21 February 2009

Five Grain Bread with Walnuts, A Bread Baking Buddy Event

I am a passionate baker and bread is one of my all time favorites. I make all of our bread for us and our guests. I on occasion will buy bread in town to try someone else's for a change of pace, but find that for the most part, good bread is a dying art, even here in Italy. There are loads of bakeries and just too many white loaves and many different shapes, but most of them all taste the same. Seldom do they jump out at me and catch my imagination. Integrale or whole wheat loaves are generally the same. If you find a good dark bread here, it is usually a good one and often it will have walnuts as well. Dark walnut bread is a favorite in these parts, traditional and not so easy to find. When I saw this loaf popping up around on a few blogs last week ad heard it was the Baking Bread Babes 1 year anniversary, hosted by the energetic and ever so friendly and encouraging creator, Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups, I knew I was in. I have been making similar loaves to appreciative eaters, so I knew this one would be a winner as well and it was.
I am unable to completely follow a recipe for either lack of concentration or because I don't have the exact ingredients on hand and often only go into town once a week or so, and if it gets forgotten then so be it, tweaked recipe. Actually, I did pretty well on this one, having all the ingredients on hand, but I just had to tinker with the method a bit to suit my baking frame of mind these days. I'm a fan of slow rise, natural leavening, full flavor bread as I am a firm believer in that the longer it rises slowly, the sugars break down and release their full flavor goodness. Feel free to follow the recipe as is, because I know you will get good results as the many different bakers did. Check out the list of other Baking Babes and their results on Tanna's blog.
I love this bread as it it is very flavorful and has a nice crispy and yet chewy crust. Great toasted for breakfast as well as with fresh ricotta and olive pate just to name one variation.
I will add my modifications and method at the end of the recipe.

Five~Grain Bread with Walnuts
Adapted from Carol Field's An Italian Baker

Pane ai Cinque Cereali con Noci

Makes 2 9 X 5-inch loaves
1 1/4cups (300 grams) walnut pieces
3 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast or 1 1/2 small cakes (27 grams) fresh
¼ cup warm water
3 cups water, room temperature
3 3/4 cups (500 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups (125 grams) oat flour or finely ground rolled oats
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (125 grams) rye flour
1 cup less 1 tablespoon (125 grams) whole-wheat flour
¾ cup (125 grams) brown rice flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (20 grams) salt

Toast the walnuts for 10 minutes in a 400 F oven; then chop in a food processor fitted with the steel blade or with a sharp knife to the size of a fat rice kernel. Do not grind them finely.


Stir the yeast into the warm water in a large mixing bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in 3 cups water. Mix the walnuts, flours, and salt and stir 2 cups at a time into the dissolved yeast, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. The dough should come together easily. Knead on a floured surface, sprinkling with additional all-purpose flour as needed, until firm, elastic, and no longer sticky, 8 to 10 minutes.


Stir the yeast into the warm water in a mixer bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in 3 cups water. Stir in the flours, walnuts, and salt with the paddle. Mix until the dough comes together. Change to the dough hook and knead for 3 to 4 minutes at medium speed until firm and elastic but still slightly sticky. Finish kneading briefly by hand on a surface floured with all-purpose flour.


Make sure your food processor can handle the volume of this dough. Even when done in 2 batches, there will be 4 cups flour to be processed. Stir the yeast into the warm water in a small bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Place the flours and salt in a food processor fitted with the dough blade and process with several pulses to sift. With the machine running, pour the dissolved yeast and 3 cups cold water through the feed tube as quickly as the flours can absorb it; process until the dough gathers into a ball. Process 40 seconds longer to knead. Knead in the walnuts by hand on a surface floured with all-purpose flour.

First Rise. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Shaping and Second Rise. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. The dough should be moist, firm, and noticeably elastic, if slightly sticky. Cut the dough in half and shape each half into an oval loaf to fit a loaf pan. Place the loaves in the oiled pans (preferably glass), cover with a heavy towel, and let rise until truly doubled and fully above the tops of the pans, 1 to 1 ¼ hours.

Baking. Heat oven to 400° F. Slash a pattern in the top of the loaves. One baker in Milan cuts the shape of a stalk of grain on the top; elsewhere bakers make 3 parallel slashes. Bake 40 to 45 minutes; bake the last 5 to 10 minutes out of the pans on a baking stone or baking sheet to brown the bottoms and sides. Cool completely on a rack.

Marla's variations
I made mine all by hand. I prefer weights to cups, but have used cups here.

* Pan toasted the walnuts in the stove in a cast iron skillet, just kept shaking them to turn so they lightly toasted.
* 1/4 tsp instant yeast added to the dry ingredients
* 1 cup ground oat flour and 1/4 cup 6 grain rolled flakes
* Salt about a tablespoon.
* 1 1/2 cup natural leavened starter , sometime called sourdough, I call it biga, here they call the "mama"
* 2 cups or so water, approximately, as I was compensating for the runny starter

I put my dry ingredients together and added the biga and water and mixed with a spoon till I took over with my hands adding more water or flour if needed. I think I went a bit heavy on the water and would back off bit next time. I wanted to make sure the grains could absorb properly.

First rise took a couple of hours as my starter wasn't as lively as usual.

Then I divided the dough in two and gently shaped it into two round loaves. I would have been careful not to deflate it if it hadn't been so wet. them I used two baskets lined with floured cotton tea towels that I keep and use regularly for this purpose, as I can't find heavy canvas nor do I have bannetons. I made sure the loaves were well floured and the tops(which are your bottom of the loaves) covered by the tea towels. I placed both in a large plastic bag and left them in our quite cold room next door to rise over night.

Brought them in next morning and when they had warmed up I baked them in a preheated hot oven on sheet trays that they were turned out on to and deeply slashed. Popped in to a very hot oven that I sprayed with water and baked till hollow sounding.

14 February 2009

Valentine's Day Pilgrimage to Pinerolo's Cioccolato Puro

Today a good portion of the world is thinking about flowers and chocolate and enjoying the day or evening with that someone special.

I, of course was no different.
So after shopping in the market I had to make my way to my favorite chocolate shop in Pinerolo,
Cioccolato Puro.

This shop never fails to delight.
Today was no exception.
The shop is always full of chocolates to die for, fortunately, there is no dying involved, only indulging your inner glutton. Milk and and dark chocolate of the highest quality, filled with creamy fillings and divinely unusual aromas. The range of flowery lavender and violet, to piquant pepper and local favorite, mountain Genepy, filling all the drawers of the tables, just waiting to jump into a daintily wrapped bag or tasteful box.

This shop is a charming as it's owner and reflects her and her husband's creative flair. There is always something new to gaze upon with desire and a sample tray to tempt even the strongest of resolves. But then, that's not why you made your way here now was it? No, you came to be tantalized and entranced by all the dark shiny delights that Torino province is so famous for, it's chocolate, to give up all will power to resist and submit to the siren call to feast upon the vast array of innovative and classic delights. You know you must submit.

Their classic bars with various fruits or nuts are a simple choice when you can't choose and easy to tuck into your ruck sack or suitcase, but, there are the chocolate cell phones, CDs in jeweled cases or chocolate ravioli, salami and pasta for that something a little different. You must not miss their dreamy, creamy hazelnut chocolate spread, in dark or milk chocolate. They offer a selection of special diet varieties, without sugar or milk for those that are sometimes left out of the chocolate indulgence extravaganza, due to allergies or persuasion.

In the summer they have the best gelato, which was one of their best new additions this past summer. It was difficult to resist when in town. If you're looking for fruit flavored gelato you'll need to mosey on because, given their limited space, they offer their house specialties, several varieties of chocolate, hazelnut and vanilla. Who needs their choice to be confused by raspberry or lemon, I say.

So when you find yourself in Pinerolo, make sure you find your way to the old historic center of town and run, don't walk to indulge your inner glutton! If you find you need somewhere to stay and explore the area, make a date to stay with us a few miles up the valley at Bella Baita Mountain Retreat.

We'll be waiting,
maybe even with chocolate.

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11 February 2009

A Brief Winter Reprieve, Time to Work on the Ramie Vines

The past few days have been delightfully sunny, although not all of them have been all that warm. Today it was warm enough, although windy, to bring out the assorted bikes, trikes and strollers, to make a noticeable increase in the number of folks that were out and about. We had errands to run that took us down to Pomaretto, the small village that we gaze at every day and provides us with quite the light display, if not a conspicuous consumer of energy for such a small mountain village. It also provided us with a bit of bare ground and a wee bit of green here and there. The view above is looking back to Bella Baita which is on the right side of the mountains in the saddle there are two little white streaks and we are sitting in that one, but to day we were looking back into it.

It was the kind of clear blue sky that just begs to be enjoyed and we needed to wait an hour for the stores to open back up after siesta, so we wandered up the terraced steep hillside admiring the handiwork of some very diligent wall builders though our only small vineyard in this valley. This only produce 800 bottles a year from the very local grapes called ramie. It's not well know outside or our immediate vicinity, but is has a DOC (denominazione di origine controllata), which is a designation for authenticity for the grape used and area that it is grown on. They are a part of our soon to be inaugurated "La Stada delle Vino Pinorolese", wineries.

The vines have been there for over a hundred years and the terracing of the hill side is a work of art. We wandered to the end of the paved road and followed along the footpath admiring the handiwork of those who tend the grapes. There was evidence of new wood poles to replace the old and worn out or broken ones. Each vine had been recently pruned and freshly applied willow trusses to keep them in place for the coming season.

We came around the corner and there were the workers whose handiwork we had been admiring. They were now enjoying the sun, trying to stay out of the winds cruel ways and having a laugh. The ladies wouldn't hear of having their photos taken as most women always protest, so while Fabrizio chatted away with them in dialect, a slightly different version from the one spoken on our side of the river, I snapped a couple of photos surreptitiously. Pomaretto is on the Valdesian side of our valley, (ie Protestant versus Catholic) where the flavor of the language is more French than the local Piemontese. It's all pretty tough for me to follow. They will be celebrating their liberation day next week. I hope to attend some of the festivities and have a fresh report. In the meantime the vines were tended and the day enjoyed as the cycle of the grape and wine continues on even during the winter, all under an alpine sky.

A info poster in the Frossaco "Museo del Gusto"

05 February 2009

World Nutella Day is Here!

http://www.msadventuresinitaly.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/button2009.jpgFebruary 5th has been declared World Nutella Day, by the lovely ladies consisting of Michelle over at Bleeding Espresso and Sara at Ms Adventures in Italy, in case you hadn't heard.
There is nothing quite as exciting as opening a fresh jar of creamy hazelnut chocolate yumminess, especially to my husband. He grew up on the stuff, slathered on bread for breakfast or after school with Nonna who sandwiched it between Pavesini biscuits, to keep his energy level up. Like Fabrizio needs it. You will understand what I mean if you know him. He's a pretty high energy kind of guy most of the time, with or without Nutella, but he would prefer with!

In honor of this momentous occasion, I made mini banana cakes with a dollop of Nutella on top, which promptly sunk to the bottom yet made for a welcome surprise when you thought it was just an ordinary banana tortino.
The recipe I used was roughly based on Flo Brakers' banana sheet cake from her delightful "Perfect Baking" volume. I served them warm with caramel sauce, but there just as tasty cold. Nutella here in Italy is quite creamy, so the center stays soft even when cold the next day.
Hot or cold, don't delay to try this combination. I am sure you will be making them a regular feature whenever you have a banana that is calling out that it's time for plain eating has passed and it's being called for greater glory paired with Nutella.
Go on, you know you want to.

Banana Nutella Cakelettes
Yields 6 very generous mini cakes or one 10-12 in round.

Sift together
1 cup (100g) cake flour, sifted
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
Set aside.

Whisk together
3 T (50g) butter, lightly browned
1/2 c (100g) brown sugar

1 large egg, room temperature
1/4 c (50g) yogurt or sour cream
1/2 c /1 banana, smashed
1 tsp orange or lemon zest

Gently fold in the flour mixture.
Mix until all is incorporated.
Fill your prepared pan.

1 Tb generous, Nutella onto the top of your batter in each cup.
Quickly put into your preheated 375*(190*) oven.

Bake until they spring back.
Cool a few minutes before unmolding.
Serve warm with caramel or chocolate sauce.
Wait for the appreciative oohs and ahhs.

Be sure to check the World Nutella Day website on Monday, February 9 for the 2009 recipe roundup!

04 February 2009

World Caffarel Day

Divided loyalties, that's what I have today.
I wandered over to Alex's Blog From Italy today, only to discover that is is
World Caffarel Day 2009.
Oh the horror!
Why you ask, well because
a) I didn't know about this day and Caffarel is literally almost from our back yard.
b) tomorrow is World Nutella Day, and I made something for it to share.
Caffarel really is wonderful chocolate, perhaps not so well known outside of Italy, but it was selected as the official chocolate supplier for "The 2006 Torino Winter Olympics", held here 3 years ago, so we think it is mighty fine chocolate around these parts.
The original factory was in downtown Torino, but it's headquarters today are in Luserna in Val Pellice, just over the tops and down some of the peaks we look out at every day.
Their website is interesting and has plenty of tempting treats on it to have you curious, although they have basically buried their Crema Gianduja on the site and can only be found on the Italian side under Creme Assortite on the collezione/ atunno/inverno.
I'll make it a lot easier for you. come visit us and we'll take a drive over to the factory to their not so well publicized factory outlet, and we'll pick up a few goodies for a lot less than in the stores.
Can't go wrong with that.

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02 February 2009

Chestnut Pappardelle with Fresh Artichoke, Leek and Speck

It's all about comfort these days. When I saw a demonstration for a chestnut pasta recipe on my lunch time cooking companion, "La Prova del Cuoco", I knew it was in the cards to be made soon. I have begun to really love chestnut not having grown up with it and now finding them here in great abundance, I love discovering all sorts of ways to bring this naturally sweet ingredient in to my repertoire. Naturally I didn't have any of the ingredients for the recipe except for the pasta, chestnut flour, regular flour and eggs, but that didn't stop me. I used some of my seasonal favorites that I had on hand with good results. Round up the fresh artichokes, leeks and cured smoked ham and away we go....

Castagne Pappardelle con Carciofi, Porri and Speck
Chestnut Pasta with Artichokes, Leek and smoked cured Ham
Serves 6
For the Pasta
3 1/2c (350g) flour
1 1/2c (150g) chestnut flour
3 medium eggs, room temperature
1/2 (118 ml/g) cup water
pinch salt (optional)

Thoroughly combine the flours in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and place your eggs, water and a pinch of salt. With a fork (or a stand mixer works well) begin whisking the eggs and water to emulsify before gradually pulling your flour in. When it begins to take shape and becomes manageable, flour your hands and bring it all into a ball. Put the dough on a floured wooden surface or your counter top and knead the dough until smooth and pliable, adding flour or moisture if needed to get a smooth pasta. Knead for a few minutes to incorporate all. Cover with a damp towel. upside down bowl or cling film and let rest for 20 minutes before rolling out and cutting into desired shape.
Meanwhile make your sauce.
To roll out our dough, you may want to divide your it into 2 or 3 pieces to make the rolling out easier to manage, especially if you don't roll dough that often, or you have a small space in which to work.
Roll dough out into a large thin rectangle.

To cut into wide pappardelle, lightly flour the dough surface and roll each long end up towards the center so that you have 2 long rolled up logs of equal amounts. Cut your dough about an inch or so depending on your taste. I made mine slightly less than that. Cut systematically down the length of your tubes.
When you have cut all your dough, unroll your lengths and either hang up on a broom handle between two chairs or if you have the room on our table leave them unrolled to slightly dry before cooking. approximately 15 minutes. The short drying time helps keep the pasta from sticking together when you cook it.

Cook the pasta in a roomy pot filled halfway with salted water, just before the sauce is ready to serve.
Because it is fresh pasta, it will only take a very few minutes, depending on your thickness and preference.
Drain and toss into the sauce.

For the sauce
1-2 leeks, good sized, mainly the white part, sliced thin in half circles
1-2 garlic cloves minced
4 fresh artichokes, cleaned and trimmed of tough petals, sliced thin in half circles
white wine a splash or two
water, 1- 1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
8 oz (200-300g) speck, sliced in batons, prosciutto crudo or ham may be substituted
Olive Oil
Grated hard grana style cheese( parmesan, romano) to finish over the top when served

Sauté the leeks, and garlic in a small amount of oil for a couple of minutes.
Add the sliced artichoke and continue to sauté for another 5 minutes making sure the mixture doesn't pick up any color.
Add the wine, and continue cooking till the wine evaporates.
Add the stock or water. Simmer covered till the artichokes are soft and the liquid has reduced.
Approximately 10-15 minutes.
Add the speck just before ready to add the cooked pasta, as it doesn't really need to cook, just heat through and soften slightly.
Adjust seasonings. Remember the speck or prosciutto and Parmesan will add a fair amount of salt, so go easy on the salt before tasting it with the ham.
Add your al dente pasta and mix to serve.
Grate fresh cheese and pepper on top of each serving.

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