In the south of Italy there is a town called Altamura. Famous for, more than anything, their bread made from semolina.
Horace, the great Latin poet of the 1st century BC, while travelling to Brindisi, described the bread of Altamura as “the best by far” and so appetising that “wise travellers would carry a load on their shoulders for later.”
The discovery of Pane di Altamura by the Romans, accustomed to stodgy, indigestible barley bread, soon elevated it to the status of “panis palatinus” on the Emperor’s table. In the Middle Ages, while throughout Europe the common people were obliged by famines, wars and primitive agricultural techniques to eat bread made from barley or from acorns and clay, the people of Altamura ate the best bread by far.
We can't make Pane di Altamura outside of Altamura, but this semola loaf comes a close second.
This recipe produces a pale yellow loaf, with a dense but soft even crumb and a thick chewy crust with a biscuity flavour.
Excellent for dipping, mopping up soup or eat with a drizzle of oil and some cheese. It also works well a few days after baking to make bruschetta, especially with a tomato topping. The flavour of the tomato's juice pairs deliciously with the toasted bread.
Mix the semolina and bakers malt with 375g water to a shaggy mess. Leave for 90 minutes.
Blitz the Motherdough with 125g water to a smooth paste.
Combine the above mixtures together and knead on a medium-low speed until well combined, then add the flour a little at a time until fully combined.
Knead on a medium-high speed until the dough comes together well, clearing the sides of the bowl. As soon as the dough clears the bottom, stop mixing. (This will take about 10 minutes). Leave to rest for 30 minutes in a cool place.
Turn the dough out onto a clean counter. Slap & fold the dough for about 5 minutes. The dough will be quite sticky and this will help to get more water absorbed. The dough will become smoother.
Shape and place in a banneton. Leave warm (25 deg C) to prove until double in size and passes the poke test.
Preheat the oven to 140 deg C for at least 45 minutes (dutch oven, steel etc).
Score a the dough and place in the oven, or in a dutch oven. Increase the temperature to 220 deg C fan on.
Spray sides of the oven with a pressure sprayer for 10 second at a time to create steam. Repeat 3-4 times at 5 minute intervals.
If using a Dutch Oven place the lid on and only remove after 40 minutes.
Bake until the bread has a rich dark colour and passes the hollow sounding knock test.
Allow to cool before slicing. As the crumb of this loaf is more dense, this will take longer than a classic bread.
Unlike most of our other bread recipes, this loaf works best with a warm fermentation and proof. Mix and bake on the same day.
The other difference is using the oven temperature different - starting cooler to baking hotter.
This bake could take the whole day, so start early.