Whoever opined that man could not live by bread alone clearly never met this loaf of bread.
Because I am here to tell you that this Pane Bianco – which appeared as King Arthur Flour’s August 2016 Bakealong Challenge – is all that and a slice of white bread. My Italian is sadly limited to “Ciao” and the lyrics to a song about a cuckoo an Italian neighbor taught me when I was twelve years old, but I am reasonably sure that “Pane Bianco” roughly translates to “White Bread.” And what a loaf of white bread this is! Pale golden and deeply fragrant, a tender white bread dough studded with Italian cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and herbs is woven together into a figure eight. The finished product looks, smells, and tastes like it has just issued from the kitchen of a Nonna somewhere in a bucolic, sun-drenched Tuscan countryside.
I would, of course, prefer to be eating bread somewhere in the aforementioned Tuscan countryside, because, uh, hello! Tuscany. Until some of my Italian friends (Hi, Simone!) offers to pack me in their suitcases the next time they are homeland bound, however, this recipe will do the trick just fine. And the good news is that despite its stunning appearance, this recipe is ridiculously easy to make, especially if you follow a couple of simple rules:
- This bread dough is especially responsive to being prepared whilst the soundtrack of Hamilton blares at stun volume. True story. (Sorry, downstairs neighbor dude – the bread dough made me do it.) Serenade your dough with other music at your own risk.
- Unlike pie dough, this bread dough does not smell fear and go on the attack! You will want to resist the urge to add too much flour to the dough while mixing, however. Too much flour, and the finished bread will be tough and dry. Prior to the first rise, the dough will be VERY soft and sticky. Give the dough a thorough kneading with a dough hook if you have it, and it will hold its shape perfectly after the first rise and later retain its delicious tenderness.
- When chopping the filling ingredients (both sundried tomatoes and olives), err on the side of creating smaller pieces. Larger pieces will want to pop out of the exposed layers after cutting the dough (see tip 5 below).
- When spreading the filling over the rolled out dough, feel free to go heavier on the cheese, but don’t go wild with the tomatoes, olives, and basil. No matter what you do, some pieces are going to tumble out – just tuck any runaways back into the dough.
- After you roll the dough around the filling ingredients, use a pair of kitchen shears to snip the dough log lengthways, leaving the 1/2″ intact at both ends. The interior layers will fan out. Place the prepared baking sheet close to the log, lift the ends quickly, and then shape the loaf into an S or figure 8.
- Don’t sweat getting the loaf to form a perfectly sealed figured 8. Some of my loaves resisted my efforts to seal the ends of the 8 in the middle of the loaf, so I just opted to loosely coil the ends in a swirly S shape. (See first photo below.) The loaf will puff and rise and be beautiful when it come out of the oven.
So if any of you just so happen to be headed to Italy, remember that I require little space, food, water, or oxygen and am happy to be packed into luggage. For the rest of you who are remaining at home, enjoy your Pane Bianco!