Tag Archives: sponge

Durum wheat sponge and dough bread

Baked and cut durum and Manitoba bread

After my recent, pleasingly successful experiment with a biga, I made a couple of loaves that seemed wonderful, but one turned out to be under-baked (shame on me), and the second just went weird after a few days. I think, like me, it can’t really handle the heat, as the Roman summer inches towards the trials of August, with  its high-30s (100 ish and more old money) temperatures, and thriving tiger mosquito population.

I made a multigrain seeded loaf that seemed great the first few slices, but didn’t like being taken to the park for a picnic in 35C temperatures (followed by a massive storm). The previously nice, firm crumb collapsed and went kind of fizzy. Again, it was as it if had been under-baked. And possibly even under-proved, though this is bizarre as it’d had a nice long prove, mostly in the fridge as the 25C kitchen was too warm.

To try and diagnose this mystery, I vowed I’d make a nice simple white loaf, just with strong white flour (or Manitoba as it’s known in Italy) and see how it coped with the heat.

Farina di grano duro and farina di Manitoba

Every time I open my flour bin, however, I see a pack of something that needs a bit of stock-rotation. In this case, I wanted to use up some of a bag of grano duro flour, that is durum wheat, (Triticum durum). It’s a type of flour that is more typically used for pasta, but I’ve baked with it before. I also had a bag of rice flour hanging around, so some of that went in too.

Also, following the biga experiment, I decided to do a sponge and dough method. Just to see if it coped better with the heat than the previous two loaves, that were made with the bulk fermentation method (BFM).

The BFM is your basic bread-making that involves creating a dough with all the flour, all the water, all the yeast, and processing that: first prove, shaping, second prove, bake. The sponge and dough method, on the other hand, involves using liquid (all or most of it) and part of the flour, with the yeast, then fermenting that more liquid mixture, called the sponge, before adding the rest of the flour and proceeding with a dough, proving, shaping and baking. Like a biga, a sponge is a type of pre-ferment.

Duro-Manitoba sponge

A note on the yeast
I use fresh yeast. It’s known as lievito di birra in Italy, or cake yeast in North America.

If you’ve only got active dried yeast (ADY), use 4g. If you’ve only got instant/easyblend yeast, use 3g. Add the latter directly to the part of the flour you’re mixing with the liquid to make the sponge.

A basic rule of thumb for conversion is x3: that is, 3g ADY = 9g fresh yeast. You need less instant yeast than ADY. But I wouldn’t agonise: as long as your least is alive and well and happy, it’ll do what it needs to do even with a few gram’s variation. The time it takes the dough to ferment and prove will also vary depending on the temperature of water you use, the temperature of your kitchen, etc.

200g grano duro/durum wheat flour
50g rice flour
250g strong white/Manitoba flour (00 or 0 grade)
350g water (tepid)
10g fresh yeast
10g fine sea salt

Dough, unkneaded

1. Combine the water and yeast in a bowl. Whisk slightly to break up the yeast.
2. Combine all the flours in a bowl.
3. Put half of the flour mix in another bowl. Add the water/yeast mixture.
4. Stir together the flour and water/yeast to make a sponge.
5. Leave the sponge , covered, to ferment. I left mine for about 80 minutes in a warm kitchen. It should look nice and bubbly and active when it’s ready.
6. Add the salt to the remaining dry flour, mix it in, then add this to the sponge.
7. Bring the dough together in the bowl, turning it out when it’s mostly combined.
8. Knead the dough until smooth. You can do a longer knead once, or the Dan Lepard method of short kneads three times in half an hour.

Dough, kneaded
9. Form a ball of dough and place it in a clean bowl. I add a drop of veg oil to the bowl for nonstickiness.
10. Cover and leave to prove until doubled in size. Again, depends on temps etc, so check every now and then. It’ll probably be around one and a half hours if it’s in a warm place.

Dough, first prove
11. Turn out the dough, and form a ball.
12. Leave the ball to rest for 10 minutes.
13. Form a baton.
14. Leave the baton to prove again, ideally in a basket or banneton lined with floured cloth.

Dough, in proving basket
15. Pre-heat oven to 220C.
16. When the baton is doubled in size and soft to the touch, turn out onto a baking sheet.
17. Bake for around 25 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200C and bake for another 20 minutes, or until the loaf is well-browned and feels fairly light and ‘hollow’ when picked up.
18. Cool on a wire rack.

Dough, in proving basket, proved

Thus far, this bread has been behaving – and not giving me any insights into what went wrong with my previous loaf. If the crumb suddenly collapses and starts to ferment, I’ll report back.

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Filed under Breads, Recipes

Genoise, génoise, genoese. And trifle

Much as we don’t like traditional British Christmas cake in our household and always try alternatives, we don’t like traditional Christmas pudding either. I’m fascinated by its history, its origins in Medieval cuisine, the relationship of such puddings to, say, sausages (discussed here). I just don’t like eating it.

Instead, our traditional Christmas pudding is trifle. My wife introduced me to this tradition years ago; apparently it comes from her mum’s mum, “a great trifle maker”.

Trifling things

British trifle is not unlike a variety of other international deserts. Indeed, in the mists of time, it has common roots with both zuppa inglese (“English soup”, or more broadly “English dunked stuff” – a type of [northern] Italian desert that is, basically, trifle) and its cousin tiramisu (tirami sù – literally “pick me up”, though if you really need waking up surely a ristretto would do the job better?). The bottom line is that all these deserts use custards and/or whipped dairy products and sponges. But not just any sponges: specifically genoise sponge, or the closely related pan di spagna. (Which was, probably apocryphally, developed by the Genoese ambassador to Spain in the middle of the 17th century. More on the distinction between these two later).

Genoise – okay, look I’m going to call it genoese, as that’s the spelling I grew up with – originates from Genoa, the capital of Liguria in northern Italy. Today, it forms the basis of many sweets, in not just Italy and France, but Britain and elsewhere. But, you may say, tiramisu uses sponge fingers! (Aka ladyfingers, or boudoirs in French, or Savoiardi in Italy) But what are sponge fingers? Well, they’re just small cakes made of crisply baked piped fingers of genoese mixture.

So for our Christmas trifle, I generally make a genoese, while the missus makes custard.

Genoese sponge recipe

60g unsalted butter
125g plain flour
Pinch of fine salt
4 medium eggs
125g caster sugar

Folding in the flour

Preheat the oven to 180C.

1 Melt the butter, then leave it to cool slightly.
2 Use a little of the butter to grease your cake tin(s), sprinkle it with flour, shake the flour around to coat, then remove the excess. Line with baking parchment. This recipe will make two fairly thin cakes in 18cm round tins. If you want it square and deeper, use say just one 20cm square tin.
3 Sift the flour and salt together.
4 Put a pan of water on and bring to a simmer.
5 Combine the eggs and sugar in a heatproof bowl, and set this over the simmering water.
6 Using (ideally) an electric hand blender or a whisk, whisk the egg and sugar mix for about 5 to 10 minutes. It should triple in volume and achieve slight peaking.
7 Take the bowl off the heat.
8 Sift half the flour into the egg/sugar mixture and gently fold it in with a large metal spoon. You want to do this as gently as possible so you don’t knock the air out of the mixture
9 Sift in the other half of the flour and fold carefully again.
10 Gently pour in the melted butter, and carefully fold this in too to just combine.
11 Pour the mixture into the prepare tin(s). Gently does it!
12 Bake until firm to the touch, around 25 minutes depending on the depth of your mixture.
13 Cool in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out and cool completely on a wire rack.

Pouring in the butter


Now, if you want to make a trifle, cut half of this cake into chunks, spread them with jam, and put them in a medium bowl. Pour on some sherry if you like such things. Add some fruit of choice. We used (not very seasonal or local) raspberries and banana. Cover the lot with homemade custard (go on – it’s not hard, and it tastes sooo good). Then cover all that with whipped cream.

I like to sprinkle some lightly toasted flaked almonds on top. Most of all though, I just like the extraordinary indulgence of genoise, custard and cream. It’s always a sad moment on 26 or 27 December when we finish the trifle.


The difference between genoese sponge and pan di spagna

Genoese is made with the above technique involving cooking the eggs and sugar together, and whisking them, over a bain marie, with some melted butter subsequently added to the mix. Pan di spagna is made cold, with the eggs separated and lightness achieved by whipping the whites to stiff peaks. We’d call pan di spagna a “whisked fatless sponge cake” in English.

If you can read Italian, or trust translator software, there’s a good description of the difference here.

The results are quite similar. One of these days I’ll have to arrange a blind tasting, as TBH, I’m not sure I could tell the difference. Some people don’t even seem to recognise the difference: after all, Italian Wikipedia has a photo of pan di spagna that is reused to illustrate genoese on English Wikipedia. Outrageous.

Anyway. Here’s a final pic of mine. Slight sag in the middle, but otherwise lovely.

Cross section


Filed under Cakes, Puddings & desserts, Recipes