Baking my way through The Italian Baker – with a twist

In the UK, people are enamoured with Italian and French bread.  I think this is for three reasons:

1.  Fundamentally, the English like white bread and most Italian and French bread is made with white, wheat flour;

2.  France and Italy are probably the most popular tourist destinations and thus, the English are familiar with Italian and French bread and eating it is both comforting and reminds the eaters of their holidays;

3.  The French and Italians have been hugely successful at exporting their bread to the UK (and around the world) and so baguette, ciabatta, brioche, focaccia, etc are all common sites both at high end delis and (sadly) in poor, imitation form at supermarkets.

Most Italian bread is made with 00 flour which is close to Plain Flour in the UK (although not an exact match).  As I never have plain flour and use strong bread flour even for cakes (not a great cake baker) I will use strong bread flour througout this experiment.  This makes me a bad scientist, I know.  Oh well.  I knew that anyway.  There is no European standard labelling for flour so if you are interested, Andrew Whitley provides and excellent conversion tables in his book Bread Matters – which you can see at the bottom of this page.

Most Italian and French bread is made with yeast added to the dough in powdered or fresh form.  However, they must have baked with sourdough in the Beginning, BPY (before packaged yeast) and, as you may know, I am baking at the Clink and we are not allowed to use yeast.  The point of that detail is that Al is Italian and passionate about Italian bread.  So, it is the least I can do to bake my way through the Italian Baker written by Carol Field and recommended by Anna del Conte, and experiment substituting sourdough for yeast in all the recipes.  There won’t be any exact matches, but there will be some interesting results and maybe some close approximations of the real deal.