the UK since I arrived  as a student and you can indeed find lovely baked bread here too, if you know where to look. Even in supermarkets the selection of fresh bread is not bad at all compared to what it once was. Anyway, I have tried over the years to make my own bread and pizza with various degrees of success. I even had a bread making machine for a while but in the end I gave up and resorted to the bakery section of my local Sainsbury. My treat at the moment is buying it at the weekend  at a local café near where I live, which is also an artisan bakery. They make some really lovely, unusual breads there and , I recently noticed, also organize bread making sessions. Well…..yesterday I bit the bullet and  treated myself to a beginners breadmaking course.  I really had a most enjoyable time and spent a few happy hours kneading, baking and chatting in the company of fellow bread lovers. You can see what I produced in the picture. Nothing spectacular, I grant you, BUT I really had a great time AND I finally understood where I had gone wrong all these years. And there’s a LOOOOOONG list of mistakes. In a nutshell:

  • I was using that fast action yeast insted of the fesh yeast or dry yeast (the one you dissolve in water).
  • I wasn’t kneading the dough for long enough. You have to knead it for at least 15 minutes so that it gets aerated and properly stretched (mercifully I will be able to use my Kenwood mixed complete with the bread hook. PHEW!).
  • I learnt that the water I was using with my flour was far too hot. It should be barely lukewarm (21degrees to be precise which, trust me, feels cold to the hand).
  • Fourth mistake: I was leaving the dough to prove in a bowl placed on a hot radiator which is an absolute NO NO as you end up with a dry skin on it, which is bad, bad,bad. And there was I thinking the warmer the place to leave your dough to rise the better. Not so!…you shouldn’t rush the proving process.
  • Last but not least I learnt about the importance of proving the dough a second , if not third time (I have never done that, I confess. Couldn’t understand the point and was in too much of a hurry to produce the bread). Apparently the bread gains in flavour and becomes lighter. You will have understood one simple lesson: if you haven’t got bags of time don’t even start thinking about making bread. It’s a true commitment! Bordering on a labour of love.

To conclude: I can see lots of experiments in the bread making department coming my way. So excited was I last night I even ordered a pizza stone from Amazon already  (advised by Candi but also by the guy running the course). My first challenge will be to succeed in making PROPER focaccia. Yesterday one of the bread we made was, in theory, a focaccia, but I have got to say it was nothing like the real Italian focaccia which should be moist and fluffy and drenched in olive oil. Candi, have you got any tips on how to make the real genovese focaccia? I am ready and waiting….

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2 Responses to “Long live bread (or Viva il pane!)”


  • Oh dear! Che voglia di venire lassù a mettere le mani in pasta con te. La vera vera focaccia genovese mi sa che è un problema che ancora non ho risolto. In effetti mi chiedo come sia possibile che anche qui, nei panettieri di Lombardia, non si riesce a mangiarne una veramente perfetta. E anche in Liguria, per esempio, quella del Levante (la mia preferita) è ben diversa da quella del Ponente? E’ da un po’ che voglio provare a farla e ho già messo via la ricetta con cui vorrei cimentarmi. Quella di Locatelli via cavoletto di Bruxelles: http://www.cavolettodibruxelles.it/2008/09/giorgio-locatelli’s-foolproof-focaccia
    Magari la provi prima tu e mi fai sapere :)
    Una focaccia che riesce benissimo ce l’abbiamo già nel blog, quella barese (una tonnellata d’olio, come, sospetto quella genovese): http://www.ricettemisfatti.eu/la-focaccia-barese.html
    ma in questi tempi i pomodorini non sono un granché.

  • Non sapevo che fosse così difficile fare la focaccia !! Dovrò cimentarmi allora…comunque suggerirei un pomeriggio a fare pane a tutte le persone stressate. Impastare è veramente catartico. Rilassante al massimo!

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