Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pane al Cioccolato...Finding a Formula and Method

We're finally recovering from owning up to promises made for the Thanksgiving holiday. Ha! On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, we baked twenty loaves of bread! That's something of a record for us, and the oven was loaded with bread from around four in the morning until five in the afternoon pretty much continuously. Wow! It was challenging, and I figure we baked around fifty two-pound loaves in seven days. Needing to take a week off wasn't such a bad thing. :)

Eight of the Thanksgiving Country Loaves proofing.
As luck would have it, our friends Amir and Clara stopped by on their way back from San Diego after the holiday and brought us two loaves of bread from Con Pane in Point Loma. They were both delicious, but one in particular caught my attention...the Pane al Cioccolato. The bread was sweet but not too sweet, chocolaty without being over-the-top, and definitely a bread, not a cake. We liked it. I do not usually seek out sweet breads, but I thought that this one was pretty nice, so I set about trying to make my own version of it. Three or four attempts later, I'm at something I think merits sharing.

Duplicating a bread you find you enjoy isn't as tough as you might think. For starters (pun intended), you can usually find a formula that people like to begin with. In this case, that formula was one from Carol Field's "The Italian Baker." This formula is for a direct-dough bread, meaning that you mix everything at once. It also used commercial yeast. I would rather use a natural levain, but I thought I'd stick with the program with a small modification; I used a poolish instead of a direct method. Poolish is a preferment. You spike a fraction of the formula's flour and water with a tiny bit of commercial yeast and treat it as a levain. The results were nice.

Pane al Cioccolato with poolish.
But it could be better.

The next version of the loaf, we swapped out honey for sugar, added some whole wheat and vanilla, then began with our natural levain instead of commercial yeast. A tiny bit of yeast was added at the final dough mixing stage. This dough was very slack and sticky, and the bread proofed very slowly, but the results were more tasty than the first iteration (I thought) though it was sort of hard to handle.

Pane al Cioccolato with Natural Levain
In the final version of the formula, we went back to cane sugar, only somewhat less than the original loaf, went with all natural levain, left the yeast out entirely, scaled back the hydration a tad, and modified the baking schedule a bit.  We're pretty happy with this loaf.

All-Natural Levain Pane al Cioccolato
While this loaf rises very slowly, we didn't see any benefit at all to adding the commercial yeast at the end of the mix. We haven't had a chance to get a stamp together for this one yet, so here's the ingredient list:

Pane al Cioccolato:White and Whole Wheat Flour, Water, Semi-Sweet Chocolate, Sugar, Cocoa, Butter, Egg, Salt, Vanilla, Natural Levain.