Amy's Rustic Italian Bread

Dried Fruit and Walnut Bread

I recently tried the Rustic Italian Bread recipe on the Amy's Bread website. It's kind of pretty isn't it? Look at those big holes--oh. Yeah, it's just too bad that my bread is so damn salty it could be used as a murder weapon on someone with even moderately high blood pressure.

Gargh. What makes it more aggravating than the other failures in the past is that this bread took forever--or at least I made it take forever--to prepare. I wanted to experiment with using infinitesimal amounts of yeast paired with very long rising times: would the yeast be strong enough to ultimately raise the bread? Would the flavor have more depth? The answer to the former question is yes. The answer to the latter is I sure as hell can't tell because every time I try to take a bite, the only thing I'm aware of is a painful burning sensation in my mouth from the angry sodium assault.

The cause of the problem I suppose is that the recipe calls for kosher salt--something I didn't notice. I just used the regular, fine stuff. I guess it makes a SUPERHUGE difference.

Now I'll present my results on the yeast. Warning: most people's eyes will likely start to glaze over from here on, so you really don't have to read this following part if you're not interested in yeast. The recipe asks for 1/4 teaspoon of active dry yeast for the sponge starter; instead I used 1/16 teaspoon. I then put the starter in the fridge to slow things down even more, left it for 24 hours, and then took it out to finish rising, which took another 24 hours.

Is it just me, or is there something about the sight of a happily bubbling starter that makes the heart go "awww" the way some people coo at the sight of a baby? Okay, just me then.

I then made the final dough, which calls for 3/4 teaspoon yeast; instead, I used about 1/8 of a teaspoon. Quick knead, into a tupperware, and then the fridge. After almost a week, the dough had risen just a teeny bit. Again, took it out to finish rising. After about eight hours, the dough had big bubbles coming out the top (it was an extremely wet dough). And yes, when I finally baked the loaves, they rose with no problem and the finished texture, at least, was lovely.

One thing: the first time I took the bread out after baking, the crust was quite brown but soft. I put the loaves back in the oven, baked them for ten extra minutes, and then left them in the oven with the heat turned off for about five minutes. This made all the difference, and I got a nice, crusty crust. Too bad I have no desire to eat my nice, crusty bread, and I'm the one in the house who eats everything nobody else wants.

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Ok, yeah starter looks gross...not floppy raw chicken fat gross but certianly hunk of lard gross. I think that maybe you think that the starter is cute because it's your starter, you know the way that parents f ugly babies still think that their baby is cute.

Sorry to burst your bubble Rachel (ha, ha, ha, get it, bubble, ha, ha, ha) 

from Jaime

5/20/2005 10:33:00 PM  

no no no, starter is beautiful! so bubbly, so alive, i want to stick my hands in it. and i love the smell.

but back to the bread. i checked the link, and 1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp salt sounds like a huge amount. i happen to have the cookbook, so i checked the recipe there, and it says the same thing. her other recipes seem to have quite a bit of salt as well. i guess you're right; the table salt must be the culprit. good luck next time. 

from dexygus

5/21/2005 10:05:00 AM  

You certainly did burst my bubble, Jaime--ha ha. Ugly baby and lard comparisons? I think you have to see it and touch it four yourself. It's not some hard, greasy lump (I'm referring to lard, not babies) but a living thing that's light and *so* soft. (By the way, how come chicken fat is more gross than lard? I couldn't help grinning over that one.)

Hey, dexygus--yay, someone who shares my feelings! I know just what you mean about wanting to stick your hands in it.
Thanks so much for checking out your book version of the recipe, by the way. Have you ever made any of her breads? How'd they turn out?  

from Rachel

5/21/2005 08:21:00 PM  

hi rachel,
it's been ages since i baked from amy's breads, but i do remember really enjoying the golden italian semolina loaves. crispy, chewy on the outside, and pretty soft within, i think. sorry that's all i can remember. 

from dexygus

5/22/2005 11:31:00 AM  

That's okay, dexygus. Thanks!  

from Rachel

5/23/2005 12:42:00 PM  

Try this to help the crust along, put a pan of boiling water in the bottom of the oven, also use this with cakes - it helps it rise evenly. Another way which has the same effect is to put a large pan over the cake or bread tin.

I was very interested on your yeast experiments, I had no idea that you could keep dough in the fridge for almost a week. I'm off to make some bread with reduced amounts of yeast.

You might be interested in this recipe. I've never been keen on Soda bread until I tried this, really useful if you want something quick to go with a nice rough soup or stew. Buttermilk is required in the recipe but I use yogurt, not the mild stuff but the thin, sharp type. I usually chuck in some seeds and scatter some on top.

Waterford Soda Bread.

Michael Power, the baker for Anne Sutton at her bakery in New Ross, Co. Wexford, was baking large squares of tender salty/sweet soda bread in a frame, so that each blob of batter soft dough would spread and be forced upward.

This made sense as it meant that the crumb would stay tender and moist rather than dry, and shape of the loaf was useful rather than ornamental. I have adapted his recipe and added a trick of my own from cake baking stop it peaking in the middle.

Covered with a sheet of foil for half of the baking time, the loaf wont initially develop a upper crust, allowing it to rise evenly. Then, after 25 minutes, the foil is removed and the upper crust finally bakes to a golden brown with an even dome.
300g soft wholewheat flour
50g fine oatmeal
20g lard, dripping or butter
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp castor sugar
200g buttermilk or yoghurt
200g whole milk
a few tablespoons of oat bran

Preheat the oven to 210C. Grease a 17cm x 17cm square deep cake tin and dust it liberally with flour. Tear a sheet of aluminium foil that will cover the top of the tin, and leave to one side. Into a large bowl weigh the flour, then rub in the lard until the lumps disappear and the fat is evenly dispersed. Add the bicarbonate of soda and the salt, and toss this through with your fingers.
In another bowl weigh the buttermilk and milk, then stir this through the flour until you have a thick paste-like dough. Scrape well down to the bottom of the bowl to make sure all of the dry ingredients are mixed quickly and evenly through the buttermilk. Sprinkle a little oatbran on to the base of the greased and floured tin, then scrape the dough into the tin and sprinkle more oatbran on the top. Pat the dough down lightly so that it sits in an even layer. Then cover the top of the tin with foil.
Bake in a preheated 210C oven for 25 minutes, then remove the foil from the top and bake for a further 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, leave to cool in the tin for a minute, then tip out onto a wire cooling rack. Wrap when cool in waxed paper, or freeze in a sealed container.

Reproduced by kind permission of Dan Lepard from his book, “The Handmade Loaf”, published by Mitchell Beazley, ISBN: 1840009667

Really enjoyed your blog, take care and eat lots!


from Alex

3/08/2006 08:51:00 PM  

Hi Alex,

Thank you so much for the tips and the recipe! I will definitely try everything you suggested the next time I bake bread.  

from Rachel

3/12/2006 11:25:00 PM  

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