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Italian farm women draw it out of stone ovens; "mother loaf." (recipe)

Affectionately called the mother loaf because it is so basic, this is the kind of bread Italian farm women draw out of their stone ovens. Earthy and unpretentious, the loaf has a crackly crust that when torn apart reveals a coarse interior riddled with irregular holes. In the mouth, the bread is lively and resilient. And like its Italian counterpart, it's best eaten the day of baking.

Our recipe calls specifically for bread flour; you will find several brands alongside other flours in your supermarket. Bread flour contains more gluten than all-purpose flour, so doughs made with it are more elastic and produce loaves with better volume and texture.

It's not only the flour, but how you handle the dough and the high ratio of water to flour that make this bread different. You don't knead the dough, which is quite wet and very soft. Instead, you beat it thoroughly, using a spoon or mixer, to develop (that is, to moisten and stretch) the gluten. This stretchiness, combined with lots of steam generated as the moist dough bakes, creates the light but chewy texture and crackling crust. We present three methods of beating dough.

You can't rush this bread. It requires lots of beating and time to rise slowly. Mother Loaf

1 package active dry yeast

1-3/4 cups warm water (about 110[deg.])

3/4 teaspoon salt

About 4-1/2 cups bread flour Cornmeal

In a large bowl, combine yeast and water; stir to dissolve. Let stand about 10 minutes, then stir in the salt. Beat one of the following three ways. At any point, if mixer becomes too hot or dough climbs hook or beater, or your arm tires, let the dough rest as long as 15 minutes, then continue.

With a heavy-duty mixer and dough hook. Add 4-1/2 cups flour; stir on low speed to blend. Beat on high speed for 25 minutes.

With a regular mixer and by hand. Use 4 cups flour. Add 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 cups flour to bowl; beat on low speed to blend, then on high speed for 25 to 30 minutes. With a heavy spoon, thoroughly beat in remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time.

By hand only. Use 4 cups flour. Add 2 cups of the flour and beat steadily with a heavy spoon for at least 30 minutes. Gradually add the remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, beating at least 5 minutes after each addition.

At the end of the beating time (step 1), scrape dough down from bowl sides; cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until tripled in volume, about 3 hours (step 2).

Meanwhile, grease a 14-inch pizza pan or 10- by 15-inch baking sheet and sprinkle generously with cornmeal.

Do not punch or stir dough down. Using a bowl scraper to free dough from sides of bowl (step 3), gently ease dough out onto pan. With floured fingers, gently tuck dough edges under to shape a round loaf.

Sprinkle dough with about 2 tablespoons flour; cover with a flour-dusted cloth. Let rise at room temperature until doubled and very puffy, about 1 hour (step 4).

Bake in center of a 400[deg.' oven until golden brown and crusty, about 50 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool at least 30 minutes. Tear into chunks or slice to serve. Makes 1 loaf, 3/4-pound size.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Feb 1, 1984
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