On our recent Alpine adventure in northern Italy, I was amazed at how different the cuisine was compared to other regions. The food has a definite German influence, and in fact even many of the names of different dishes are German. Although I found much of the food offered in this mountainous region a bit heavy for my taste, I completely fell in love with the wide selection of breads. I have always been someone who prefers artisan breads that use whole grains, and at breakfast each day at our hotel a variety of wonderful hearty grain breads were offered along with homemade jams and local honey.
One of the issues I have with most Italian bread in general is that it is usually made with white flour and has little flavor as it is made to accompany other foods, not stand on its own. Slowly over the past few years I do see a change in the selection of breads offered in restaurants here in Italy, and now one does find a whole grain offering from time to time, but that still is not the norm.
When I bake bread at home these days, it is always a whole grain bread since I am working hard to decrease the amount of white flour I use in my kitchen. I prefer the taste and texture of whole grains, and of course they are much healthier for you than white bread.
Upon our return from northern Italy, the first thing I did was to source out rye flour which is not a typical flour used here in Umbria. One can easily find whole wheat and farro flour in most supermarkets, but rye is just not commonly used in our region.
Once I had my rye flour I decided to experiment with a combination of flours for my first try. I do know that using all whole grain flour can create a very dense bread, and since it was my first experience baking with rye flour, I wanted to ensure it wasn’t too heavy so I combined it with farro flour and some typo “00” (pizza flour).
I used a light rye for this bread, and a whole grain farro flour, although the next time I bake it I will use a dark rye flour. If you cannot find the pizza flour, feel free to use all-purpose flour, and spelt flour is almost the same as farro flour. Many of the breads we enjoyed on our trip included nuts or seeds so I chose sunflower seeds for this loaf, but walnuts would also be very tasty.
I use a biga or sponge in most of my breads as I feel it adds a lightness to the breads as well as flavor. I prefer to make my sponge the morning before I plan to bake my bread and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. You will only need a cup of the starter (biga), so keep the rest in the refrigerator to use for future bread baking.
You can keep the biga in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or you can also freeze it. Just thaw the biga completely and allow to come to room temperature before using. For all of my bread baking recipes I use only SAS Instant Yeast. I prefer it since you do not have to proof it first and it can be mixed right into the dry ingredients. I have always had great results with this yeast and would use no other, and in fact it is one of the few kitchen items I bring with me to Italy each year. This recipe makes three fair sized loaves of bread. I freeze two for future use, and enjoy the other on baking day.
The Stunning Alto Adige Region In All Its Glory
- 1/4 Teaspoon Active Dry Yeast
- 1/4 Cup Warm Water
- 3/4 Cup Plus 4 Teaspoons Water
- 2 1/3 Cups Unbleached All-purpose Flour
- 2 Cups Rye Flour
- 2 Cups Farro Flour
- 2 Cups Tipo “00” Flour (Or All-Purpose Flour)
- 1 Tablespoon Active Dry Instant Yeast (See Notes Above)
- 1 Teaspoon Sea Salt
- 1 1/2 Cups Unsalted Sunflower Seeds
- 1 Tablespoon Molasses
- 3 Cups Warm Water (Approximate)
- Mixed Seeds
Stir the yeast into the 1/4 cup of warm water, mix well and let stand 10 minutes. Stir the remaining water into the yeast mixture, and then stir in the flour, 1 cup at a time. Transfer the biga to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature for at least 12 hours, or until the starter is triple its original volume but is still wet and sticky. Cover and refrigerate or freeze the biga until ready to use.(See Notes Above) Baking Day: Take 1 cup of the bigs out of the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature. In a large bowl, add the three flours, yeast, salt, and sunflower seeds, and stir to mix. Add the molasses and begin to add the water cup by cup stirring continuously just until the dough comes together. Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead by hand for about 7 to 8 minutes, or until the dough is smooth. Roll the dough into a ball, then place into a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot in your kitchen until the dough doubles in size, about an hour and a half. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and sprinkle with cornmeal. Dived the dough into three equal sized pieces and roll into a round or oval disc shapes. Place the loaves on the prepared sheets and cover with kitchen towels. Let the dough rise for 30 minutes Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Carefully brush the top of the loaves with water, then sprinkle with the mixed seeds. Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the center of the loaves registers 195 degrees F. Cool on wire racks and enjoy!