Bisciola: an alpine panettone

“Use your imagination to make me a sweet bread, even though we’re in the mountains…!” I think Napoleon’s order must have sounded something like that. The French warlord and his troups were in Northern Italy in 1797, taking over the Alps. Conquering countries was always accompanied by good food, his visit to the mountain valley of Valtellina was no exception.

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Soon his cook knew he could use a limited but wonderful range of products: figs, walnuts, honey, dairy and of course grain. With the sweet teeth of his commander in the back of his head, he got to work. The result: Bisciola: a bread that consists more of filling than of crumb. Contrary to his rural brother from Milan, Bisciola has a firm crumb that is bursting with figs, walnuts and raisins. Supported by the naturally leavened sweet butter dough, it must have been (almost) child’s play for Napoleon to conquer the rugged mountain areas …

Whether the story of Napoleon is true or not, in the mountains of Valtellina people have been making this bread for hundreds of years. Leavening on only sourdough: the power of water and grain. In the old recipes I often found combinations of rye and wheat; cereals that can withstand the alpine climate.

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I love the mountains and the recipes that have been developed here inspire me. I also went to work, with locally grown and ground Ommelander wheat (flower) and spelt, both grow in the vicinity of the Wadden Sea. Beautiful grains that encounter almost the same conditions in terms of climate as grains in the mountains. My recipe is inspired by that of Matteo Festo, a friend and baker from Italy.

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This recipe is based on two Bisciola baked in cast-iron pans. The use of a proofing basket (with cloth) is useful for this. I advise you to always use stone-ground, organic grains. My fixed addresses for beautiful grains are Maalderij de Gouden Engel and Molen de Lam, both also deliver at home.

In the dough

  • Wheat flour (organic, stone ground)                 : 430 grams
  • Whole wheat spelt flour (organic, stone ground)    : 100 grams
  • Milk                                                                                                                                    : 150 gram
  • Egg (beaten)                                                                                                                : 160 grams
  • Cane sugar                                                                                                                     : 100 grams
  • Honey                                                                                                                                 : 25 grams
  • Sourdough (fresh, liquid                                                                                             : 200 grams
  • Salt                                                                                                                                       : 6 grams
  • Butter (op kamertemperatuur)                                                                  : 100 grams
  • Zest of one lemon

In the filling

  • Figs                                                                                                          : 200 grams
  • Walnuts (toasted)                                                                      : 200 grams
  • Raisins                                                                                                     : 100 grams

Process

  1. Mix the milk with sourdough. Add the wheat flour, spelt flour, egg, cane sugar, honey and zest
  2. Mix briefly until a homogeneous mass is formed. Add the salt and knead for 5- 10 minutes to a smooth smooth dough
  3. Knead the butter carefully through the dough, for a maximum of 3 minutes and let the dough rest for 15 to 30 minutes, covered
  4. Remove the dough from the bowl with wet hands and work out on a slightly wet bench to form a thick rectangle measuring approximately 1-2 cm thick. Fold the filling carefully through the dough
  5. Let the dough increase in volume. Depending on your room temperature, this takes about 7 to 10 hours. Pay attention! The dough is heavy and rich, so do not expect doubling. With such a heavy dough, I look at the dough between the filling. Do you feel that this feels resilient and airy? Then your dough has risen sufficiently
  6. Take the risen dough out of the bowl and divide in two parts
  7. Sprinkle each part lightly with flour and gently work out into thick circles
  8. Shape the dough, make sure to keep the tension (and so the shaping) very gentle
  9. Place the dough with the fold upwards in a proofing basket and allow to proof at room temperature. Again, your dough will not double but will rise slightly. Do you feel that this feels resilient and airy? Then your dough has risen sufficiently and it is time to bake
  10. Pour your dough into a cast iron pan and bake at 230 * degrees for 30 minutes. If you want a the crust more dark, remove the lid and leave for a maximum of 10 minutes at 200 degrees.

* Make sure that your oven and pan are preheated to 230 degrees.

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