Pan Rustico – Spanish Country Bread

Pan RusticoThis bread has become my new favourite recipe.  I made it for the first time ten days ago and I have made it 4 times since.

I was making Spanish food for a friend who was staying with us and I wanted an authentic Spanish bread recipe.  So I contacted another friend (who shall remain nameless) who had lived in Spain for a while and she sent me a recipe which had apparently been given to her by an ex-boyfriend’s mother. 

I also did my usual search through recipe books and on-line.  The recipe at the top of my Google search was a BBC Food recipe taken from the Hairy Biker’s Bakeation series.  I had to smile to myself as I read it because it bore an uncanny resemblance to the “authentic” recipe my friend had sent me. 

Now it is possible that Si and Dave (The Hairy Bikers) met my friend’s, boyfriend’s mother on their travels but I suspect that, somewhere along the lines, someone has stretched the truth a little.

Not that it really matters because this is great bread.

The recipe requires you to make the starter 24 hours before you bake the bread so this is not a spur of the moment bake but it is well worth the effort.  The starter ferments and gives off a wonderfully yeasty, beery smell which in turn gives the bread a great flavour, somewhere between a sour dough and a more traditional bread.
The wholemeal flour gives the bread a slightly rougher texture and, again, adds to the flavour but there is not enough of it to make this into a “worthy” bread and it is still light and indulgent with a good, chewy crust.

I should warn you that this is the wettest dough I have ever worked with and it scared me a little the first time I made it.  I would not recommend making it without a scraper as it sticks to everything; your hands, the work surface and the scraper.  It felt more like spreading than kneading but, over time, it did come together although I confess to adding a little more flour when it firmly refused to behave.

For this reason it is really important to measure your water accurately – you really don’t want to add too much.  Measuring jugs are notoriously inaccurate so I always weigh my fluids for recipes.  If your scales don’t weigh millilitres or fluid ounces don’t panic. 1ml of water weighs 1 gram and 1 fl oz weighs 1 oz. 

If you have time on your hands one day try calibrating your measuring jugs.  I have 4 in different sizes and have found that, when measuring 100 ml, there is a 10 ml difference across them all – that’s a significant range when accuracy is needed. 

So, if I haven’t put you off completely, give this bread a go; it tastes great and, because it is “rustic” bread, it doesn’t matter if it is a bit wonky looking – it all adds to the charm.  And my final tip?  Never tell your friends when you have caught them out in a fib.  (oops!)

Pan Rustico RecipeIngredients

For the starter

150ml / ¼ pint tepid Water

1 tsp Caster Sugar

3 tsp fast-action dried Yeast

125g/4½oz Strong White Bread Flour

For the bread dough

200ml / ⅓ pint tepid Water

1 tsp Caster Sugar

1 tsp fast-action dried Yeast

225g / 8oz Strong White Bread Flour (plus a little extra for dusting)

100g / 3½oz Strong Wholemeal Bread Flour

1 tsp Salt

1 tbsp Olive Oil (plus a little extra for oiling the bowl)

Method

For the starter

Pour the water into a medium bowl and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Gently stir in the yeast and leave it in a warm place, away from draughts, for about 10 minutes. When it is ready a beige film will float on the surface.

Stir in the flour to make a thick paste, cover tightly with cling film and leave at room temperature for 24 hours. The starter will rise quite dramatically and then fall back a little – that’s ok; it is still doing its thing.

For the bread dough

Pour the water into a bowl and stir in the sugar until it is dissolved. Gently stir in the yeast and leave it in a warm place for about 10 minutes or until a beige foam floats on the surface.

Stir the flours and salt together in a large bowl, then make a well in the centre and add the yeast and water mixture, the starter dough and the oil.

Mix with your hands until you have a wet, sticky dough.

Transfer the dough to a smooth work surface and begin to knead. At first this feels more like spreading a wet batter across the work surface! Resist the urge to add more flour at this stage as this will give you a drier, more dense loaf. If, after five minutes of kneading, the dough has not started to become smooth and elastic sprinkle the work surface with a little flour and sprinkle a little on top of the dough and continue kneading. This should help it to come together properly

Once the dough has formed a smooth, elastic ball, place it in an oiled mixing bowl, cover it loosely with oiled cling film and leave it to rise for about an hour or until it has doubled in size.

Dust a large baking tray with a handful of flour.

Tip the risen dough straight onto the floured tray. It should tip easily from the oiled bowl but you may need to ease it away from the sides with your fingertips.

Stretch the dough gently until it’s about 30cm/12in long, then fold it in half and stretch again. Repeat twice more. This helps to strengthen the dough and to trap in plenty of air.

Shape the dough into a long oval shape and make three or four slashes in the top with a sharp knife. Dust the top liberally with flour, cover loosely with more cling film and leave in a warm, draught free place to rise for a further 45 minutes. Do not over-prove at this stage. The dough should look well risen but still be holding its shape.

Preheat the oven to 240C/450F/Gas 8 so that it has reached temperature before the end of the second proving.

Bake the loaf for 20–25 minutes or until golden brown and crusty. The base should sound hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

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