Today I’m featuring Altamura Bread. I really like breads made with semolina flour and this bread is no exception.
Semolina flour feels gritty when dry, but doughs made with this flour become smooth and silky and very easy to work with. This particular bread incorporates semolina flour as well as a sponge of whole wheat and all purpose flour for a beautiful, rustic texture. It’s a delightful bread!
Altamura is a town in Puglia, Italy where they grow their own Durum wheat. This wheat is so special that the Altamurans have achieved the DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) for their breads which are made with semolina flour milled from the durum wheat grown in the area.
Although my version is made with flour from the farmer’s market, and not flour from Italy, it delicious nonetheless.
Altamura (Semolina) Bread
Makes: 1 small loaf
- 1/4 heaping teaspoon active dry yeast
- 2/3 cup Water
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon stoneground breadmaking whole-wheat or graham flour
- 1/2 cup Sponge (from above) *
- 1 2/3 cups Semolina flour
- 3/4 teaspoon Sea salt
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons Water
* Usually, a sponge is created and then used up. However, this bread has leftover sponge. You have a couple of options for dealing with the extra sponge: 1) use all of the sponge and add more flour, if necessary, to compensate. Or, 2) turn your sponge into a leaven by refreshing it with flour and water (but no yeast). Gradually, it will become a leaven or “wild yeast” starter.
To refresh it, add 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour, 6 1/2 tablespoons whole wheat flour and a scant 1/2 cup water and mix thoroughly. You would then use this as a levain (starter) and it could replace the sponge next time you make this bread. You’ll need to let the dough rise a bit longer, but the flavor and texture should be the same.
Making the Sponge
To make the sponge, dissolve the yeast in the water. Add the flours and mix to a soft sponge. There is no need to mix it vigorously. It will ferment for a long time so the naturally occurring enzymes and acids will develop the gluten.
Put the sponge in a bowl with plenty of room for expansion (up to 3 times its volume) and cover with a lid or plastic bag to conserve moisture. Let it ferment at room temperature for 16-48 hours. During this time the sponge will rise up and collapse. The yeast cells will multiply and the acids will begin to develop.
I marked it with the date and time so I could remember how long to let it rest on the counter. I made the sponge on Sunday, then made the dough and baked it on Tuesday.
Here is the dough after resting on the counter for 2 days. You can see how it has risen then fallen.
Making the Dough
Add the semolina, salt, and water at a temperature that will finish the dough at about 81 degrees F.
Knead it well until the dough is silky and stretchy. If it’s hard to stretch and seems to tear easily, add some more water. It takes semolina a little while to absorb its full complement of water because the granules are bigger than flour. Be prepared to adjust the dough while you are kneading.
I didn’t have to add more water, but I did add some more flour because the dough was just too wet. There, now I can stretch it without it tearing or sticking to the counter too much.
Put the dough in a bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for1-2 hours. This is the dough after rising on the counter for 1 1/2 hours.
Mold into an oval loaf that is slightly tapered at the ends, the shape of a rather fat football. Dip the loaf into a bowl of semolina flour so that the whole thing is covered. The semolina coating gives a wonderful crunch and nutty flavor to the crust. If the dough is too dry for the semolina to stick to it, wet it and try again. I just rolled it in the semolina on the counter to cover it. Couldn’t really get a photo of this because I didn’t have enough hands.
Dust a lined baking sheet with semolina flour and place the molded loaf on it. I put my loaf on a parchment-lined peel dusted with semolina flour so I could slide it off onto the hot baking stone. Cover the loaf with plastic wrap.
Allow plenty of time for a full proof so the bread will expand.
When the loaf is well risen, take a sharp blade (I used a serrated bread knife) and make 2 cuts, from point to point, about 3/8 inch apart at their widest and following the “contours” of the loaf. I followed the contour for the cut on the right but I didn’t quite get the one on the left curved the right way. We’ll get it right one day!
Slide the loaf onto a baking stone that has been preheated with the oven as hot as possible — 450 to 470 degrees F.
The finished loaf should have a golden brown crust that is quite hard immediately after baking.
The 2 cuts should have helped the inside of the dough to expand and push up a little through the crust. There should be a pleasing contrast between the cuts and the semolina-dusted crust. Allow the bread to cool before slicing or serving.