Pan Marino – Beautiful Bread for The Holidays

Look, it comes pre-decorated with a crown and all!

You may have noticed that all my recent photos are taken in what appears to be a dark room with a flash.  Worry not, I have not become a vampire – but the Swedish winter is here, and it’s dark most of the so-called “day” as well.  The sun is up around 9-10am and down by 3pm, so yes, by dinnertime it’s pitch dark.  I love it, as it’s an excuse to have candlelight every day, but the camera goes “what the heck, where’d the sun go?”.

Speaking of winter – and December specifically! – as the end of the week looms closer (yes, it’s already Tuesday for gossake, I have a party in only three days!!!), I have decided to post about this before I get half-mad with running around, making tiny canapes to be consumed by (hopefully appreciative) crowd, and tidying the place.

I made this yesterday, taking advantage of a reasonably slow Monday, and in anticipation of aforementioned rat race towards the end of the week.  So before the party prep hit, I wanted to do a bit of comfort cooking, the decidedly unfiddly variety – and so I made this bread, which is anti-stress therapy itself to bake, and a pot of beef marrow bone soup, which is another thing that takes the time it takes (many hours), and that you really can’t hurry – but also doesn’t require much attention at all after the initial 15 minutes.  I’ll write about it soon, too – I promise – I took photos this time!

But, back to Pan Marino – I have seen only a few mentions of this historical Italian bread online, but the best recipes all agree on it having to be fully sourdough, include copious amounts of fresh rosemary, be cut in a crown or star shape on top, and sprinkled with sea salt.  Ever since I’d heard about it, I wanted to make it, and I happened to have an unused pot of rosemary on my window from the week before, which was convenient.

And boy, was it worth it!  This bread is what supermarket herb bread wants to be when it dies and goes to heaven.  Or maybe not even then.  It has a beautiful crust which audibly crackles as it cools, a chewy and filling crumb that just begs to be dipped into soup or olive oil, or spread with a thick slab of butter (or go one step further and slap some honey on that butter – rosemary goes amazingly well with that!), and the rosemary scent permeates the entire place as you bake it.  After you’ve had this, I promise you (like me) will never buy supermarket “herb” breads again, for they will not qualify even as a pale imitation of the glory that is this bread.  Seriously.

And think of the bragging rights – a friend came by last night after I’d baked it, and saw it (precipitating the too-early cutting of the loaf), squeaking a delighted “oh did you buy this at a local bakery?!“, to which I puffed up gleefully and said “no, I made it myself!”  Major ego-boost points.  Without any further decorations, I think this is beautiful enough to be served as a centerpiece of a holiday dinner, with the meat (and this is carnivorous me talking!) on the side, as a dressing to be placed upon its majesty.

Furthermore, making this is really uncomplicated, even for a sourdough beginner.  You do need a ready living sourdough starter for this, but if it’s been in the fridge for a few weeks, that works just fine.  If you don’t have a starter yet – get some from a friend, or if that’s not an option, I have written a hopefully-helpful and simple guide to making your own.

However, this is a 3-stage bread, which means that while it is very, very forgiving of timing (half an hour or an hour this way or that – or up to an extra 12 hours in Stage 1 or up to extra 4 hours in Stage 2 will do it no harm at all in my experience!), you do need to start it at least the morning of the day before the day on the evening of which you want the bread.  So, start Sunday morning to achieve bread by Monday night, if that makes sense.  On the other hand, the time-critical stages of baking this aren’t all that critical, and therefore not stressful – I’ve had situations when I planned to make the bread on a Saturday, forgot about it at one of the stages, and ended up baking it Monday and it turns out just fine (remember, Stage 2 can be refrigerated up to a week after its initial 8-12 hours fermentation).  As I have mentioned, sourdough made in 3-stage process is very forgiving.

I don’t subscribe to the school of thought that giving bakers’ percentages or gram measurements in 1-g increments is going to help anyone.  Heck, my kitchen scale only does 25-g increments, and I don’t own a chemist’s graduated cylinder to measure water to the single ml.  Nor do I think it is sane or needed, as bakers have made bread for thousands of years without using those.  Approximate measurements are useful, however, for those of us who haven’t.

What do you need:  Makes 2 loaves of bread – either both on Day 2, or one then, and one can be deterred up to a week (see Levain stage instructions).  If you want to make 1 loaf only, halve quantities for Stages 1 and 2.  If baking on same day, it can be done either at the same time if you have a large oven and a baking stone, or sequentially, if you are like me and bake it in a cast-iron dish with a bowl cover.

  • Olive oil, to oil bowls throughout the process.
  • 1.5kg banetton, recommended.  Can theoretically be replaced by a colander lined with a very well-floured baking towel.  I use a banetton, it avoids the bread-stuck-to-towel-anyway situation.  (I speak from experience, though a lot of people do swear by the well-floured towel method).  If you have no banetton, and fear the stuck towel (rightly so!), you can raise the bread upright on a sheet of baking parchment, then slash and bake it without the inversion.  It’s what I’d do – but it may result in a slightly flatter loaf.

Stage 1: Reactivating Starter

  • A tablespoon or two of sourdough starter (refrigerated is just fine)
  • ~50ml water
  • ~50g white flour

Stage 2: Levain

  • All of Stage 1 starter, bubbling
  • 500g white bread flour (I use high gluten content flour)
  • 300ml water (I use cold from the tap)

Stage 3: Final Dough – given quantities for 1 or (2) 1.2-1.3kg loaves of bread

  • 1/2 (all) of the above levain
  • 3 (6) teaspoons (not heaping) sea salt, finely pounded or milled
  • 500g (1kg) white flour (high protein content)
  • 315 (630)ml water (cold from the tap)
  • 3 (6) generous tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
    • Flaked sea salt for decoration

What to do:

Day 1:  Morning

  • Mix all Stage 1 ingredients, cover with clingfilm, and let stand in a warm place till late evening.

Day 1: Evening

  • The mixture should now be bubbly.  Add Stage 2 water, whisk to liquefy, and then add Stage 2 flour.  Knead (I use a handheld mixer with dough hooks) for a few minutes till a shaggy dough forms.  We aren’t going for any sort of great gluten development here, just till it holds together.
  • Take dough out of bowl, wash bowl, dry it and oil it.  Put dough back in, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place overnight.

Day 2:  Start in the morning – process takes 3.5+1+1=5 to 6 hours at the very least, but worry not – you will not have to do much during most of that time.

  • The dough should be pillowy and puffed up, or possibly even collapsed.  This is fine.  If baking two breads, proceed to next step.  If making one bread on this day and one sometime over the next week, cut the levain in half, and put half of it into a plastic box oiled on the inside and stick it into the fridge.  It can be taken out and used as of next step at any point in the next week.  (Don’t forget to oil the inside of the lid… just saying, not that I’d ever forget something like that, nooo!)
  • Add all Stage 3 ingredients except flaked sea salt to the bowl.  Use your mixer or arm power and a wooden spoon, and mix to combine.  Cover with cling film and let stand for 20-30 minutes for the flour to absorb water.
  • The dough will be noticeably more developed after resting.  Knead with mixer (or without) again until the dough is more elastic.  Do a single stretch-and-fold, cover and rest for 1 hour.
  • Do another stretch-and-fold, let rest for another hour, and then another stretch-and-fold, and another hour of rest.  This brings up to ~3.5 hours from mixing.  The dough should be slightly risen – to 1.5 of its previous bulk or so.
  • Dust your banetton or toweled colander or wooden board with a baking parchment on it with flour.  Shape the dough into a boule (ball), tucking the edges and pinching them neatly.  If using banetton or colander, place dough seam side up, if using a board/baking parchment, place dough seam side down (since you won’t be inverting it).  Cover with a slightly damp kitchen towel, and allow to rise for 1 – 1.5 hours in a warm place.
  • In meantime, preheat your oven to 250 or 260°C with baking stone or cast-iron pan in it (this depends on how you prefer to bake, but for baking bread in cast-iron casseroles, please read this).  Preheating the oven properly may take most of the hour.
About halfway through the final proofing process
  • When the bread is risen and passes the poke test (poked dough should spring back but slowly – I don’t believe in proofing till it doesn’t spring back at atll), invert your banetton or colander onto a sheet of baking parchment.  Or else you already have your bread on it.
  • Slash the bread, or scizzor it in a star shape, and sprinkle flaked sea salt into the cuts.
  • Place the bread into the oven.  I use a cast-iron pan bottom and cover it with a stainless steel bowl for steaming.  A bread this size is then baked covered with a bowl for 25 minutes at 250°C, and then uncovered at 190-200°C for another 30-35 minutes until golden brown.
  • Remove to a cutting board, and let cool for at least an hour, but I’d recommend two (if you can wait that long bathed in the aroma of fresh bread and rosemary) before cutting.
  • Eat.  I don’t need to give you instructions for this, do I?
I didn’t wait long enough to cut in. As usual. It’ll slice even prettier if you do, I promise!

This bread is wonderful with any sort of Italian food, or just with a thick consomme or bone bullion based soup – we had ours with a bowl of beef marrow bone soup with chanterelles, fishing the marrow out of the soup to spread on thick slices of it and eat, sprinkled with salt.  Bliss.

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5 thoughts on “Pan Marino – Beautiful Bread for The Holidays

  1. That’s beautiful alright! That would be a match with the crown roast I’ll be (planning to have, I’m fickle) having for Christmas. I’d probably chew off the crunchy knobs first … can’t resist good crunchy crust. I know, I’m weak.

    1. There’s nothing wrong with wanting more of the crunchy food group! Do you bake with sourdough yourself? If you do, then the pizza stone and cover-with-bowl technique ought to work for you in terms of getting the crunchy to be reeeeaaally crunchy!

  2. OMG!! I totally forgot about my pizza stone! Good grief. Now where is it …..? I must have stuffed it among my other forgotten stuff in the store. I can’t believe I forgot all about it! Duh. Maybe if I search amongst the pile I might find a cast iron pan in there too … (hope). Thanks for the reminder :P

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