Pane di Altamura is my February bread challenge. Pane di Altamura is a regional Italian bread made out of durum wheat (semolina).
This is what Italian magazine Essen has to say about Pane di Altamura,
In Puglia on a tract of land in the mountains in Murgia, among a landscape of volcanic rocks, the passage from barbarism to civility was made beautifully possible with the Pane d’Altamura. Linked twice over with peasant culture since the end of medieval times, the “u skuanete,” or kneaded bread, is the principal good produced by the inhabitants of Alta Murgia and the centre of pugliese society. It is the best bread in the world – or, so said the Latin poet Horace – and the clever adventurer always took a loaf away with him. Made from durum wheat semolina, derived from the grains of the varieties “appulo,” “archangelo” “duilio” and “simeto,” water, natural yeast and salt. It is a process carried out in five phases: making of the dough, formation, proofing (the rising of the dough), shaping, and finally baking in a wood oven. These phases give the Pane d’Altamura an exceptional longevity. One loaf can be enjoyed even a few weeks after its baking, with tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil maintaining unaltered the flavour and nutritive properties.
This bread was quite a challenge. For starters, it was not an easy bread to find out how to make.
I couldn’t find an ‘official’ recipe anywhere. I went to the library to see if I could find some Italian bread making recipie books, but none of them had this specific one. Searching on the internet was also a bit difficult – there didn’t seem to be an authentic Italian recipe. At one point I decided use Google Translate and search for recipes in Italian which is how I found the recipe that I’m using today.
My main point of confusion was what type of yeast I needed to use. Some recipes said that the usual yeast packet would do, while others were adamant that natural yeast was the correct way. Natural yeast is made by creating a ‘starter’ which uses the natural yeast spores in the air.
Luckily, Joe had been gifted ‘Herman the German’ (a chain letter starter which requires you to feed Herman until he has multiplied and then divide him up and give to five new friends) so I was able to use 40 grams of Herman for my bread. What really confused me was whether or not the bread required a starter made out of durum wheat or whether a plain flour starter would suffice.
In the end, I couldn’t find a straight answer on the Internet and as I was running out if time I opted to use Herman.
The other hard part was the kneading time – 30 minutes! It might not have been a problem if I hadn’t stretched my muscle in my hand from play cricket on Friday night.
Working with durum wheat (semolina) was fun. It’s a different kneading experience to using standard flour. Durum flour is much more course than standard flour and less fine. It’s grittier which is a weird feeling to begin with, but as you start kneading the dough, the coarseness disappears and you get nice silky, smooth dough.
Despite leaving the dough in a warm place for three hours it refused to rise much. Clearly Herman was a bit impotent and was unable to make the dough rise successfully. Such a shame! Perhaps he should have been fed more.
Because the bread failed to rise properly, the marks that I cut in the dough did not open up as they are supposed to. Another consequence of the dough not rising well was the bread itself being quite dense, lacking the small air pockets that you would expect to be there.
In hindsight, I should have also shortened the time that the bread was in the oven. The crust was very thick and impenetrable due to the fact that the bread didn’t rise.
So this is a rather sad ending to this bread challenge. The next day, the bread became so hard that I couldn’t even cut it. We ended up having to through it in the bin.
The recipe for this bread can be found here. Just remember to use good quality natural yeast!