Sunday, August 21, 2011

#148 Sour Doughnut? or Rustic Italian Style Tortano Bread?

                              A Tortano is a filled, round bread that has its roots in the Naples region of Italy. Shaped like a ring this bread gets the unique name from its cake-like shape and the true original is filled with cooked eggs.  The rustic style Tortano may be baked with no filling inside of it like the Royal Crown's Tortano one of the signature rustic breads from the Royal Crown Bakery in Brooklyn.  There are as many recipes for it on the web as there are bakers like me who have successfully made a loaf or two(or should I say ring or two?) 
I was so impressed with the results of my Tortano with a soft interior and crusty exterior that I am extremely pleased with the results.

Once upon a  time, I used to fear baking bread. Maybe it was the fear that yeast would take over the kitchen---just like the dough ballooning out of the oven in a certain episode of "I Love Lucy"!!
Many years ago I overcame this fear when I first attempted to bake a loaf of bread and got comfortable with how to work with yeast. N loves fresh home-made bread with a dab of butter so I kept baking bread whenever I got a chance. Once I got into kneading and shaping the dough it felt so good between the palms of my hands it became a form of  therapy and now it leads me to Nirvana!! I may have exaggerated a bit, but you know the drill--- there is an inner peace that comes with the step by step process of proofing, kneading and the aroma wafting up the stairs through the house on a warm Summer weekend.  There can be no risen bread without yeast, which releases oxygen from sugars in the flour to produce carbon dioxide and alcohol when it comes in contact with water. My first loaves of bread did not produce enough holes in winter as they did in summer , when gas bubbles are created in the dough making it rise beautifully. So I decided that I would bake bread only in the Summer and stuck to it....

Recently, I've been combining Spelt flour and unbleached flour in all my bread and roti recipes. Spelt has so much fiber and is such a good source of niacin that it benefits both the cardiovascular system and aids in controlling diabetes.   Of course this meant that the bread did not have the beautiful white color like the loaves presented by the Great Chefs in Cookbooks and the Food Channel, but who cares? What really matters is the nutritional value in the food and not its color.

A few days back, I ran into the book Artisan Baking Across America by Maggie Glazer. One look at the large holes in the slices of Tortano bread and I had to bake it..... the only thing about this bread is that the dough in the picture above is as sticky and will cling to your fingers in a sticky gooey blob when you lift it out of the bowl-almost disappointing. I had to stop myself from adding more flour until the very end of proofing when I scooped out the mess and formed it into the ring-like shape. It is amazing how when the ring starts proofing, it holds so well together and bakes into a gorgeous chewy sourdough-like bread.................
OK now it's time for therapy;)

There are two steps to the Tortano bread making
Step I. The night before baking make the Pre-ferment or the starter.
Step II. The next morning mix the dough and let it ferment for about 4 hrs. Shape it and proof it for about 11/2 hrs and then bake the bread for about 45 mins.

Step I. Pre-ferment

11/2 tsp Active Rise yeast
1 cup water- 115 degrees
2/3 cup unbleached bread flour
1 small potato(3 ounces)
1. Dissolve a tspn of sugar in the water in a glass measure and let stand for 5-10 mins. Add 1/3 cup of this bloomed water to the flour and beat this very sticky starter until well combined.
2. Cover with plastic wrap and let it ferment for about 12 hours or overnight until it is full of huge bubbles and sharp tasting.  If you rkitchen is too warm, unlike mine you can place it in the fridge after
3-4 hrs of fermenting and in the morning remove it and allow it to come to room temperature for about an hour before forming the final dough.
3. Quarter the potato, boil in water to cover intil it can be easily pierced with a knife maybe about 20 mins.
4. Drain, reserve the water for the dough. Remove skin, press the cooked potato through a ricer or sieve to puree. Reserve only 1/4 cup puree and keep in fridge.

Step II. Mixing the Dough and Baking

3  cups Unbleached Bread flour
3/4 cup spelt flour
1 3/4 cups plus 3 Tblspn Water, including potato water used for cooking.
The Starter or pre-ferment
2 tspn Honey
1/4 cup packed Potato puree
1 Tblpsn salt
1. Use your fingers to mix the flour and water into a rough, very wet dough in a large bowl. Cover the dough and let rest for 10-20 minutes.
2. Now, add the starter from Step I, honey, potato and salt and knead the dough in the bowl of the kitchen aid. Fit the dough hook and on medium speed mix until it is smooth for about 15-20 minutes.
3. It starts off feeling rubbery and then as you keep kneading it will break down and if you keep going it will eventually come together into a smooth, shiny dough.
Since this is a tremendously wet and sticky dough scrape the dough down instead of adding any more flour because that could ruin the texture of the bread. The final dough will be almost pourably wet.
4. Shape the dough into a ball and roll it in flour. Place it in a container at least 3 times its size and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let it ferment until doubled in size and filled with large air bubbles for almost
4 hours. Turn the dough 4 times in 20 minute intervals between fermentation time using enough dusting of flour up until 1 hour and 20 minutes have passed.
5. Then leave the dough undisturbed for the rest of the fermenting time. Make sure not to allow the dough to overferment or collapse since that will impact the flavor and texture of your product.

Look at those fabulous air pockets that made the soft chewy bread sooooo good !!

Shaping and Proofing

6. Turn out the dough onto a well floured work surface like your cleaned kitchen counter, round it and let it rest for 20 mins. Sprinkle a wooden board generously with flour. Slip a
baking sheet under the board if you are using one for support.
7. Again sprinkling the top of the dough ball with enough flour, push your fingers into the center to make a hole, then rotate your hand around the hole to widen it to make a 3-4 inch opening. Notice
that the bread is now a circular ring about 12 inches in diameter. If you prefer, shape into loaves of elongated French bread and slash the tops.
8. Place the dough smooth side(bottom) down on the floured boad and dust the surface with more flour. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it proof until it is light and springs back when pressed. This
proofing lasts for about 1 1/2 hours.


9. When the proofing is completed and the dough springs back when pressed with a finger, arrange a rack on the oven's second to top shelf and place a baking stone on it if you have one.
Since I did not have a baking stone, I used a baking sheet.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
10.  Remove the plastic wrap gently and turn out onto a sheet of parchment paper. No worry about damaging the bread shape when you handle it since it will recover its shape. Slash it with
4 radical cuts. Slide the loaf onto the baking sheet or stone and bake intil it is very dark brown for about 40-50 mins.
11. Now, let the bread cool on a rack. Slice and make awesome sandwiches. Keep reading to see how I use the leftovers from this bread with Mussels, Brandied Mushroom Dip, Roasted tomatoes and herbed Chevre in the next posts.


  1. That bread looks fabulous! Great texture.



  2. this looks wonderful and enjoyed the history of the post

  3. Very informative post and great looking bread!

  4. The bread looks fantastic! I am still learning to bake bread and have not yet successfully baked one. You post is inspiring me a lot!

  5. Love this post and that bread looks fantastic! Your step by step pictures are great too! always love finding a new bread recipe!

  6. Whoa... that's some of the best looking bread I've ever seen... seriously. So airy and delicious inside. Ok, I'm making this, totally making this. This weekend methinks!

  7. Beautiful ~ love the crust n texture ~ must have smelled divine when baking :)

  8. Great looking bread,beautiful crust, lovely insides.


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