Pane di patate Puglia Preparation - Medium Biga: 12 hr; Prep: 30, Bake: 1 hr 2 loaves of 2 pounds each
Throughout northern Puglia, mashed potato is often added to bread dough to make a softer, denser loaf. Pane di patate has a tender crumb (it makes wonderful toast) with a crisp, crackly crust that is at its finest when fresh from the oven. This is some-times used to make a double-crusted pizza or focaccia, but it's also used for ordinary household bread, shaped either in loaves or in small rolls, or panini.
FOR THE BIGA (slow-rising sponge):
1 cup very warm water
1 teaspoon dry yeast
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
FOR THE BREAD DOUGH:
6 to 7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
Extra virgin olive oil for the bowl
1 medium potato, about 6 ounces, peeled
Mixing bowl, kneading surface.
FIRST make the biga. Place the water in a small bowl and scatter the dried yeast over it. Leave until the yeast is thoroughly dissolved, then, using a wooden spoon, beat in the flour, a little at a time. Cover with a dampened kitchen towel and set aside for an hour or so, then place in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours or overnight.
WHEN ready to continue, remove the biga from the refrigerator and transfer to a large mixing bowl.
BOIL the potato in water to cover over medium-high heat until it is soft, about 20 minutes. When the potato is done, drain it well, then mash thoroughly with a potato masher while still hot. Stir the warm potato into the biga.
STIR 1 cup of warm water into the potato mixture, then start to incorporate the remaining flour, 1 cup at a time. When you reach 4 cups, the dough will be quite stiff. At this point add another cup of warm water, the salt, and 1 or 2 more cups of flour, mixing well. By now the dough should be stiff enough to knead on a board. Scatter 1 cup of flour on the bread board, turn the dough from the mixing bowl onto the board, and knead for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the dough is soft and very smooth, incorporating the flour from the board gradually into the dough.
RINSE out and dry the mixing bowl and rub the inside with a few drops of olive oil. Turn the kneaded dough into the bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise in a warm place-the ambient temperature of most American kitchens should be sufficiently warm for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in bulk.
HEAT the oven to 450 degrees F. for 45 minutes. Punch the dough down and shape it into 2 rectangular or elliptoid loaves. Scatter a little cornmeal on the bread board and set the loaves on the board to rise while the oven is heating. When ready to bake, slide the risen loaves onto a peel and shake them onto the baking stone.
(IF you are using a baking sheet instead of a stone, simply set the loaves to rise on the sheet, on which you will have scattered cornmeal. Then set the sheet in the oven when ready to bake.)
BAKE at 450 degrees F. for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees F. and continue baking an additional 40 to 45 minutes, or until the loaves are golden brown and have the hollow ring of thoroughly baked bread. (The potato gives this bread quite a dense crumb that may take longer to bake than a normal loaf. When in doubt, bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes: It's always better to overbake than to underbake.)
TURN the loaves out onto a rack and cool somewhat before cutting them.