Italian Country Bread

Pan pugliese

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes

    1

    large loaf

Appears in

This flavorous country bread comes from the heel of Italy, Apulia. It has tenderness from the olive oil, lots of taste from the biga, and a deep crust into the bargain. Were it made by an Italian farmer’s wife and taken to the village bakehouse to be cooked, it would be proved in a cloth-lined basket and turned out on to a baker’s peel before being slipped on to the floor of the oven. The same technique can be followed at home but manoeuvring this soft loaf on to a peel and slipping it on to a sheet or stone already in the oven is a tricky procedure and many will find it safer to turn it carefully out of the basket on to a warmed and oiled baking sheet. Alternatively, it can be proved directly on the baking sheet. It will spread quite alarmingly, and the final rise will be more subject to draughts and patchy cooling, but the end result is still scrumptious.

Ingredients

  • 200 g/7 oz biga
  • 300 ml/10 fl oz tepid water
  • 15 g/½ oz fresh yeast
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 500 g/1 lb 2 oz wheatmeal (85% extraction) bread flour; or equal parts unbleached white and wholemeal (100%) bread flour

Method

  1. Combine the biga, water, yeast and salt in a bowl and mix to dissolve the biga by squeezing it through the fingers of one hand. Add the olive oil, then add the flour a cupful at a time, beating all the while. Mix to a dough that has some resilience, then turn it on to a floured work surface to knead. It will be quite moist, but will come together with working as the flour takes up all the liquid. Knead for 10 minutes. Leave the dough to rise in a bowl covered with oiled clingfilm in a warm place (24°C/75°F) for about 2 hours, until nearly trebled in size.
  2. Turn out the dough on to the lightly floured work surface, knock back and shape into a ball. Prove it either upside down in a floured, cloth-lined proving basket or the right way up directly on an oiled and warmed baking sheet. Leave the dough to prove, covered by oiled clingfilm, for about 1-1½ hours, until doubled. Meanwhile, heat the oven to at least 230°C/450°F/gas 8 and put a deep, but empty, baking tray or roasting pan in the bottom.
  3. Dust the loaf lightly and score with a chequerboard of slashes or leave it to crack freestyle in the oven. Place it in the oven and pour a little water into the warmed baking tray or roasting pan, taking care it does not bubble and scald you in the steam. If you have proved in a basket, you will need to have a preheated baking sheet in the oven. Turn your loaf on to a baker’s peel, then slide it on to the baking sheet.
  4. Bake the loaf on an upper shelf in the oven for about 30-40 minutes. If your oven gets really hot, turn it down to 220°C/425°F/gas 7 after 20 minutes to avoid the crust being too browned. The loaf is cooked when it sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.