Failure, delicious failure

Inspired by the tales of pane di Altamura in my previous post, I had a go at Daniel Leader’s recipe for it with the remainder of my fine semolina. I only realised while doing some internet searching once it was in the oven that fine semolina wasn’t the right thing to use at all. It’s fine, but it’s still a meal, not a flour. It feels grainy rather than powdery between your fingers, and the texture of the final loaf wouldn’t be right. I really needed to get myself to a proper Italian deli and purchase some ‘farina di semola di grano duro.’

altamura failed 2

This is a shame because this loaf tasted great: an amazingly thick chewy crust and a nice interestingly dense crumb. It was also rather fun to make: quite spongy to knead, with a tendency to escape off the surface if left to its own devices.

altamura failed runaway


Loaf 19: semolina bread from Italy

I’ve been house-sitting for a friend who lives in Burnt Oak, which you would expect to be a solidly suburban area, lying as it does in far North London, nearly at the end of the Northern Line. But Burnt Oak feels metropolitan and is very multicultural. At Sunday lunchtime, I wandered around the huge Turkish grocery, Broadway Food Centre, to find piles of Romanian sausage, dozens of Greek cheeses, racks of plantains, Indian spices and pulses… and people of the corresponding nationalities and more all purchasing food for the week.

The range of flours rivaled that of the vast Kensington Wholefoods and was completely different: many different grades of Eastern European-origin wheat flour and Afro-Carribbean and Indian specialities like cassava, chickpea, yam, chapati flour. I bought a bag of fine semolina (aka durum wheat), which I’ve been after for ages for Daniel Leader’s pane di Altamura recipes. But I didn’t have the book with me, so I made this recipe instead.

tipo altamura

Photo: Sonya Hallett.

First I should explain why pane di Altamura is so special. It comes from the small town of Altamura in Southern Italy, indicated very approximately with a pink dot below, with a population of just 70,000. The bread is distinctive enough to have gained PDO status. There are plenty of rules about hydration and percentages one has to follow in order for the bread to be certified (and this blogger has had a go at fulfilling them), but the over-riding characteristic is that the flour is largely durum wheat, which is usually used only for pasta-making, as well as having a dry-ish dough, sourdough leaven and a mighty thick crust. Altamura’s local food culture is also so strong that it killed MacDonald’s.

I look forward to making it now the book and I are reunited.

map europe altamura

Now, the recipe I used for this, I don’t think it was even trying to imitate pane di Altamura, because it had sesame seeds on top. I think it’s a general Italian semolina bread instead. No matter, it was delicious. Also, it was quite distinct in taste from bread made with usual wheat flour: dense and sweet-smelling even though there was no sugar in it, with a texture that was halfway between bread and crumpet. I would certainly make this again, if I didn’t have another 81 loaves to go!

Here’s the crumb:

tipo altamura crumb

And here’s how to make it.


1 cup lukewarm water
1tsp active dry yeast
1.5 cups semolina flour
1 cups bread flour
0.5 tbsp salt
1 egg, to glaze
olive oil, for bowl
sesame seeds


1. Mix the yeast into the water, then add the semolina flour. As Macheesmo points out, it will looks remarkably like scrambled egg.

2. Mix in the bread flour to form quite a firm dough. Leave it to rest for 10 mins, then knead until smooth. The original recipe suggests you might want to add more flour if it’s sticky; I am actually added a dribble more water, because I am always afraid of dry bread.

3. Coat the dough with olive oil and leave to rise until it triples in size. This will take longer than usual for a yeast loaf, because you haven’t added much yeast. Mine took three hours.

4. Shape the bread, place on a baking tray, cover and leave it again, to double in size this time. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees.

5. When the bread’s ready to bake, brush well with beaten egg and scatter on the sesame seeds. Give it a few diagonal slashes.

6. When you put the loaf in the oven, turn the heat down to 190. Bake until cooked through and golden on top, 30-40 minutes.

Loaf 18: limppu from Finland

I’ve barely scratched the surface of Finnish bread-making in my research, and it already is clear that whole books could be written about about. And probably have been. In Finnish.

The main divide, as far as I can see, is between the east, which has been influenced by Russia, and the west, which has been more influenced by the rest of Scandinavia.

Traditional Western Finnish bread, reikäleipä, was baked to last over the winter in flat rounds, with a hole in the centre to hang the loaf from the ceiling. Some sources say it was baked once a year; they seem to agree that reikäleipä lasts a very long time.

Limppu, on the other hand, is from Eastern Finland and has more of the characteristics  you’d expect from a bread, such as being baked pretty frequently, not hanging from the ceiling.

Finnish bread history as a whole has a feeling of hardship to it that I haven’t encountered elsewhere yet. Read this for example. Bark bread appears to have been common at points in history, a famine food that involves mixing tree bark flour into rye flour to make it last longer. As I said, more research needed on all of the above.

Anyway, I made limppu from a recipe in here and it was fun. It’s 100% rye sourdough with three fermentation periods. On the final stage, you shape your quite soft dough into a cone.

limppu 1

The cone flattens out as the bread rises, and when the top is flat it’s ready to bake. Mine retained a wart-like bump on top, because I shaped that bit too enthusiastically.

limppu 2

The loaf turned out looking just like it ought to. Even the wart had more or less flattened out in the oven.

limppu 3

Unfortunately, I hated it. It was mouth-scouringly sour, almost bitter. I have no idea if this is the correct flavour, but it is too much for me and I’ve taken to eating it doused in honey. I wonder if the limppu would be better with some traditional Finnish accompaniments (buttermilk?).

I am still determined to give reikäleipä a try.

On the trail of Karaway Bakery’s Lithuanian scalded rye recipe

I am no fan of Paul Hollywood, but this right here is a brilliant bit of TV:

The process of baking this loaf captivated me right at the start of my sourdough adventures, from the double starter to the crowning moment when Hollywood points at the dead leaves on the base and says, “What’s that?” Quite a few loaves in, I have returned to the video to find that, no, I still haven’t come across a recipe quite like it.

I am determined to recreate this bread.

The video itself gives a lot of clues, but some questions could only be answered by catching a train out to Stratford and sampling a loaf of Karaway’s bread for myself.

Questions like: does it even taste good? How much rye does it have? What’s the crumb like?


I needn’t have worried about the taste disappointing. This bread, on the left, is delicious: malty and cakey and savoury, with a subtly caraway tang. But the best thing is the crumb: for a bread that is 95% rye, as the man at the counter told me, it’s astonishingly light, and moist without being the slightest bit sticky. The crumb texture is the work of an obsessive; someone has laboured over it.

Karaway 2

Folks, recreating this one is going to be tough.

The other loaf, by the way, was called Grandmother’s Rye Sourdough, or something like that. It was also very good, with a similar dense yet not heavy texture, but more wheat flour and a more assertive caraway flavour.

Oh, yes, the dead leaves weren’t just for TV. They’re called acorus calamus, and they taste mildly bitter, a bit like aniseed but less aromatic. Here they are:

Karaway 3