Friday, January 15, 2010

Solar Baked Pane all'Olio. Hurray!

The weather forecast was right. We had another full day of sunshine. I baked another loaf of Pane all'Olio (bread with olive oil), this time in the Sun Oven. So, is it better from the electric oven or Sun Oven? I have to say the Sun Oven. The difference in the bread itself was not extreme. I think the texture of the Sun Oven baked loaf was slightly better. It's hard to tell without doing a side by side comparison. It's the convenience of baking in the Sun Oven, yes I said convenience, that tips the scale in it's favor. Even on a relatively cool day like today - our highs were in the low 70's - I'd rather not turn on the electric oven. It always seems like a chore when you have to keep an eye on a hot oven in your kitchen. If you get distracted you could have a disaster on your hands. Plus, kitchen ovens seem to get dirty even with very little use. The Sun Oven, on the other hand, goes about it's business in the back yard without demanding a lot of attention and as long as the sun cooperates there's little chance of anything bad happening. Solar cooking, or in this case solar baking, is simply easier. There's little risk of overcooking, and, best of all, no oven to clean up. To sum it up, solar cooking is more fun and that makes solar baked bread better.

Here's the recipe I used. I don't know if it's due to Arizona's dry climate but I had to add more water than was called for, about an extra two tablespoons for the starter and one and a half more for the dough.

Pane all'Olio - from the book 'Bread Machine - how to prepare and bake the perfect loaf' by Jennie Shapter

For the Biga (starter)

7 Tbs water
1 1/2 cups white bread flour
1 tsp rapid-rise active dry yeast

For the Dough

6 Tbs water
4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 cups white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar

Makes 1 loaf

1 Pour the water for the biga into the bread machine pan.

2 Sprinkle the flour over, covering the water. Make a shallow indentation in the center of the flour and add the yeast.

3 Set the machine to the dough setting. Press start. When the dough cycle has finished, switch the machine off, but leave the biga inside, with the lid closed for 8 hours.

4 Remove the bread pan from the machine. Break the biga into three or four pieces.

5 Pour in the water and the olive oil for the dough. Sprinkle the flour over, covering the liquid. Add the salt and sugar in separate corners of the bread pan.

6 Set the bread machine to the dough setting. Press start. Lightly flour peel or baking sheet.

7 When the dough cycle has finished, place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Punch it down gently, then shape it into a plump round.

8 Using the palms of your hands, gently roll the dough backward and forward until it forms a tapered, torpedo-shaped loaf about 12 inches long. Place the loaf on the prepared peel or baking sheet and cover it with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm place for 45-60 minutes, or until the dough has almost doubled in size.

O.K. from this point on the instructions are for baking in the Sun Oven. The original recipe, of course, gave instructions for a regular oven.

9 Meanwhile, place a baking stone in the Sun Oven, remove the leveling tray if necessary. Focus the Sun Oven towards the sun and let it preheat while the dough is rising. Dust the top of the bread lightly with flour and slash it along its length. Transfer the bread to the hot baking stone.

10 Mist the inside of the Sun Oven with water. Close the glass lid. Bake for approximately 1 1/2 half hours - depending on the quality of the sunshine - or until it is golden all over and the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack.

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