Monday, February 13, 2017


SOURDOUGH BREAD from a novice who aspires to bake the perfect loaf shape
"The process of bread baking is at once a simple endeavour, yet at the same time it can be one of enormous complexity. The merest of ingredients are required, and these few are easily procured, requiring little intricacy in their preparation. And since so few ingredients are needed or necessary to the bread baker, from one bake to the next not much seems to change. One style of mixer suffices and can mix a full range of doughs. some couche linens, a few stacks of proofing baskets, a decent scale, a durable work table, a couple of razor blades stuck on slender lames and a sturdy oven. The needs are few. And yet from the time the grain is planted until baked bread is on the table, the hands and skills of dozens of people have been engaged. Farmers in the fields plow, plant, cultivate, and harvest. Grain is transported to the mill to be tempered, ground, sifted, analysed, and bagged — brought from berry to flour. Flour in the bag is tucked and hefted to the domain of the baker. Here the final magic is performed for the flour is nothing by itself — it needs the baker to bring it to fulfillment, to coax all the flavor he or she can from the inert grain. The flour, unable to sustain life on its own, is transformed by the hands of the baker into wondrous bread, nurturing and nourishing. What we hold in our hands months later, the original planting of the seed, is the final resolution of the labor of many: a loaf of bread — ephemeral, fragrant, live". -- From the book Bread, A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes, by Jeffrey Hamelman.

A few months ago I came across a beautiful picture of wild grapes on Kevin Sharp's instagram and the caption was, "I'm making a new batch of sourdough starter". Those grapes alone were intriguing but more so was the fact that Kevin was making a starter using the flour he had buried the wild grapes with. It took that picture to convince me what I had in the back of my mind for the longest time. And, I just happened to have the last grapes of the season within easy reach in my garden. I grabbed what I needed and I simply began my sourdough starter. Immediately the next day I noticed the first signs of fermentation, some bubbles, a slight presence of alcohol, a small aerated growth. All of this was astonishing to my eyes! Finally, after days of dedication and commitment, Clint Yeastwood, my starter, was born, and together we hopped on a horse and ran wild towards a new journey.

Since then, everyday, every morning and every evening, I refresh my starter. An easy portion of equal measurements - 4 oz starter, 4 oz flour, 4 oz water. Mix, cover and rest. Over and over each day. Yes, it is a commitment, you're really feeding a pet and it was the thought of this sort of commitment that held me back in the first place. Only once you begin and discover what some flour and water can do, you'll never know how fascinating this sourdough affair is. So don't take this post as an instructions manual, I'm not one to teach, as a novice I only have things to share and I'm here to intrigue you as much as I can so you can start too (do you hear me Hazel?)

You know, it does take some failing, a success, some reading, asking, watching, listening. Some more trying, a burned loaf, an under cooked one, less water, more hydration, steam, a cast iron pot, different flours and why not grains and a mill. It's an adventure of discoveries, a learning of patience, and suddenly all becomes a lifestyle. Loaf after loaf, you get better and learn more. Excitement comes from a crackling sing of a good crust, an airy crumb, unfathomable flavors. Here's the beauty of it all and why I never bought a loaf of bread ever again.

The baking of bread, of real sourdough bread. It's my obsession.
 score BQ8A4874

If you want to to begin your own starter here's a link with instructions,

Sourdough Bread, from a novice who aspires to bake the perfect loaf.

For the leaven you will need to use a strong starter, so refresh your starter at least 2/3 times before you use it. If you plan to bake your bread Sunday morning, refresh the starter Friday morning (8:00 am), Friday night (8:00 pm) Saturday morning (8:00 am) and mix your dough Saturday afternoon (4:00 pm), at this time is should be bubbly and active.

You can use a combination of bread flour. or just plain wheat flour.  I like to vary and I usually use
30 g wholewheat, 20 g rye and 50 g wheat flour.

150 g leaven
700 g bottled water
1000 g bread flour, or the mix I use: 30 g wholewheat, 20 g rye and 50 g wheat flour
20 g salt

Combine the water and leaven in a large mixing bowl.  Add the flour and mix with your hands until the flour absorbs the water. Do not add the salt at this point. Rotate the bowl with one hand and mix with the other until the gluten forms and the dough is completely hydrated. Leave the dough in the bowl and cover with a plastic wrap. During the first hour of bulk fermentation, turn and fold the dough every 20 minutes. This will help strength and aerate the dough. With wet hands, from the bottom and along the edge pull a portion of the dough up and fold over, rotate the bowl with one hand and with the other hand continue the turn-fold 4 times. After one hour, add the salt and mix with your hands until the salt is totally incorporated. Repeat the turn and fold 2 more times every 20 minutes. Cover the bowl containing the dough with a plastic wrap and place in the fridge overnight. The next morning remove the dough from the fridge and bring it to room temperature.

If you have time, you can skip the overnight bulk fermentation in the fridge. Simply allow the dough to rise for 3/4 hours in a warm corner of your kitchen.

At this time the dough is doubled in size. Remove the dough from the fridge on to a working surface. The dough will be sticky, with the help of a bench knife divide the dough in two and preshape each portion to form a circular shape. Allow the dough to rest for 20-30 minutes. At this stage you will notice that the dough will relax and spread, this needs to happen now. After 20-30 minutes give the dough its final shape, see above picture on how to do so. Place the dough in a well floured linen covered bread basket and place in the fridge to retard the final rise. Remove the dough from the fridge the next morning and when you are ready to bake.

Preheat the oven at 240°C, place a cast iron pot at least 20 minutes in the oven, on the lowest rack. Carefully remove the very hot pot from the oven. At this point you can score the bread with a very sharp knife or leave it as is. Remove the pot's lid and place the dough seam side down, score side up, in the very hot pot. A good score helps the bread grow liberally. Place the pot's lid back on and place the pot in the oven. After 30 minutes, remove the lid from the pot, lower the oven temperature to 220°C and bake a further 30 minutes, or an extra 10 minutes if necessary. When he bread is ready, remove it from the pot and allow it to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. With your hands tap under the loaf, if you hear a hollow sound the bread is ready.  If you like a thicker crust (I do), lower the oven temperature to 180 ºC, put the bread back in the oven, after removing it from the pot, and let it bake an extra 10 more minutes or to your preference.

This video will help you understand a few steps,

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

cracking nuts for Christmas

Every year, since I can remember, this pangiallo has found its spot on our Christmas table. There was a time that my grandmother, mother and aunts, had a family reunion just to crack the shells of the nuts that went into it, and let me tell you, we’re talking about piles of nuts for copious amounts of pangiallo. After delivering those that went to one family, and to other, the ones to our next door neighbors and those that needed to go to our doctor, our dentist, the bus driver, the milkman and the guy that sold us the nuts, we still had enough pangiallo to cover the Christmas season and more for months to come. You can understand why my sister and I couldn’t stand the sight of it anymore, I mean, really, not even from afar, especially when we found slices in our school snacks, almost everyday. 

Nonetheless, the years went by, my sister and I married, the family expanded, and the pangiallo never failed to make its appearance around Christmas.  We stopped the nut cracking reunions when my beloved mother and nonna passed away, we also stopped making our own pangiallo because there was always someone that would gift us with “their” pangiallo anyway. Until we began to feel a sort of nostalgia for the taste of “our” pangiallo, the nut cracking, the aroma of roasted nuts, the nutmeg, the family gatherings and all. Somehow I found myself buying nuts again, cracking them  with my nonna’s personal nutcracker, roasting them and making copious amounts, almost like a beautiful nightmare, if that makes any sense to you as it does to me. Suddenly the pangiallo saga was back and not only for the nostalgic memories but because, for us, it simply isn’t Christmas without it.

*measurements are for shelled nuts
*makes 4 medium size pangialli

300 gr almonds
300 gr walnuts
300 gr hazelnuts
100 gr pine nuts
800 gr raisins
850 gr honey
zest of 1 untreated organic orange
freshly ground nutmeg (1)
500-600 gr flour
200 gr good quality dark chocolate
2 tbsp. dark chocolate cocoa powder
Melt the honey and chocolate in a microwave or in a pot over a low flame, pour over the mix of nuts. Stir with a wooden spoon until all the nuts are covered with the honey and chocolate mixture.  It should be of a fairly hard consistency. Mix the chocolate cocoa powder and flour and stir it in the nut mixture, a little at a time. At a certain point you may need to use your hands, make sure to wet your hands with some vegetable oil before you do so, it will be easier to work the nut dough.  Divide in 4 equal balls and shape into round or oval loaves. Bake for 40 minutes up to 1 hour at 140 – 150 ºC.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Live the Authentic Truffle Hunt

Picture this, clusters of autumn colored crackling leaves. An emerald whorl of fronds susurrating in the breeze. A flowing river echoing nearby. A far-off whistle and the thud of swift paws from happy dogs. The smell of earth, the aroma of truffles. The sound of silence and the liberating feel of nature. This is just part of an exciting experience you can have during a weekend with Andrea, the expert truffle hunter, Zara and Briciolo, his two loving dogs, and us Barbara Toselli and Elvira Zilli with the company of Antonella Renelli at la Fattoria di Vibio in Umbria. 

Join us for an Authentic Truffle Hunt and Cooking Experience on October 22-23. 

Book Now! 

For info, tel. +39-333-69-03741 or email:


Provate ad immaginare: foglie croccanti colorate dall’autunno che scricchiolano al vostro passaggio, la brezza che fa ondeggiare spirali di fronde color smeraldo, il gorgoglio delicato di un piccolo fiume che scorre in lontananza. Un fischio leggero e il suono dello zampettio veloce e scattante dei cani. L’odore della terra umida del sottobosco, il profumo del tartufo. Il suono del silenzio e la sensazione di totale libertà, immersi nella natura.

Questo è solo un assaggio delle sensazioni che potrete provare nel corso di un week-end dedicato alla scoperta del tartufo umbro, in compagnia di Andrea, esperto cacciatore di tartufi, che ci accompagnerà nei boschi con i suoi cagnolini Zara e Briciolo svelandoci i suoi segreti. E in compagnia di Barbara ToselliElvira Zilli per cucinare insieme i frutti della preziosa caccia. Il tutto in compagnia di Antonella Renelli nella splendida cornice della Fattoria di Vibio.

Il prossimo 22-23 ottobre, unitevi a noi per vivere la vera esperienza della caccia al tartufo.

For info, tel. +39-333-69-03741 or email:

Friday, October 7, 2016

changing the topic

Draw a slit down the middle, lengthwise, from ear to ear. Not all the way through but deep enough so that the bottom remains intact and the top opens to welcome fresh whipped cream. I warn you, it will be a messy affair no matter what. Unless you don't feel comfortable slurping around the corners of your mouth you might want to consider using a napkin, if you really think it's necessary. You'll probably have to lick your fingers a couple of times too. In any case there's no user's manual, your instinct drives you to that voracious bite you were waiting for, whether it's messy or clean.

Soft, sweet, with bits of candied fruits and pine nuts, this bun is known in Rome as Quaresimale similar yet different than the well known Maritozzo, which I'm sure you may already know all about. This, is a treat you can find in Roman bakeries and cafes when entering the Lent season - the solemn religious observance that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends approx. six weeks later, before Easter. In Italian, Lent translates to Quaresima and from here the name Quaresimale. Now, I'm expecting the question and before you even ask, here's the answer.  The reason why I'm proposing this glorious bun of all sorts in October - when it's not even Christmas and far from Easter - is simple.

So, let me explain.

Every morning, for years, and more than once a day I go to my favorite cafe, Moma, right next door from where I work. You can imagine how many times I head over during the day even if it's just for coffee. The first morning stop is the one I prefer most because Pino, my favorite barman, makes a cappuccino that deserves a separate solemn observance right there. Then, there's Franco, one of the owners, the man who makes all the pastries and cookies you see lined up on the counter every morning. The same pastries and cookies everyday, nothing more nor less than the-exact-same sweets you've seen the day before and the day before that. I've tried them all. Yes, every single one.  The Quaresimale, which Franco makes year round, is my favorite, not too sweet, not too dull, not too much candied fruit, not too many pine nuts.  Everything meets my morning desire in a bun made of two-three bites. He doesn't accompany it with whipped cream, I think it's not even meant to be but I always thought to myself that it would be just perfect with some. No matter how many times I've asked Franco for the recipe, he'd always end up changing the topic and I'd forget reminding him. Years have gone by and I still have not been able to get that recipe from Franco. The trick of changing the topic keeps distracting me and so you know what?  I looked it up on the web and made it a point to make my own Quaresimali, take a picture and show Franco the Monday morning of the following week. I showed him this picture and trust me they look just the same! Franco looks at the picture and says "where did you get the recipe?"

Guess what?

I changed the topic :)

But I have to admit that even if they do look the same, Franco makes such a delicious kind that I'd rather just eat his than make my own. So, for those of you that can't go to Moma, here's the recipe I used.


1/2 kg bread dough
a handful of raisins
2 heap tbsp pine nuts
1 heap tbsp candied orange peel, in small diced pieces
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 heap tbsp of powder sugar

Flatten the bread dough on a clean surface. Add the raisins, the pine nuts, the diced candied orange peel, the powdered sugar and the extra virgin olive oil.  Knead the dough to work in all the ingredients.  Divide the dough in small equal pieces, the size of a small bun.  Place them on a lined baking sheet, cover with a clean cloth and let them rest in a warm corner of your kitchen.  When they've doubled in size, bake in a preheated oven at 200ºC for about 20 minutes.

Glaze the buns hot out of the oven.

For the glaze, mix some powdered sugar in very little water, enough to dissolve the sugar,  Once you've glazed the surface, put the buns back in the still warm (but turned-off) oven.  Leave them in the oven just a few minutes, enough to dry the glaze.

If you decide to try these with whipped cream, allow the buns to cool completely before filling them with fresh whipped cream.

Or eat them as they are, nice a warm.