Tag Archives: bread

Pane Coi Santi, Bread of Saints

4 Sep

Sometimes it still confounds me that for many years I was hesitant to attempt making any yeast-based breads that extended beyond a basic pizza crust. I contribute this lack of confidence to a spotty history of using my purchased yeast in a timely manner (thus rendering it dead and unusable). To boot, there is also my rather sad history of trying to make whole wheat bread 15 years ago in what can only be called The World’s Coldest Apartment, where the lack of heat (we’re talking steam from my breath being visible inside the house here, folks) inhibited my bread dough from rising. To add insult to my bread-baking confidence’s injury, I still ate the squat, leaden loaves that I ended up baking. If I was too poor to pay for heat, you’d better believe I was also too poor to throw out food, unpalatable as it may have been.

Now, having worked with yeast-based breads for many years, I find the process of making bread to be a soothing respite from my generally busy day-to-day schedule. Proofing bread involves a lot of waiting, so when making bread I am not only involved in the process of physically making the bread, but also waiting around while the bread slowly proofs, coming to leisurely life before my eyes. Some people might find this maddening, but I rather enjoy it. Truth be told, however, I usually use my bread proofing time to conquer all manner of mundane tasks like cleaning the kitchen or, you know, working. Because I am no fun at all.

This is one of my favorite breads. I generally buy a loaf of it from Pearl Bakery, a wonderful little bakery downtown that turns out a fantastic selection of breads and pastries. The Pearl Bakery’s pane coi santi, a traditional Tuscan bread that is dotted with dried fruit, toasted nuts, and a varying selection of seasonings, is a slightly different animal than the version I make. Theirs is made with a levain, a natural sourdough starter with a mild and pleasantly sour tang that gives the bread a good, hearty body. My version has a softer crumb, with a lightly chewy crust and a body that is decidedly less dense. Both versions are tasty, but, not having the gumption to start my own levain (perhaps this will be my next step in bread baking), I instead start my bread with a sponge of rye and wheat flours left to sit overnight and develop a slightly tangy and complex flavor. I also use dried sour cherries in my version in lieu of the Pearl’s golden raisins, and I think the swap is a good one. The sour/sweet note of cherries adds a nice touch to the heat of the black pepper that lingers in the bread, nicely bridging the two flavors together.

Even if you are not a bread baker by nature, I think you should take a stab at this bread. In reality, the preparation is not at all difficult, and, if nothing else, you’ll be giving yourself a bit of time to sit around and wait on your bread, perhaps while reading a book, catching up on email, or, if you’re as insufferably over-focused as some people around here, cleaning or working. Really, though? I think you should go with reading.

Last Year: Seared Tuna Steaks with Salsa Verde

Pane Coi Santi Recipe

Part of the base of this recipe hails from the basic country bread recipe in The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book, but the tweaks and additions added to it that transform it into pane coi santi are mine.


1 cup warm water

1 cup whole wheat flour

½ cup medium rye flour

½ teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

Bread Dough

3 ½ to 3 ¾ cups bread flour

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

1 1/3 cups warm water

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 cup coarsely chopped, lightly toasted walnuts

1 cup dried sour cherries

To make the sponge:

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl, then stir until completely incorporated. The mixture will be sticky and somewhat shaggy. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 6 to 24 hours, until the sponge has risen and fallen. I find it best to mix the sponge in the evening, then allow it to sit overnight.

To make the bread:

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine 3 ½ cups of bread flour, honey, and yeast. With the mixer on low speed, or, if mixing by hand, while stirring with a sturdy wooden spoon, add the water and mix until the dough comes together, 1 to 2 minutes. When the dough comes together, stop mixing, then cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 20 minutes

After 20 minutes, remove the plastic wrap and add the sponge, sea salt and black pepper. Knead the dough on medium-low speed if using a stand mixer, or knead the dough by hand while it is still in the bowl. If you are kneading the dough by hand, you will need to add in a bit more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough ceases to become a sticky mess. Mind you, the dough will be very sticky no matter what you do, so a reasonable amount of stickiness is to be expected. The same advice applies to mixing the dough in a stand mixer: if the dough is unrelentingly sticky, add in more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, anywhere from 8 to 10 minutes. Add the walnuts and dried cherries during the last minute of kneading.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand to form a smooth, tight ball. Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 ½ hours.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Using your fingers, gently deflate the dough. Gently stretching and pulling, shape the dough into a 12-inch by 16-inch rectangle, with the long side facing you. Using a sharp knife or a bench scraper, divide the dough into two 12-inch by 8-inch rectangles. Roll each rectangle into a tight log by folding the top two corners towards the middle of the rectangle, then tightly rolling the dough, tucking as you roll, into a loaf. Pinch the end seam closed.

Line a large overturned or rimless baking sheet with a sheet of parchment paper. Place the two loaves on the parchment paper, spray or brush lightly with oil, then cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 ½ hours.

Half and hour before the dough is done rising, adjust an oven rack to the lower middle position and preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a heavy baking sheet or  baking stone on the lower middle oven rack and allow to heat up for 20 to 30 minutes.

When the dough is done rising, remove the plastic wrap and, using a very sharp knife, slash the tops of each loaf with three diagonal cuts. Lightly spray the tops of the loaves with water. Carefully slide the loaves, still on the parchment paper, onto the heated baking sheet or baking stone in the oven. Immediately reduce the oven temperature to 425 degrees. Bake the loaves, rotating halfway through baking, until they are dark golden brown and an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of a loaf registers 210 degrees, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Remove loaves to a wire rack to cool for at least 1 hour.

Makes two large loaves.

Chocolate Swirled Bread

19 Mar

Not to sound too dramatic about this, but I have a slight confession to make.  You know those deliciously sweet cakes and treats I’ve been sharing with you over the past few weeks?  Like this cake and these waffles and these cookies?  Purely out of curiosity, I made all of those treats with at least 1/3 less sugar (in some cases, even less) than each recipe called for.  And then I served those treats to people without telling them what I had done.  And not one person noticed.  Not one.  Not even I noticed, and, believe me, I tried.  Eyes squinted in concentration, methodically chewing my food and analyzing each bite as though I were a culinary Columbo, I failed to detect even a hint of missing sweetness.  In some cases, even though I had removed a good chunk of a recipe’s sugar, I still thought that a case could be made to take out even more of the sugar.  I know, right?  It just can’t be possible.

But it is, and there is no better example of this experiment, I believe, than this bread.  Yet another bread in only name (due to the fact that it delightfully toes the line between living as a bread and living as a cake), this is an absolutely wonderful treat with its chunks of bittersweet chocolate, hints of cinnamon, and delicate crumb.  Everything in this bread, from top to bottom, is perfectly sweetened.  A lid of light streusel topping is the perfect antidote to the moist bread beneath, and, with 1/3 of the sugar removed from both the bread and the topping, the crunchy streusel never propels the taste experience from “Oh, this is so delicious,” to “Ouch, call the dentist.”

I am telling you, I’ve totally been converted.  1/3 less sugar.  Do it.  Last week I made reduced sugar chocolate chip cookies and then gave them out to people and, I am telling you, not a single soul knew my secret.  The week before that I made a vegan dark chocolate zucchini cake with 1/3 less sugar and, again, no one was the wiser about the cake’s triple punch of secrets.  I almost feel as though I am getting away with something sinister, only, in reality, I think the opposite is actually true.  If no one misses the sugar, why not keep up with my experiment?  What’s the harm?  And, more importantly, if I am eating 1/3 less sugar with each slice of cake, does that logically mean that I am then able to nibble off a 1/3 more cake and suffer no ill effects?  These are important questions, and I intend to do my best to get to the bottom of them, 1/3 more dessert at a time.

Chocolate Swirled Bread

Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts

2 large eggs

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped into pea-sized and smaller pieces

2/3 cup buttermilk or sour milk

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1/3 cup sugar

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon


2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350  degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease and flour an 8 ½” by 4 ½” loaf pan (Moosewood notes that a 9” by 5” loaf pan would also be all right, so I can only assume that it’s true).

Separate one of the eggs, placing the yolk in a large bowl and the white in a smaller bowl.  Add the chopped chocolate to the bowl with the egg white, mix to combine, then set aside.  To the bowl with the egg yolk, add the second egg, buttermilk, oil and vanilla.  Beat with a fork for at least 1 minute, until well blended.  In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine all streusel ingredients.  Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the other ingredients until the mixture turns crumbly, but not too finely textured.  Spread 1/3 of the streusel mixture over the bottom of the prepared loaf pan.  Combine the buttermilk mixture with the sifted dry ingredients and mix until just blended.  Fold the chocolate and egg white into the batter, being careful not to overmix everything and ruin the marbling effect of the chocolate.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and top with the remaining streusel.  Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the bread is firm and pulls away slightly from the sides of the pan.  Allow the bread to cool before removing from the pan.

Italian-Style Herb Bread

8 Mar

This started out as a recipe that was not at all mine.  Spotted in Beth Hensperger’s Bread Bible, the original bread featured a wholly different selection of herbs, a nice dose of white wine, and a hearty stuffing of Italian sausage.  But then, as these things so often happen, when I wanted to make the bread I found that I was not in possession of the particular herbs Ms. Hensperger called for.  I was also out of wine.  And sausage (because who just keeps a spare supply of sausage lying around the house?  Or maybe people actually do that and I just don’t know it?  I must research this further).

So I made do.  The herbs were a bit different, the wine was swapped out with warm water and a generous glug of balsamic vinegar, and the stuffing changed from sausage to a lovely layer of roasted red pepper and sautéed spinach.  The end result, though not much like the one intended by Hensperger, was wonderful.  But now, sitting down to type this, I am beginning to wonder if the two recipes can rightfully be called the same thing.

The idea came from Hensperger, of course, and the method is all hers, but the ingredients are a far stretch from those so dutifully printed in her cookbook.  Can a recipe that started as a vision for one thing and then eventually morphed into another be given the distinction of being one in the same?

I suppose not.  However, it would be incredibly wrong of me to claim this recipe as my own creation, as the heart of it lies, I believe, with Hensperger.  Well, maybe not the geographical heart, since the middle (the stuffing) is composed of something almost entirely different than what was originally intended, but, you know, the soul of the recipe lies with Hensperger.

I do not believe this recipe could ever be called my own, but I also don’t believe that Hensperger would look at it and recognize it as hers, either.  So, where does this leave us?  I am delighted to report that this, of course, leaves us in the realm of food, cooking, and the inspiration that the two can bring.  This is an amalgamation, a recipe borne from inspiration.  It’s a little bit my own, a larger bit Beth Hensperger’s, and entirely the result of the creativity and imagination that food can inspire.

Italian-Style Herb Bread

Adapted heavily from Beth Hensperger’s Bread Bible

1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons dried basil

2 teaspoons dried marjoram

½ teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, or ¼ teaspoon dried rosemary

1/3 cup olive oil

2 cups warm water

1 ½ tablespoons active dry yeast

pinch of sugar

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

5 to 5 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 large red bell pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ cup chopped scallions

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

2 cups roughly chopped spinach

salt and pepper

8 ounces of fresh, whole milk mozzarella cheese, diced

In a small bowl, combine pepper, herbs, and olive oil, and let sit for at least 1 hour at room temperature.

Pour the warm water into a small bowl.  Sprinkle the yeast and pinch of sugar over the water.  Stir to dissolve, then let sit at room temperature until foamy, about 10 minutes.  In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast mixture, salt, balsamic vinegar, and herb-oil mixture.  Beat until foamy.  Add in 5 cups of the flour, 1 cup at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon (or, if you are using a stand mixer, the paddle attachment) to make a soft dough.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until springy, smooth, and resilient, about 5 minutes.  Dust with the remaining ½ cup of flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, if the dough is too wet and resistant to kneading.  If kneading with a stand mixer, replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook and knead as instructed for only 3 or 4 minutes.

Place the dough in a greased bowl.  Grease the top of the dough, then cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

While the dough is rising, preheat your oven’s broiler and arrange an oven rack to the highest position.  Place the bell pepper on a heavv baking sheet, then place the sheet on the highest oven rack, directly under the hottest part of the broiler.  Roast pepper, turning frequently, until the skin is uniformly blackened all over.  Remove blackened pepper to a plate, then cover with foil and let rest for 10 minutes to allow the skin to begin steaming loose.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the scallions and garlic and sauté, stirring frequently to keep the garlic from browning, until the scallions have started to soften, about 3 minutes.  Add the chopped spinach and sauté, stirring frequently, for an additional 5 to 8 minutes, until the spinach has released its liquid.  Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool to room temperature.

Peel the blackened skin from the roasted pepper.  Remove and discard the seeds and core of the pepper.  Roughly dice the roasted, peeled pepper, then set aside.

20 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place an oven rack in the middle position, then place a heavy baking sheet or a baking stone on the rack.

Place a sheet of parchment paper on a rimless baking sheet, or on an overturned baking sheet.

Gently deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.  Pat the dough into a 14” by 10” rectangle, with the long side facing you.  Spread the cooled spinach mixture lengthwise along the middle third of the dough, then sprinkle with the roasted pepper, then the cheese.  Fold the dough into a smaller rectangle by bringing the two long ends together, then pinch to close.  Fold each short end over by about 1 inch, then pinch each end closed.  Lay the dough, seam side down, on the parchment-lined baking sheet.  Using a sharp knife, make several diagonal slashes on top of the dough.  Allow dough to rest for 10 minutes.

Slide the dough, still resting on the parchment paper, onto the heated baking sheet or baking stone.  Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the dough is brown and it emits a hollow sound when tapped with a finger.  Transfer immediately to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before slicing.

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