Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pane Genzanese

One of the lovely things about reading a lot of food writing is that the eventual cumulative effect is that of an extended conversation. The foodie/chef world is a fairly small one, and the same reviews, enthusiasms, and questions come up frequently, often with illuminating differences.

So it was that I was caught dorking out in bed, chortling to myself over having found a new recipe for the Genzano Country Bread I've been making, a recipe from a writer with very different preoccupations, style, and skills than Daniel Leader, but another devotee of this very bread. Jeffrey Steingarten, in his collection of essays It Must Have Been Something I Ate: The Return of the Man Who Ate Everything, devotes a chapter to the Pane Genzanese, along with the Roman pizza bianca. Steingarten's recipe has similar quantities to Leaders, but a somewhat different method, and very detailed instructions.

Leader's version starts with a biga, a starter fueled by a small amount of sourdough. Steingarten's begins with a small yeast-based poolish that ferments for 12 hours, followed by a starter based on the poolish, and then finally followed by the bread itself. Both authors seem to feel the bread can't be properly made without a mixer.

Lacking a mixer, I have to hope they're wrong. I did have to oil my hands a fair amount, but Steingarten's slow and bit-by-bit instructions allowed me to achieve an incredible result, a huge, almost burnt, crusty and very moist bread, the kind sawed into quarters for sale in Italian bakeries.

Every bread baking is different, depending on day, flour, temperature, rising times, and retardation (that means putting it in the refrigerator. shut up.). Still, from my informal comparison, I'd say Steingarten's technique takes it. At least so far. I'm looking for more recipes.

The loaf was huge, but it was meant to be even larger. Jill and I absconded with a fair chunk of it for a little pizza.

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