Ever since I got Carol Fields’ book, “The Italian Baker,” I’ve been wanting to make this bread. It is a truly ancient bread from the Puglia region of Italy and documented by Horatio as far back as the first century BC. The most notable loaf shape has a bit of a pompadour on the top (not sure about the history behind the shape). But that said, the DOP doesn’t certify the bread by shape, but rather by ingredients and structure (e.g. the crust must be 3 mm thick).
Now truth be told, this recipe is technically NOT true Pane di Altamura because it is a “protected” bread under the Denominazione di Origine Protetta, which specifies that the flour must come from the Puglia region. Plus, the high mineral content water of that area apparently contributes to the distinctive taste of the bread. But even still, I believe we can get pretty close to the original. All I know is that the two loaves I made today are gone. My family ate one loaf, and the family I gave the other loaf to demolished the bread! This will definitely be a regular part of my repertoire from here on out!
I get my durum flour from Azure Standard (and no, this isn’t an affiliate link). This is certified organic and milled using the Unifine method, which creates a finer texture while retaining the nutrients as it uses no water that could leach off the nutrients. Note that you can’t just use any “semolina” flour. Most semolina flour is too coarse to make bread. You have to make sure the grind is extra-fine.
|Durum Wheat Flour||80.00%|
|Unbleached, Organic AP Flour||20.00%|
|Durum Wheat Flour||100%|
Make the Biga. The night before you bake, make a 72% biga. Because I make this bread often, I usually make enough biga for two bakes, using 500g of durum flour. Use room temperature water, then let it rise in a cool place for 6-24 hours. You’ll know the biga is ready when it is nicely domed at the top and is filled with bubbles. If it’s done before you’re ready to bake, just pop it in the fridge. It’ll keep for up to a week.
|Total Dough Weight||1212|
Initial Mix. Measure out the necessary amount of biga that you’ll need into your mixing bowl. Add all but 50 grams of the water to the biga, then break up the biga. When the water turns milky white, start adding the flour.
Autolyse. Durum is hard wheat, so it benefits from an autolyse. Autolyse for 30-60 minutes (use the longer time in cold weather).
Final Mix. Dissolve the salt into the reserved water and dissolve. Add the yeast to the dough, then lightly incorporate. Finally, add the salt and work it into the dough well all the liquid is absorbed. If using a mixer, mix on low speed.
Knead. Lightly knead the dough in the bowl or turned out onto an unfloured work surface. This is done simply to ensure that all the ingredients are distributed evenly with moderate gluten development. Get the dough to a smooth, even consistency then stop.
Bulk Fermentation. Allow the dough to double, yes, double. This will take up to 3 hours or more with the small amount of yeast that’s used. But that’s a good thing as it helps develop the flavor!
Folding. Fold the dough two to three times at half-hour intervals in the first hour and a half of the bulk rise. Do a windowpane test after the dough relaxes after the second fold to see if you’ll need a third. If you’ve got good extensibility, then the third fold isn’t necessary.
Divide and Pre-Shape. For this recipe, divide the dough into two ~600g pieces. Pre-shape into rounds, then bench rest for 45-minutes to an hour to fully relax the dough and let it puff up a little. In warmer weather, this will be shorter – maybe 30 minutes.
Final Shape and Fermentation. As I mentioned, while there is no standard for the shape, traditional Pane di Altamura is best known for its pompadour, or high form. Study this video clip to shape the loaves. Of course, that baker makes it look easy. And having made this several times, I’ve finally gotten it down. But it does take practice. Here’s another approach. This is quite a bit easier. The only thing I’d do differently is to press down the fold as the baker does in the first video. This will give a more pronounced shape to the pompadour by steepening the backside of the loaf.
Bake. Bake at 485ºF/250ºC for 50-60 minutes. Use steam for the first 15 minutes to promote oven rise. I’ve never baked this bread in a Dutch oven, but it technically could be done. Start with the lid on for the first 15-20 minutes of the bake, then remove the lid and finish the bake. Note that at least with my oven, baking at full temp like that for that long will burn the bread. So once I remove my steaming containers, I turn the oven down to 425ºF/200ºC to finish the bake. The crust should be dark brown, and little to no black.
Step-By-Step Shaping of a Pane di Altamura Loaf
After updating the post, I decided to add a step-by-step shaping guide. This was just as much for my edification as it was for sharing what I’ve learned.
You can make a much more pronounced pompadour by narrowing the top half and shaping it into a cylinder. I did this to mimic some of the pictures I had seen, but it made cutting the bread a little problematic. So my more practical side took over and I just overlap. As long as I get a triangle cross-section, it’s all good!