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pane siciliano (sicilian bread)

October 4, 2011

I do not have a good history with making pretty bread. I know it doesn’t really matter as long as it tastes good–and really, anything with yeast that you let rise long enough is gonna end up delicious–and most of it’s due to my utter failure and refusal to invest in one of those fancy razorblades they make for slashing bread and charge ridiculous amounts for (called, appropriately enough, a lame). But be that as it may, any slashes that I attempt to make in the tops of my loaves tend to disappear as soon as the dough goes in the oven and starts rising on itself, and my sad braids usually turn into a big sticky mass of goo.

Which is why this recipe is a beautiful thing. It really and truly does not require any special skills or tools; all you have to do is twirl the dough into one of those spirals–and really, who hasn’t done that about a zillion times with Play-Doh as a small child/almost-grown adult? And oh yeah, the bread itself is pretty tasty, too, despite the fact that I *still* can’t get those pretty, bubbly holes to show up in my slices. It’s chewy and flavorful and golden; the olive oil-honey combo gives it a nice, subtle warmth. And it’s especially good when you do this to it:

Mmmm. Bread and honey.

Pane Siciliano (Sicilian Bread)
1 1/8 cups (5 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/8 cups (5 oz.) unbleached bread flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
3/4 cup to 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups (8 oz.) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1 3/4 cups (8 oz.) semolina flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 1 4/ to 1 1/2 cups water, lukewarm

1. For the pate fermentee, stir together the flours, salt, and yeast in a 4-quart bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add 3/4 cup of the water, stirring until everything comes together and makes a coarse ball–or mix on low speed for 1 minute with the paddle attachment. Adjust the flour or water, according to need, so that the dough is neither sticky nor too stiff.
2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for 4 to 6 minutes (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook for 4 minutes), or until the dough is soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky. The internal temperature should be 77 to 81 degrees.
3. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 1 hour, or until it swells to about 1 1/2 times its original size.
4. Remove the dough from the bowl, knead it lightly to degas, and return it to the bowl, covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight. You can keep this in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze it in an airtight plastic bag for up to 3 months.
5. Remove the pate fermentee from the refrigerator 1 hour before making the dough to take off the chill. Cut it into about 10 small pieces with a pastry scraper or serrated knife. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour to take off the chill. [I’m not sure if this is a typo or if you’re supposed to let it sit twice; I did the hour before cutting out of the fridge and probably 15 minutes or so after cutting and I think it was probably fine.]
6.  Stir together the bread flour, semolina flour, salt, and yeast in a 4-quart bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the pate fermentee pieces, the oil, honey, and 1 1/4 cups water. Stir with a large spoon until the dough forms a ball or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment. If the dough seems too stiff, dribble in water 1 teaspoon at a time until all the flour is gathered and the dough feels soft and pliable. If the dough seems sticky don’t worry; you can adjust the flour while kneading or mixing.
7. Sprinkle bread flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and knead, or mix on medium-low speed with the dough hook. Add flour as needed, sprinkling in a small amount at a time to make a smooth dough that is tacky but not sticky. [One trick I learned is to stick your clean hand into the dough and then pull it right out; if it comes out with only little pieces of dough on it, even if the dough feels sticky, there’s enough flour, but if your hand comes out in one big goop, you probably need a little more.] Knead for about 10 minutes or for 6 to 8 minutes by the machine. The dough should register 77 to 81 degrees. Form the dough into a ball, lightly oil a large bowl, and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
8. Ferment at room temperature for about 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.
9. Gently divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Shape into baguettes, extending each piece to about 24 inches in length and taking care to degas the dough as little as possible. Then, working from each end simultaneously, coil the dough toward the center, forming an S shape. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment and sprinkle some semolina flour on the baking parchment. Place each loaf on the pan. Then mist the tops with spray oil and loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap. Place the pan in the refrigerator overnight.
10. The next day, remove the pan from the refrigerator and determine whether the loaves have risen enough to bake or if they need additional proofing time. Gently poke the dough. If it springs back quickly, leave the pan out, still covered, for a couple of hours, or until it wakes up and rises more. The dough should stay dimpled when poked, and the loaves should be nearly twice as large as when first shaped.
11. Put an empty, heavy-duty pan on the top shelf of your oven; put the other shelf in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
12. Uncover the bread dough and place the pan in the oven. Pour 1 cup hot water into the steam pan and close the door. After 30 seconds, spray the oven walls with water and close the door. [I just splashed a little bit in the rough direction of the oven walls from a small bowl of water.] Repeat twice more at 30-second intervals. After the final spray, lower the oven setting to 450 degrees an bake for about 15 minutes. If the loaves are touching, gently separate them. Rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes more, or until the loaves are a rich golden brown all over. If there are still light or white sections of the dough, extend the baking time for a few extra minutes to maximize color and flavor. The internal temperature of the bread should register 200 to 205 degrees. [I would also shimmy a spatula under one of the loaves to check the bottom crust; mine didn’t really look all that “rich golden brown” on the top (possibly because I staged a rebellion over the sesame seeds), but the bottoms were just this side of burned when I pulled them out.]
13. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the loaves to a cooling rack. Cool for at least 45 minutes before serving.

Source: Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice 

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