Pane al’Formaggio – A Great Bread for Autumn

Pane al formaggioHard to believe we’re a third of the way through September already. I know I’ve said this before but I get excited when September hits because it means I can start weaning myself off of the grill and getting back into cooking and baking in the kitchen, especially fresh bread. As usual, when it comes to bread I pick Carol Field’s The Italian Baker off of the shelf to find a good loaf I haven’t tried. This week I found her recipe for the bread equivalent of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, two great tastes which taste great together. Pane al’formaggio, cheese bread!

The recipe is very similar to pane all’erbe but the difference is in the dough so to speak, namely the addition of eggs and olive oil which makes the dough a bit wetter than normal. I like the wetter dough bread recipes in The Italian Baker as they seem rise better for me than dryer doughs. It’s not you, dough, it’s me. The super golden color of the bread is owed to another added ingredient: beaten egg whites applied just before going into the oven. I seriously love this recipe mostly because these are quite possibly the best looking loaves of bread I’ve baked. Great color and no bulges or blowouts on the sides. Come on, are those or are those not pretty looking loaves of bread? Ok, they look great but how does this pane al’formaggio taste?

How can you even ask that question. How do you think the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of bread tastes? Awesome! Delicious and cheesy on its own but so far my favorite use for this pane al’formaggio is in making tomato sandwiches. They are sooooo good. A little mayo, thin slices of an heirloom tomato from the CSA box and I’m in heaven. I think pane al’formaggio could really work with any light sandwich like a club, BLT, paninis, or even toasted as croutons for salad or soup. Basically anything which cheese and bread make better, which is a lot of things!

Her original recipe calls for ¾ C of parmigiano and ¼ C of pecorino romano cheeses. Since I didn’t have any pecorino in the house I just used a cup of parmigiano (which is a kitchen essential you should always have a wedge of). I don’t think it makes too much of a difference, in fact I think if you use a very good quality aged parmigiano you can get the sharpness Carol Field refers to when talking about adding the pecorino. This bread turned out really well and has a very low degree of difficulty. If you have trouble baking bread try this one, the dough rises great.

Pane al’Formaggio Cheese Bread (from Carol Field’s The Italian Baker, makes 2 loaves)

  • 2 ½ tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 C warm water
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 3 ½ C (500 gr) unbleached ap flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 C Parmigiano reggiano, grated
  • 1 egg white, beaten
  • Sea salt for sprinkling on top

In a mixing bowl combine the yeast and water, stir, and let sit for 10 minutes.

Mix in the eggs and olive oil. Next add the flour, salt, and cheese. Using the dough hook on the mixer, mix/knead for about 4 mins. The dough will soft and slightly sticky. You can finish kneading it by hand for a few minutes to get it to stiffen a little more. It may stick a little to the counter/cutting board.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled in shape, about 2 hours.

Punch the dough down, divide into two equal halves (or not), and knead briefly. Shape into small rounds or logs. Place on parchment paper or cornmeal dusted board, cover with towel and allow dough to rise until doubled in size, about 60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Brush the loaves with the egg whites. Make three slashes along the tops and sprinkle a little sea salt on the loaves. Place loaves in oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, spraying the loaves with water 3 times in the first 10 minutes. Side Roam: I think if you make long loaves you can get away with just 30 minutes. Mine were in for 35 minutes and they ended up being on the verge of overbaking.

Remove from oven and cool on wire racks. Makes a delicious tomato sandwich.

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