Pane Pugliese and the Stairs Epiphany

For the last few weeks, I’ve been enacting an early New Year’s resolution to climb stairs, as a rule, alternative to using elevators. This started when on my first day of the public health block, the classes for which perch up on the 18th floor of the Mayo Building, when I arrived, the wait for the elevator exceeded fifteen minutes, and class started in five. I fled up eighteen flights that first day, arrived on time to class, glistening, short of breath, and a tid self-righteous. I realized in that moment that the advantages of taking the stairs far outweigh the disadvantages.

 Obvious advantages: additional exercise to compensate for increased seasonal cookie consumption, avoiding flu incubators (i.e. elevators), avoiding having to make and listen to elevator spiels, DIY blush, DIY heat when it’s subzero outside, the euphoria of self-righteousness for being a role model of healthy behaviors. Disadvantages: fighting the inner bad attitude monologue for five minutes, calf cramps when wearing high heels.

The best strategy I have for fighting the inner bad attitude monologue, which seems to rear its ugly head in moments of exertive monotony (aka solitary exercise, bread kneading, or housework) is—find a way to lose count. You don’t watch the clock when you go to a party (if it’s a good party), so don’t watch the clock or count the stairs/miles when you exercise. Even if you have to stare at your shoes, cover your odometer with tape, or recite sonnets—losing count is the key to finding joy. And the reason for this is when you lose sight of where you need to be, you can begin to enjoy where you are. Today’s stairs epiphany.

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Pane Pugliese

Adapted from The Italian Baker

Biga

1/2 cup water

1 1/4 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

¼ cup sourdough starter

In a small mixing bowl, combine the water, flour and yeast to form a soft dough. Don’t knead it; just make sure all of the ingredients are well-incorporated. Set this mixture aside in a warm place, covered, overnight.

Dough

all of the biga (above)

3 cups water

7 ½ cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

1 tbsp salt

1 ¼ cup sourdough starter

Knead all of the dough ingredients together, until the dough is cohesive and elastic (though not necessarily smooth), about 10 minutes. Cover the dough and let it rise in a warm place for 2 to 3 hours, until it triples. This is a huge amount of dough and I recommend using a thoroughly large bowl.  Large large large. 

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Scoop the very wet dough, in two separate pieces, onto a surface that is heavily floured. Roll the dough lengthwise, using your thumbs. Give a 90 degree turn, pat flat, and then roll down again. ImageThen shape each piece into a rough boule as best you can. Cover the dough with plastic wrap, and allow it to rise for about 90 minutes. It’ll spread quite a bit; don’t worry, it’s supposed to. Here is the difference between shaped and unshaped.

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Bake them in a preheated 450°F oven on a baking stone for 50-60 minutes, or until they’re a deep, golden brown. The crust will appear nearly burnt. Turn the oven off, prop the door open, transfer the loaves from the pan to the oven rack, and allow them to cool in the turned-off oven.

Pane Pugliese is a “delicious peasant bread,” a recipe appropriated from Turkish conquerors by the Italians. I’m not sure why, but the cookbook says that traditionally, this bread is held to the chest and sliced with the knife pointing toward the heart. What?! Not only does this seem unsafe, but also melodramatic. I don’t want any chest hairs or blouse threads on my bread plate.

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The slack, wet dough creates a crumb that is full of airy holes and lightsome. Any lighter and I might consider using a slice as a hovercraft to carry me up tomorrow’s eighteen flights.

3 thoughts on “Pane Pugliese and the Stairs Epiphany

  1. What a fantastic stairs epiphany! It’s by far the most beautiful and eloquent version of “Live in the moment” I’ve encountered. Gracias por compartir!

    1. Susan– if you ever decide to become a literary agent, I’m shopping for one, and I’d choose you in a hot second. Thanks for your constant enthusiasm for my work.

      1. Oooh, that is a very intriguing career path! Perhaps when I get to mid-life crisis time I’ll head in that direction 🙂 For now, I wish you well in your hunt! It’s hard not to be enthusiastic about your words, love! 🙂

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