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A thoughtful blend of original ‪‎photography‬, ‪haiku‬ and ‪calligraphy‬; a cathartic journey upon fluid images and simple words.

1 Feb 2010

Let's blow those candles all together!

The past week Jamie of Life’s a feast, a good friend of mine and inspiring blogger, had her birthday. This month, she is hosting the ritual Bread Baking Day and to make it special we are bringing all our breads to her place for a cosy birthday party.
I haven’t baked bread very often, I guess you can easily count the times I did on the fingers of one hand. Probably it was just out of laziness since wherever I lived I could find great breads just around the corner and I am in love with my home town bread: Lentini’s bread.

A pure durum wheat bread made from locally grown plants, baked in traditional stone oven, fired with olive tree wood and almond shells. At first sight, a thick cinnamon brown crust tempts your senses, perfect tiny sesame seeds stud its surface; the intricate shapes in which this bread is usually baked leaves plentiful of tiny dollops that you will just tear away to hide it in your mouth, looking around to make sure mommie isn’t looking.
Its crumb, golden yellow, dense but porous has a sweet aroma and delicate flavour; the crackling of the crust fills your hears, the warmth of the bread make you want to cuddle it like a teddy bear, you squint your eyes in pleasure when the crumb start releasing its incredible aromas. You just need a pot of hot spicy garlicky tomato sauce (better if made from canned tomatoes) and… Oh my, what memories.

It is true that bread can talk to our soul trough our nostrils, as Leonardo might through our eyes.

Approaching the creation of such a symbol of our sustenance is at once humbling and exciting. To repeat the gestures that millions of men and women have perfected across the centuries to feed their families or to thank the Lord. I still remember when, still a small boy, I was walking through my little town hand in hand with my grandmother directed toward the local bread oven to collect our bread. High over a staircase that seemed forged by nature itself with its large basaltic slab we ventured closer to the mountain that, following tradition, acted as jail for the local saints during the roman persecutions. Flanked by wrinkled old houses, we could already smell those breads baking and see Vulcano’s cove sparkling with the orange and yellow flashes coming out of the blackened oven. All around the rustic dark room resembling a grotto, women were shaping their breads; decorating them with a seal that stated their ownership before handling them to the owner of the oven that in her black widow dress with a white apron and stormy dark hairs was sliding them into the red hot cave.
Bread deserves respect as a good friendship.
Thinking at Jamie, I wanted to create something spicy and sweet so I decided for a cumin scented loaf studded with dried raisins. The main recipe, a bit modified, was taken from Shirley Corriher’s great “Bakewise” book; the simplest almost no knead bread.
Cumin-Raisin Boule
  • 250g bread flour
  • 10g semolina flour
  • 200ml warm (at 20C/68F) plus 1 cup boiling water
  • 4g dried active yeast
  • 0.4g ground cinnamon
  • 4tsp cumin seeds, toasted and grinded
  • 2tbsp dried raisins
  • 0.2 g soya lecithin (you can find it quite easily in health food stores)
  • 6mg vitamin C (just crush one of the tablets you can buy in parmacy or health food store and take a tiny bit of the powder)
  • 5g salt
  • Canola oil
From the water, reserve enough to dissolve the yeast and salt, lecithin and vitamin C (roughly 1tbsp). In a mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the flours, the spices and the rest of the water at the lowest speed and for only 20 seconds. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it stand for at least 30 minutes so the flour can hydrate itself. In the meantime soak the raisins in warm water.
When the time is almost over, in two little bowls divide the reserved water and sprinkle the yeast over one and the salt, lecithin and vitamin C in the other. Let the yeast hydrate for only 1 minute and then sprinkle it over the dough and mix, always with the paddle attachment, for a few seconds. Now sprinkle in the salted water with the raisins and mix the dough at the second speed for roughly 2 minutes.
Slightly oil the bowl where your dough will rest and with your hands also oiled and a bench scraper, transfer the dough into it. Cover it with plastic wrap and let ferment for 45 minutes in a warm environments (ideally, the dough temperature should be around 22C/72F and the environment temperature shouldn’t exceed 30C/86F ).
When the time is almost over, oil the counter using an oiled paper towel; dump the dough onto it and let it flatten out by itself (or delicately use your fingers to do so). At this point, lift the left third of the dough and gently fold it across the rest of the dough, allow it some time for the dough to spread and relax; repeat with the right, top and bottom sides. This is a more delicate way of incorporating oxygen into your dough and redistributes yeast’s food supply than the classical punching down of the dough.
Put the dough back into the bowl turning it over so that the part touching the counter is up again and cover it with plastic foil. At this point you may even put your dough in your fridge and let it ferment overnight; in this case let it come to room temperature the next day (1h or so should be enough) before proceeding with the recipe. If you decide not to do the overnight fermentation, just let the dough rest for another 45minutes.
At this point proceed with the folding process once more. Let the dough rest on the counter for roughly 20 minutes, covered with some plastic wrap.
At this point the dough is ready to shape. Using a cupping and rotating movement stretch the top of the boule tucking the dough underneath. When the top looks nice and smooth, seal together the seam on the bottom of the boule by pinching both sides together. Put the boule on a sheet of baking paper and let it rise for 1h to 1h1/2.
Naturally you may divide the dough to do individual smaller boules.
In the meantime, warm up your oven to 240C/464F; if you have it, slip in a baking stone on the lower third of your oven. After some time, put few clean and smooth stones (you can find them in any garden shop) into a high pan and slip the whole thing on the bottom of the oven near the door. Before putting in the bread, pour 1 cup of boiling water over the hot stones in the pan in the oven. Please, take GREAT care in doing this because lots of steam will be produced and steam burns are an awful thing. Using a razor sharp blade, slash the top of your boule and then slip them into the oven over the baking stone and bake it for 30-40 minutes, depends on its size.
When ready, the bread will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom and the interior will register a temperature of at least 95C/203F. If the top will brown too fast, lower the oven temperature of 6C/10F.
Let the bread cool down over a wire rack and enjoy it! This bread has a delicate crust with a moist and elastic interior, it is great to soak up the tasty sauce from a braise or hold some ham for a great sandwich.
Little Why corner
Why does the recipe includes such small amounts of cinnamon and vitamin C? Studies have shown that some spices act as catalyst for yeast’s activity; that is they act like a sort of yeast Viagra. Cinnamon is one of them; the problem is that too much cinnamon has been related to a decrease in yeast activity. The ideal proportion of cinnamon to your yeast is of 0.2%. Vitamin C is a natural antioxidant and so it helps preserving all those compounds that give flavours to our breads. The reduced mixing and kneading action in this recipe has the same reason why; the more you incorporate oxygen into the dough, the faster the carothenoid compounds (the flavourful and colourful compounds) oxidise. Furthermore, during the proofing, the dough knead itself by putting in contact the gliadin and glutenin proteins that, when linked together with water, form gluten.
The little amount of lecithin instead is there mainly to extend the shelf’s life of your bread. As we know, lecithin is an emulsifier that is it helps linking fat and water together; in doing so the water is less free to evaporate and make your bread stale.
Why all that steam contraption? Simply because a little steam in the oven retard the crust formation and let your oven spring phase last longer.
This week has been also the 1st year anniversary of this little baby blog. When I started it I was in Paris with a friend, sitting in a Moroccan bar near rue Mouffetard enjoying a tea and some chat in between our lessons of Prof. This’s Molecular Gastronomy yearly course. Little I knew of all the great people that those few pressed keys will make me meet.
I’m grateful for all the support that you guys have shown me, it is always nice to know that we are not just throwing stones in a deserted pond.
To exemplify the greatness of the foodie friends I have met in this year, Asha of Fork-Spoon-Knife (no she is not selling kitchen utensils) gave me two very lovely awards.
The rules for these awards are to share with you 10 honest things about myself; so here we go:
  1. I am quite lazy;
  2. I LOVE to learn, read, study;
  3. I live to make people happy with what I learn, that’s a reason why I decided to change career;
  4. Sport is not my thing at all (neither watching it, booooring!);
  5. My color? Dunno really, I might pick a dark burgundy or black;
  6. I collect gemstones (opals are my favourites) and crystals;
  7. I cannot live without pasta, bread or meat;
  8. I do not get angry very easily;
  9. I cannot swim or ride a bike;
  10. My house is in a perpetual post atomic-bomb state.
Well, that’s how far honesty can go in here; wasn’t that enough?
Now I want to pass these awards to these inspiring blogger friends:
Keep up the good job my friends!


  1. Thanks for the award, Alessio! Does that mean i'm gonna receive one of those delicious-looking cumin/raisin boule in the mail? :)

  2. Ah, Alessio, spicy and sweet! That's us! You can add to that list of yours that you are one of the sweetest friends we have made through our food blogs - lovely, kind, generous and an all around fun (and funny) guy, too! Thanks for the award, but mostly thanks for this amazing bread you baked for my BBD Birthday! You are a tremendous baker!!! Grazie mille, caro!

  3. @zenchef You might, you might... keep an eye at you mailbox ;)

    @jamie Thanks a lot my dear :) It is always a pleasure to bake for a dear friend.

  4. Ola Ola, HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!! :)) Doesn't that feel awesome!! :))

    LOL LOL.. I may yet sell kitchen stuff (lika Mario Batali ;-)).. That was HILARIOUS!! hehe

    and finally, what a fab bread!!!!!!! loooks sooo appetizing!

  5. Beautiful bread! Now you reminded me that I have to do this blog award thing. I totally forgot about it.

  6. Alessio I am so honored and just plain smiling! Thank you! I can't see any pics because I'm in Dubai and flickr is sensored...but this boule does sound absolutely scrummy!

  7. What a lovely read! I can't believe it's been a year already, wowser! I never thought your blog would ever evolve into what it is today. Very proud of you and I smile at every comment and friend you've made. And it is so true what you wrote, that you don't get angry easily. I can vouch for that! And I am pretty damn annoying most of the times.

    Love ya
    Your wifey

  8. yeast viagra?! what a term - love it! :) beautiful bread Alessio. You are inspiring. Thanks for the award. I'm very flattered and congrats to everyone else you passed it on too. x

  9. Happy Blogoversary! I enjoyed the science bit and I know Jamie will enjoy the story about you buying the bread with your grandmother. And well done on the awards.

  10. Your bread and bread baking memories are really beautiful.
    We don't come from a bread baking culture, yet the aroma of fresh baking bread si something special for me. :)
    Post atomic bomb state? Sounds like a physicist's house, alright! LOL

  11. Such a lovely post Alessio! I love the way you talk about a bread, it's so sweet. Thank you so much for the award, I'm so honored! Your bread looks scrumptious, I like the combination of raisins and cumin. Wonderful photo btw.! And happy anniversary! :)

  12. Wow that bread looks AMAZING! Happy one year! I just hit mine this week! :)

  13. I'm still so scared to venture into bread, but with your detailed nd wonderful steps i think its about time i conjured up n tried it. Your bread looks perfect!

  14. Oh Alessio - you should have called this post "An Ode to bread"!! or a love sonnet ;-) I was drooling by the end of it... Like you, I'm a lazy baker, something I should work on this year!!