Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pain alla Ricotta (Ricotta Bread)

This is the first Italian Bread that i have baked from Daniel Leaders book, Local Bread, and the smell is just about killing me. Do you remember those cartoons, where there is a pie on the table, and the odor is wafting in a stream through the air, and the cartoon character literally sprouts wings and flies over to the pie. That is how I am feeling at the moment. I have to share this video with you. My mother sent this to me, and it was so adorable and it fits perfectly. 

Each inhalation, is another midterm examination on my free-will! I have passed the test so far, but these adorable flour- dusted loaves have only been out of the oven 15 minutes. 

I dropped by the Ohio State Medical Center today to drop off two slices of my Semolina Sandwich bread to my former mentor. He is also a bread baker.  He does it more as a hobby, but still he bakes. We have been trying to get together to bake for quite some time, and I think it is finally going to happen. When we do, there will be plenty of pictures. The process of baking with another person is something that I really enjoy. To me, there is nothing more meaningful than a slow fermented loaf, baked to perfection. It is baked until just before carbonization takes place. It is at that point where all of the tones and flavors of the long preparation and baking process are heightened.

I am mentioning this particular fellow because he was fairly certain that the loaf was not going to be very good.  Because he is a lactose intolerant individual, he is repulsed by cheese  To be honest when I started mixing this dough I had similar thoughts. The dough called for all purpose flour, which is something I only use in quick breads and muffins. I was really questioning this, even though I do remember Leader mentioning that most Italian breads are baked with flour that has a lower protein content.

Here is a "quick note" for those of you who are interested in useless information: All-purpose flour is simply a blend of bread flour and pastry flour mixed in a one to one ratio. If you have extra time on your hands or have nothing better to do, you can make your own. However, you can just buy it already made. So really what is the point?
This bread formula does contain a few dough conditioning ingredients, including butter and milk and some ricotta. The recipe called for whole milk, but I substituted one percent milk. I use to drink whole milk, but I have recently started drinking low fat milk. I have progressed from whole milk, to 2% and within the last month I have changed over to 1 percent milk. It really is not so bad. That being said, there is NO WAY that I am going to be drinking skim milk anytime soon.  You might as well ask me to drink water flavored with White-Out   If you drink skim milk, more power to you!

The reason I changed to drinking low fat milk, is because all of that saturated fat is not necessary. If it can be avoided in your diet, you might as well just avoid it. The price is about the same. Go ahead and  try to make the transition. If there is one thing that I will drink to, it's my health.  And so should you, or at least consider it! 

In addition, I recently started a plan to increase my lean mass by working out and eating close to 3000 calories per day. I only get to eat a certain amount of fat, and I'd rather have my saturated fats coming from cheese as opposed to milk. Also, if all of my fats are coming from milk, then I would have to use less oil. I cook a lot and cooking with a little oil is just something I enjoy. A little bit goes along way. Doing without it seems STUPID, flavorless and painful.  Its hard enough to let a loaf cool completely. If you want to give up fat, happiness, and waste a ton of money in the process, go to the Pritikin Longevity Spa.  I know, I worked there and I wouldn't wish that upon anyone! 

Back to the conditioning ingredients: The butter and milk in this recipe ultimately help to soften the crumb as well as to add flavor. Just like in a pie dough, the fat tends to soften the crumb and tenderize the overall product. This recipe's hydration is 60% from water and 40% from milk. There is 30 grams of butter used in this recipe, which is close to two tablespoons. When making bread, I weigh everything using a scale, even the water, so I can not tell you the exact volumetric measurements. I am not exactly sure what the effect of the ricotta will be on the dough, but it does contain some butter fat and that should help to tenderize the dough. There are 150 grams of ricotta in this bread or about 75grams per loaf. One thing I can tell you with utmost certainty is that the smell of the ricotta was absolutely wonderful. The loaves carry the aroma throughout the bake, and I enjoyed the smell very much. I am expecting the ricotta taste to be evident in the bread as well. Use full fat ricotta. Don't mess around with low fat cheese when it comes to recipes with ricotta.! 

I was a little concerned during the mix. The dough was very wet.  Also, because I did not use bread flour, there was considerably less gluten than I am used to in my breads. I took it out of the bowl, thinking that it was ready to ferment, but when I tugged on it, I found that the dough needed considerably more time in the mixing bowl. Eventually I did add some bread flour just to help give the dough a little more structure. I probably added a good handful. (all of my Grammy Shanie's recipes use handfuls and pinches. Its funny because her hand is half the size of mine, and here I am using the same terminology,  life....its works in strange ways.)

The extra flour really helped the structure and the overall consistency of the dough. Once again this dough did have a lot of tenderizing ingredients, so it is understandable that the gluten development was a little slow. Once again, Leader recommends mixing this bread on speed three.  I have a tendency to speed things up a bit. However, when I saw what this dough was doing, I decided to go ahead and use third speed for three or four minutes. It really did help the dough come together. Leader also suggests you proof this bread for 90 minutes.  Because I worked out in between and stopped by the hospital to drop off some bread to my colleagues, it ended up fermenting for close to two hours.

As soon as I got home, I divided and shaped the dough into boules and placed them on a well-floured counter. These bread are then supposed to proof for about an hour.  I only proofed them for forty minutes because of their lightness and the fact that they had fermented for an extended amount of time. (I forgot to mention that this dough called for a tablespoon of yeast.  I cut that down by 33% and only used 2 teaspoons. Yeast is the only thing I measure by volume because my scale's lack of sensitivity to very light ingredients). Another interesting thing about this bread is that after it proofs you flip it upside down onto the baking stone. I sort of like the look it got because of this:  both surfaces were floured. Leader did not mention anything about scoring the dough, but I chose to. The resulting splits got lovely color that you can see in the photos below. It was a nice and affordable change to not having to use semolina, which I can only get in these small Bob's Mill bags from the local co-op.  I consider this a bit of a rip-off  (and my Bubbe (grandmother) would agree) . But why not support your local community if you can.  And if you can't just do what you can. I would much rather you bake bread, than shop at whole foods all the time. I dont really care for the place.

I really wish my Auntie Jean could try this bread. She is Italian, and I think she would really appreciate it. I will have to make it next time I see her. 

Just tried it, this bread is in desperate need for a biga but that is okay. Ill eat it, it is just lacking depth, but it is not bad!

Bake on!
Happy Valentines Day and remember broken hearts want broken necks, so be kind


  1. You make me laugh! Thank you for bringing a smile to my face--and now I'm drooling again thinking about your yummy bread!

  2. can your write the recipe in gams ?hopping to make it ,looks yummy