I was immediately attracted to this bread for its shape. Those elegant S-curves looked beautiful in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice picture, and the view of the bread slices reminded me one of my favorite breads as a teenager: the Italian “Scali bread” I found in Boston area grocery stores. I don’t know if Scali bread is an authentic Italian bread or pure invention of a Boston marketing maven, but it was one of the first types of “artisan” loaves I ever tasted and I loved it from the start. An enriched, fluffy loaf, loaded with sesame seeds, that was almost as good plain as it was with a smear of butter.
So I was anxious to try Pane Siciliano to see how close it came to the Italian bread of my youth.
Pretty darn close.
This recipe is slightly daunting because it’s one of the rare three-day recipes in the book, but, really, when you’ve come this far in the book, you know that the first step of making the pâte fermentée is no big deal. You quickly mix together a quick dough, knead it for a few minutes, and then let it ferment on the counter for a few hours before putting it in the refrigerator. You’ve done this twenty times. You can do it while making dinner. No big deal.
On the second day, you mix the dough (pâte fermentée, unbleached bread flour, semolina flour, salt, yeast, olive oil, honey, and water), knead it, ferment it for two hours. At shaping time, you divide the dough into three equal pieces, make a rope of each, and then twist each into the beautiful S-curls. It might look tricky, but you just go for it and it happens. Mist the loaves, sprinkle with sesame seeds (I used black sesame seeds, since that’s what I had on hand). And then?
Here’s the neat part. It’s shaped, but instead of proofing and baking it, into the refrigerator it goes to proof slowly overnight, developing flavor slowly and gently, and puffing up beautifully in an even and controlled manner.
The next day, pull those loaves out and, if necessary, let them finish proofing at room temperature until a dent you make in the dough with your finger stays.
Then bake it.
Then wait impatiently for it to cool. The only reason you really need wait is so that you can get a good crumb shot for the BBA Challenge Flickr page, so here’s the trick: you made two loaves (you clever baker). Rip into one while it’s still hot. Let the other one cool for an hour, then slice on the diagonal and take your photos. If you must.
See step-by-step pictures of this bread here.
The Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge is a group of home bakers, scattered across the planet, focused on one goal: completing every recipe in Peter Reinhart’s book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, in order, and writing about our experience. Want to join us? Buy or borrow a copy of the book, open a big bag of flour, and plunge in!