Pane Bianco

I think it’s funny how much stuff a person accumulates over a lifetime.  When you first move away from home you might start out with very little; a few bookshelves made from scrap boards and cinder blocks (or milk crates you conveniently “found” behind the grocery store) and one or two pots and pans. You have little to no furniture of your own only a few boxes of clothes and maybe (if you’re lucky) you have some form of transportation. One day you look around and you think “where did all this stuff come from… and oh, that reminds me I need to go to the store and get a new thing-a-ma-bob today”. Stuff just sort of accumulates naturally.  Now, if you’re a hoarder, things accumulate because you inexpicably can’t seem to let anything go, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.  I’m talking about the things that just come with living. If you’re like me, you have a reams of paper that you need to keep… your mortgage papers, the title to your car, tax forms from the last several years, passports, insurance papers, and of course the pile of recipes that you have printed from the internet that you swear one day you’ll get around to making. Then you have the dozens and dozens of books that you have on your new bookcase that you don’t want to get rid of and even though you clearly remember donating a bunch to a neighbors yard sale and you have given a bunch away to friends, it’s still hard to find space on the shelf when you get a new book.  

With technology today you may have your phone, your tablet, and your laptop. Maybe you still have a desktop computer as well. There are also all the headphones, the power cables, the rechargeable battery packs, the charging stations, the adapters so all of the different charging stations will actually charge the stuff they are supposed to charge, and of course all those cases and accessories you thought were cute and couldn't live without. Now move to the kitchen and look at all the coffee cups you have. Where did all those come from? Well, this one was from valentines day, this one I bought at Disneyland, this one was a gift, this one I was going to give as a gift, and this one is from a mail in offer (I could go on…). Nowadays you have proper dishes and proper cookware. You have cooking utensils now instead of having to use a regular spoon; You have kitchen towels, and potholders, and spoon rests; You have cutting boards and cookie sheets, and a coffee pot, and a mixer; You have a blender, though honestly you probably got that very early on after moving away from home so that you could make margaritas or other alcoholic beverages. And of course you have your own furniture… and the stove and the refrigerator are yours too. 

The accumulation of stuff is slow and barely noticeable but it is inevitable. When David and I moved to Anchorage in 1984 we checked onto the plane a pair of suitcases each along with just three additional boxes (one was a portable stereo, one was the Cuisinart, and the third one had random miscellaneous things in it).  We moved from New York to California in the smallest U-Haul truck they had and it was far from full. Suffice it to say that if we were to move now we would definitely need to hire a full sized moving truck.   

I am always surprised at the number of knick-knacks we have around the house. We have one of those light bulb shaped devices with the black and white spin-y thing in it that sits by the window and is powered by the sun. We have glass bowls (some we made and others that came from David’s mother); There are the many picture frames (mostly the ones David makes) as well as several handmade trays; We have a hand blown glass apple that we bought in a small shop when we lived in New York, a wire contraption that you can move into different circular shapes that we bought from a street vendor in Berlin, and seasonal cookie jars or other table décor that I purchased mainly from the local Pier One store.  Stuff… years and years of stuff. 

When I look into my kitchen cabinets it’s a similar story… Where did all this “stuff” come from? There is a half bottle of maple sugar on the top shelf sitting behind the two small single serving jars of honey (from some hotel dining room somewhere) To the left is a carton of mulling spices that came from a Halloween many years past, and directly to the right are 5 jars of sanding sugars and cake decorating candies. I am surprised to find two single envelopes of Carnation instant breakfast in there as well as a box of Knox brand gelatin with only one envelope missing. I wish I could remember where this tiny little bottle of Hawaiian Fudge Sauce came from or the equally small bottle of Bronco Bobs Tangy Apricot Chipotle Sauce and I also wish I knew how I might use them.  If you were to look into my flour cabinet (and freezer) you would see that I have all-purpose flour, bread flour, cake flour, self-raising flour, whole-wheat flour, semolina flour and almond flour. Yes, I know that I don’t have any pastry flour but it’s kind of expensive so I make my own when the need arises.  

Flour is probably the second most used ingredient in our house (the first is probably butter – yikes – that’s not super healthy is it?) so it is really no surprise to me that I would accumulate a good amount of it and accumulate all the different types. I have mentioned how much I like bread before, haven’t I? So, as I was staring into the cabinet with all my different versions of flour I thought why not share this stuffed bread recipe with you. I found the recipe on the King Arthur Flour website and you can view that here, but stuffed breads are anything but new to the world (I have a recipe for a stuffed hot pepper bread that my great aunt has made for more than 50 years that I will share at some point). If you’re Italian, Pane Bianco (white bread) is definitely not new as it’s served often in many Italian homes (plain and with various additions) at almost every breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Of course even if you're not Italian most everyone can find versions of stuffed white breads at Pizza Hut’s and Olive Garden’s somewhere near you. This recipe is a great starting point for stuffed breads though, since it is so simple to make. And don’t let that twist scare you it is as simple as making a figure eight out of the dough. I use my stand mixer (just because I have one) but you can mix and knead this entirely by hand if you need (or want) to. Other than that you’ll need a ruler, some parchment paper to line your baking sheet, and some aluminum foil to cover the bread while it bakes.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

For the dough:

  • 3 cups (12¾ ounces) unbleached bread flour

  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast

  • 1¼ teaspoon salt

  • 1 large egg

  • ½ cup lukewarm milk

  • ⅓cup lukewarm water

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

For the Filling:

  • ¾ cup (3 ounces) shredded Italian-blend cheese (or cheese(s) of your choice)

  • ½ cup (4 ounces) oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes

  • 5 cloves garlic, minced

  • ⅓ cup chopped fresh basil

Directions

 For the Dough:

Put all of the ingredients for the dough into the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the dough hook (or just a large bowl if you’re mixing by hand) and mix on low speed (speed 1 or 2) until the dough comes together into a smooth, really soft dough.  The dough will stick a little to the bottom of the bowl as it mixes and that’s okay. 

Form the dough into a nice ball and place it into a large, lightly greased bowl, turning it to coat all sides, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm, draft free area, until it has doubled in size. That can take anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes.

While the bread rises:

Drain the sun-dried tomatoes and pat them dry with a few paper towels and using a sharp knife (or kitchen shears) cut them into small pieces and set aside until the dough is ready.

When the dough has doubled in size transfer it to a lightly floured board and gently deflate it. Just press it with your fingertips to collapse the dough.

Use your hands to pat the dough out into a rectangle that is 22-inches long and 8½-inches wide and then sprinkle it evenly with the cheese, tomatoes, garlic, and basil (just like you were making a pizza).

Now we’re going to roll it up and to do so simply start rolling the dough onto itself on the long side and then pinch the edge into the dough to seal it. You should end up with a very long log.

Place the log onto a parchment lined baking sheet with the seam on the bottom. Note: if you don’t have parchment paper, lightly grease the pan. You’ll definitely need to place it in the pan diagonally (ends of the bread in the corners) for it to fit.

Now, use a sharp knife (or kitchen shears) to make a cut into the top of the bread about 1 inch deep, starting and stopping about ½ inch from each end of the log.

Here is the fun part.

Basically we’re going to make a figure eight out of the dough. Keeping the cut you just made at the top of the bread simply form the dough into an S shape, then tuck each end under the center, pinching the dough together a little where it is tucked underneath to help it stay put while it rises.  

Cover the pan with a kitchen towel or loosely with plastic wrap and once again let the bread rise until it has doubled in size, another 45 to 60 minutes.

While the bread rises again:

Preheat the oven to 350°F with the rack in the center position.

When the bread has doubled in size remove the kitchen towel (or plastic wrap) and bake it for 35 to 40 minutes covering the bread with a piece of aluminum foil after 20 to 25 minutes so it doesn’t get overly browned.

When done, place the bread on a wire rack to cool (I will say however that I think it is best served warm).

Wrap leftovers tightly and store at room temperature for up to 2 days or freeze.

 

Plop this on the table with a big bowl of pasta and you’ll be so happy (you’ll also need to get to the gym to work off all those carbs when you’re done, but hey, that’s a small price to pay).  And, as I mentioned this is just the starting point, try adding different things into the bread and making your own creations.  And, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you how this bread (toasted) makes a delicious scrambled egg sandwich.

Riley feels like any food at or below his eye level is fair game. He's would not let this bread out of his sight, for a minute.