Pane di Como Antico is a legendary bread from northern Italy. It has a nicely-holed interior and a chewy, crunchy crust. This recipe is based on one from Carol Field’s book, “The Italian Baker.” Her title for the bread is “Pane di Como Antico o Pane Francese — Como Bread of the Past, Known Today as French Bread,” on page 103. The recipe she printed is based on the work of an Italian baker who researched the origins and development of the bread and developed a recipe that seemed to deliver what he had concluded was the old-fashioned taste and texture. I don’t know if he hit the mark or not, but this is certainly good bread. I don’t want to get involved in an argument over which came first, Lake Como bread or French Bread.
Daniel Leader has a recipe for Como Bread in his “Local Breads.” His recipe makes a 73% hydration dough. It is, however, very good bread.
This recipe uses a 64% pre-ferment and no additional yeast, which is sort of a cross between normal yeasted bread technique and sourdough technique. If you don’t trust your ability or the power of the small amount of yeast, you can add a bit of yeast to the final dough, I won’t tell. This bread bakes in a dry oven, while French bread usually has steam in the oven. I have made this bread several times and have always baked in a dry oven and it has always turned out well. The next time I make it, I’ll use steam in the oven and see how that affects the bread.
One cautionary note. The recipe as printed in the book appears to have an error. She calls for 2 teaspoons of salt and gives the metric equivalent as 10 grams. This is wrong. Two teaspoons of salt weighs 16 grams and 2 teaspoons is 10 milliliters. It looks as if there is a typo. I have changed the salt quantity to 2 teaspoons or 16 grams. One other note, because I worked this recipe in metric, some of the English quantities may strike you as a bit odd. Bear with it, it’ll all work out in the oven, as it were.
|Bread Flour||3 7/8||110|
|Dry Yeast||1/2 tsp||3 ml|
|Biga||6 3/8||180||All the biga from above|
|Whole Wheat Flour||2 1/4||65|
|Bread Flour||15 3/8||435|
This recipe makes two loaves. My photos show me making 4 loaves, a double recipe.
1. Make the biga the day before. Leave it on the counter overnight.
2. The next day, place biga, water and both flours in the bowl of a large stand mixer and mix for 2 minutes.
3. Cover the dough and let it rest for 25 minutes.
4. Uncover the dough, add salt and mix for 6 minutes.
5. Place the dough in a lightly oiled container, cover it, and let the dough ferment for 1 1/4 hours. Then fold the dough.
6. Cover the dough and let it ferment for 30 minutes more.
7. Uncover the dough, divide it into two pieces and let the doughs rest for 20 minutes.
8. Flour a space on the counter large enough for the two loaves.
9. Roll each piece into a fat cylinder. Place each dough seam side up on the floured space on the counter.
10. Dimple each dough heavily with your fingers. This will prevent the dough from expanding too much.
11. Cover the doughs with a towel and let them rise for about 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled. You should spritz the towel with water once or twice to prevent the doughs from drying out.
12. Heat the oven to 425F / 220C and place tiles or a baking stone in the oven.
13. When the loaves are ready to bake, gently lift each bread dough and invert it onto the tiles or stones.
14. Reduce the heat to 400F / 205C.
15. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the loaves to even out the baking.
16. Bake until done. Either the loaves should sound hollow when rapped on the bottom or they should reach an internal temperature of 200F / 93C.
17. Remove to a rack to cool.
Here we go:
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