The history of this recipe is lovely. The peoples of the Valtellina valley in Lombardy make these rustic rye rings in communal wood-burning ovens. Each family scores their rings with unique marks so that individuals can easily find their family’s baked rings among those belonging to the neighbors. They hang them on strings in their houses where the bagels last for months in the cool winter months. Over the long months these rings become crispy like crackers. Good to dip in soups or eat with slices of cured meat and cheese. Or, to make into bacon and egg breakfast sandwiches. Basically, they are buckwheat bagels, though in my current world of obstetrics and pap smears, their shape is also something of a daily foreshadowing.
Ciambelline Valtelline as Cervix
Adapted from The Italian Baker
1 cup sourdough starter
2 cups warm water
2 cups dark rye
½ cup buckwheat flour
Stir all ingredients together, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until bubbly for about two hours.
1 ½ cup sourdough starter
1 ½ cups warm water
3 ¾ cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 cups dark rye flour
1/3 cup bran
1 tbsp salt
Stir all ingredients into the sponge, starting with the sponge and water. Then the flours, then the bran and salt. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until the bread is the color of gingerbread and sticky inside but velvety against your palm on the outside. Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise until puffy, about 45 minutes.
Shaping and Second Rise
Divide the dough on a lightly floured surface into 10 or 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 12 to 14-inch rope and join the ends to make a circle. Flatten the tops of the dough circles with little karate chops delivered with the side of your hand. Place the dough circles on parchment papers set on baking sheets. To capture the heat generated by the fermentation, prop up plastic wrap above the dough with juice glasses and cover with a towel. You can heat the oven at 150 for 2-3 minutes, turn it off, and place the ciambelline inside to rise. These rye rings should rise ½ to ¾ inch high and 10 inches in diameter.
To bake, heat the oven and baking stone to 425. Sprinkle the stones with cornmeal and slide the rings onto them. The rings can be baked on the parchment paper until set and then the paper can be slipped out. Place the rings in the oven and reduce the heat to 375. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, spraying with water 3 times in the first ten minutes. Cook on racks.
They are almost like bagels. Or cervixes, since I’m on obstetrics this week. When they came out of the oven, I couldn’t help but perform cervical screening on each ring for lesions and evidence of parity. I’d say some of these have low grade squamous intraepithelial lesions. But then, the current practice guidelines now say that most of these low grade lesions will regress on their own in a few years, especially in young persons. Current pap guidelines are: first pap at age 21 (regardless of sexual activity), then every three years if normal, and then after 30, if still normal and no HPV+, every five years hence. Hallelujah for evidence-based medicine and for giving the healthy immune system a chance.