Tag Archives: pescasseroli

Biga 1: Advice from the maestro at Il Vecchio Forno, Pescasseroli

Il Vecchio Forno, Pescasseroli, Abruzzo

After our wonderful hiking in Abruzzo, we had a delicious dinner at Plistia restaurant in Pescasseroli. As I asked a lot of questions, particularly about the bread, the host, Cicitto, offered to take me to the bakery where his brother-in-law (sibling of Cicitto’s chef wife, Laura) is the master baker. Aside from how just plain lovely this small town dynamic seems to someone like me, who grew up in Britain at a time where traditional food trade was being killed off by supermarkets, it was also just a wonderful opportunity. Cicitto was offering to get me some lievito madre (natural leaven starter), but the jaunt actually turned into a handy lesson.

Il Vecchio Forno (The Old Bakery, or The Old Oven),  is located in the centre of Pescasseroli, in a row of old stone buildings. Its shop sign is barely legible, there’s no window showing the wares and a ribbon curtain covers the doorway, so it’d be easy to walk past – were it not for the intoxicating smell of freshly baked bread emerging. We entered down a side entrance, and wandered into the bake-house at the back.

My old teachers at the NBS in London have conditioned me well, as I felt self-conscious about my street clothes, but hygiene legislation clearly wasn’t exactly a priority as there were at least a couple of lit cigarettes in there. Boggling! Still, the loaves being turned out from the large deck oven looked great, as did some plump pizza bianca (an olive-oily flat-ish bread that looks more like what we’d call focaccia in the UK, though actually that’s Ligurian focaccia; in Rome, the name focaccia is used for a flatter, crisp and crunchy bread).

The maestro kindly gave us half an hour of his time, first introducing us to his mother. His lievito madre – mother yeast or leaven – that is. What surprised me about this was how much it just resembled a dough, unlike the more liquid, ie higher hydration, sourdough cultures I’d previously learned about and been using. The madre is about 50 per cent hydration, where recently I’ve been keeping my leaven at around 100 per cent.

Bread at Il Vecchio Forno, Pescasseroli, Abruzzo

We chatted about the issues I’d been having with my naturally leavened breads, and he did some diagnosis. I was fermenting the dough for too long he said, resulting in too sour a flavour – though arguably, a sour sourdough is more in line with certain northern European breads than Italian naturally leavened breads, where the flavours are generally milder, nutty but not sour.

His biggest piece of advice to me, as a home baker making bread once a week, was actually to not worry about using a lievito madre at all. So no sample of their venerable madre for me. Instead, he recommended using a biga.

A biga is an Italian pre-ferment, not unlike a British sponge or French poolish. Unlike those pre-ferments, however, it’s much lower hydration – again, like his madre, more lively dough than bubbling gloop. The maestro went on to give me a recipe for a biga. He recommended using a 00 (ie a fine grade) flour, then got a bit technical for me – saying to use a flour with a P/L grade of 0.55 and a W…. To be honest, with my bad Italian, and terrible handwriting, my note-taking abilities failed me. My notes either say a W of 240 or 400.

But just what are P/L and W? Well, some research  tells me the former is an elasticity rating, the latter the forza della farina (“strength, force of the flour”). Italian Wikipedia calls it the fattore di panificabilità, which you could translate as the “breadability of the flour”.

Although this is in Italian, and fairly technical, it includes a good table. Which I’ve borrowed, as the blogger himself seems to have borrowed it from Professor Franco Antoniazzi of the University of Parma.

W P/L Proteine Utilizzo
90/130 0,4/0,5 9/10,5 Biscotti ad impasto diretto
130/200 0,4/0,5 10/11 Grissini, Crackers
170/200 0,45 10,5/11,5 Pane comune, Ciabatte, impasto diretto, pancarré, pizze, focacce, fette biscottate
220/240 0,45/0,5 12/12,5 Baguettes, pane comune con impasto diretto, maggiolini, ciabatte a impasto diretto e biga di 5/6 ore
300/310 0,55 13 Pane lavorato, pasticceria lievitata con biga di 15 ore e impasto diretto
340/400 0,55/0,6 13,5/15 Pane soffiato, pandoro, panettone, lievitati a lunga fermentazione, pasticceria lievitata con biga oltre le 15 ore, pane per Hamburgher


Basically, it says that the higher the W, generally the higher the P/L, and the higher the protein. To translate that into familiar products, a flour with a lower W and P/L (used for biscuits/cookies etc) is akin to a plain or all-purpose flour, while a flour with a higher W and P/L (used for enriched breads with long fermentations like panettone) is akin to a strong white bread flour. So really not that technical after all. Ahem.


Not that domestically purchased packs of flour generally include this grading information, but it’s good to know. All part of my baking education.

So anyway, armed with this knowledge, straight from the maestro a cool old bakery in pleasant little Italian mountain town, I embarked on my first biga experiments… Coming soon!

Il Vecchio Forno, Piazza Vittorio Emanuele III 20, 67032 Pescasseroli, Abruzzo


Filed under Bakeries, Breads

Flapjack action photos

Not really. A certain amount of inaction actually, but here are the flapjacks I blogged about before, being eaten in the mountains around Pescasseroli, in Abruzzo National Park.

Flapjack break, near the ruins of Castel Mancino, above Pescasseroli

Flapjack break, near the ruins of Castel Mancino, above Pescasseroli

Flapjack and wild thyme, etc

Flapjack with wild thyme and other flowers

Flapjack at Rifugio di Lorio

Flapjack at Rifugio di Lorio (1830m), Rocca Ridge, west of Pescasseroli, Abruzzo

If you’re interested in hiking in Abruzzo and the Apennines, I’ve done another post here, on my other, not-specifically-foodie-blog.


Filed under Discussion, Misc, Other food

Two days of hiking in Abruzzo National Park

We’ve just done a couple of days of hiking in Abruzzo National Park, in the central Apennines of Italy. We stayed at the small town of Pescasseroli, a very friendly place located in the centre of the park and at an elevation of around 1150m.

We followed a couple of routes from the Lonely Planet book Hiking in Italy by Brendan Sainsbury. We caught a bus direct from Rome to Pescasseroli, then just started our walks in the town.

Day 1 – short walk above Pescasseroli

We headed out of the town into a valley to the west. This is path B3, which climbs from pasture and into pine forest on the hillside. On the map we used, the hill and ridge are called Bocca di Forno – “The Oven’s Mouth”.

The path curved around the hillside, continuing through pine forest, with some clearings that were full of flowers and butterflies.

The path then descended into the ruins of Castel Mancino, a mysterious 10th-11th century fortress that fell into disuse then became a source of building stones for the village below. Seeing the first ruined tower among the pine trees was like something out of Skyrim. Fab.

And here’s Fran.

Day 2 – Rocca Ridge

This was our main walk. Sainsbury gives his route at 19.5km, but we finished it by looping back onto part of the path we followed yesterday, heading for a bar by a more scenic route, so we did around 22km (about 13.5 miles).

We headed up a valley due south of Pescasseroli, onto path C1, then, leaving behind a farm, onto path C3. The whole landscape here is shaped by transhumance, and we immediately encounterd a herd of white cows grazing among the beech trees by Rifugio della Difesa. There were guarded by a very professional Maremmano who barked at us until we were a decent distance beyong the herd.

Path C3 takes you up through beatiful beech forest, which reminded me of the Amon Hen woodland where Frodo separates himself from the Fellowship in the denouement the first film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. New Zealand beech (Nothofagus) is in an entirely different botanical family to European beech (Fagus) though.

Although most of these trails are fairly well blazed, especially in the woods, occasionally the markings can be baffling, never mind the fact that the colour coding changes and the route names seem to be being revised. (This pic is probably out of order, can’t remember specifically where it was.)

We continued on, past the slightly sorry church of Santa Maria di Monte Tranquillo (at around 1600m), then up to a high pasture at the fairly derelict, private Rifugio (shelter) di Monte Tranquillo. There, four people on horses passed us, with the leader going all cowboy and chasing a grazing herd higher up the mountainside.

Although it’s hard to capture with a photograph, things got a bit steeper here as we climbed up around Monte Pietroso (1876m).

Fran, who has a kind of steep-slopes-vertigo, suddenly found herself facing one of her worst fears. Even though she’d chosen the route… clearly named “Rocca Ridge” in the book. (Another of her worst fears is formidable dogs. She’s even quite nervous around cows. So, so far, the walk was going well, challenging her fears and phobias!). The path up round Pietroso isn’t clear, but soon you reach the ridge itself.

Shortly after we got up to the highest point of the walk, La Rocca itself, with the 1924m summit marked by a cairn.

We continued along the ridge, heading north along path C5. Fran pushed the pace here as she wanted off. Steep slopes on both sides weren’t an ideal birthday present. (I won’t even mention her anxiety about thunder storms.) It was a fabulous walk though, with flowers everywhere,  including several types of geranium, greater celandine, wild thymes, several types of euphorbia, viper’s bugloss (love that name; it’s great in Italian too – viperina azzurra. Nicer thatn Echium vulgare) and many many others, like wild chives. I never realised chives liked mountaintops that are covered in snow and ice for several months of the year.

And gentians. Such an amazing colour.

There were even the remants of some snow. If you look at one of the pics above, the beech forest seems to be tinged in Autumnal red, but this is actually withered and dying leaves – I suspect the spring growth was hit by some late snow-fall.

And some more rugged mountain horses. I’ve never seen horses as sure-footed and mountain goat-like as these.

Although there are a few dozen brown bears left in the area, wolves, golden eagles, and allegedly even lynx, our wildlife encounters included some raptors (possibly Buteo buteo, the common buzzard), innumerable butterflies and other insects enjoying the flowers, and swifts whistling around our ears on the ridge. Best of all, however, was thisVulpes vulpes specimen, who came jogging along the the ridge path from the other direction.

We thought he’d run off when saw us, but he kept getting closer, until he stopped at our feet, like a pet dog expecting a treat. I suspect hikers do feed the foxes, hence the behaviour, but it was still a wonderful moment, as foxes are among my favourite animals. I even thought about patting him like a dog until the word “rabies” popped into my mind. He was a very healthy looking specimen though, so it was probably just my turn to be paranoid.

We eventually left the ridge at Rifugio di Lorio (padlocked – apparently you have to get the keys from the park authorities. Which seems pretty silly, to have a shelter you can’t access if you’re caught in a storm). I had a flapjack break, then we started the descent.

Path B4, dropped to the east, took us back into the beech forest and onto path B1, though this seemed to be called something else on the blazes (R7?), just to confuse things.

We even subsequently saw a small, weathered sign pinned to a tree that said we weren’t even supposed to have walked C5, the ridge route, without a guide, as part of the bear conservation programme. Maybe having some info on the park website, pinning the signs at both ends of the park, and, oh, opening the tourist office, might have been a better way to disseminate this info. Presumably none of the other half-dozen hikers we’d seen on the path had received this info either. So Italian.

We descended through the forest, past some ski facilities (absurd looking without snow), then back onto part of the path we’d done yesterday, under the castle ruins. I was craving a beer, but when we finally made it to Pescasseroli’s only birreria they only had foreign muck and industrial beer, so I forwent that essential part of any hike and settled instead for an aperitivo later.

We were joined by another Marammano, presumably retired. These guys are ubiquitious in Pescasseroli, wandering to the streets blagging stuzzichini (aperitivo snacks).

All in all, a great walk. Despite Fran’s uncertainties. Soon forgotten, after a glass and a half of prosecco. (Only a half – a big dog barged the table, smashing the glasss, before Fran could finish her second one.)

We concluded the day with one of the best meals we’ve had in Italy.

(Apologies – the pics are mostly taken on my rubbish phone’s 5MP camera I’m afraid. Fran is the real photographer with the proper DSLR. Maybe she’ll put some on Flickr at some point, and I can link to them.)


Filed under Italy, Main thread