I love making bread. I am not sure why. The silky feel of kneaded dough? The visual wonder of watching it increase to such a size as it reacts to the yeast? The simple satisfaction of punching it down? The air redolent with the smell of freshly made bread? I have no idea but it never takes much encouragement for me to carry out this most satisfying of tasks. The reward is tearing off a piece straight from the oven, spreading it thickly with butter and just savouring the taste of warm fresh bread as the butter runs down your chin. Bread is merely flour, water, yeast and salt as the world is merely earth, water, fire and air. These four elemental ingredients-grain from the fields,water from mountain streams, leavening from wild yeasts in the air and salt from the sea- have been combined since Roman days to make the breads of Italy. In a country where the family is the primary source of physical and emotional sustenance, bread celebrates the richest and simplest of pleasures of daily living. It is the single inevitable presence at the table during all three meals of the day, for no Italian would contemplate a meal without bread. This from a lovely book, 'Bread in Italy' by Carol Field which was a gift from my lovely Italian friend Carlotta. I was reading through it for the umpteenth time when a recipe caught my eye. Pane in Cassetta which is basically sandwich bread. What made me look twice was the promise of a fine crust and a soft bread. It was however baked in a Pullman pan which is a large loaf pan with a sliding lid. I cast about for something I could use to replicate this pan and hit on the idea of placing another loaf tin on top. The result was truly amazing. Such a soft loaf which indeed is perfect for sandwiches but so much nicer than the sandwich loaves we are used to seeing in the supermarkets. The basic recipe is the same as for all bread. The difference is in the folding. I reduced the amounts as the Pullman pan is 13 inches in length and although I have extra large loaf tins they are not as big as the required pan.
600gms/1lb 6oz white bread flour
400mls/14fl.oz tepid water
50gms/2oz lard melted
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teasps salt
One envelope or a teasp of fast action yeast.
Mix all the ingredients together and knead for ten minutes by hand/ five mins with a dough hook in the mixer/approx 1 minute in the food processor.
Form into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl covered with cling film and leave in a warm place until doubled in size-about an hour.
Flatten the dough on a lightly floured work surface to expel the air bubbles.
Roll out to form a rectangle approx 9"x15"/23cmsx40cms.
Fold in thirds like a business letter then roll out and fold again.
Flatten the dough to fit into the buttered floured pan.
The strong and compact dough should fill the pan about half way
Place another pan of the same size, well buttered, on top.
Leave to rise in a warm place for approx 1/2 -1 hour covered with the other tin. It should rise to nearly the top of the tin.
Bake in a pre-heated oven 200.C/400.F/Gas 6 for an hour.
Gently unmould onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
A wonderfully soft flavoursome loaf
Notes The pans I used measured 23.5x19.3x6.99cms/9.25x5.25x2.75 inches
You can substitute oil instead of lard but this will make a difference to the texture.
Remember lard has half the saturated fat of butter.
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