Inside a Pugliese Forno (Breadmaker)

Be sure to read Part 2: Inside a Pugliese Forno (Breadmaker): Into the Oven!

“Oooo, I’d like to go in there.”

When my friends and family here hear this, they know that I am immediately making plans to infiltrate whatever I’m talking about. What I really mean is, I want to approach complete strangers, follow them around all afternoon, take pictures of what seem like routine tasks and unimportant details to them, and ask them annoying questions.

And I wanted to spend some time at my favorite breadmaker’s down in Puglia. I love Pugliese bread, and when our in-laws come to visit, they always put a loaf the size of a small child (perhaps bigger) in their suitcase for us. This bread is perfect for making pane e pomodoro or using those Eggplant under Olive Oil I love making (and eating). I’m still cleaning flour out of my camera months later.

Flour and Bread: from Raw Material to Finished Product

In this particular forno, they “infornare” (put in the oven) three rounds of bread a day. These floured baskets are the temporary homes for the dough while it’s rising and getting ready to be put in the oven.

Baskets ready for the next round of bread dough

They use a huge mixer that started all kinds of fantasies in my head about how many cupcakes I could make with it. After they mix the ingredients, the mixer is lifted (hydraulically) and turns out the dough onto the workspace for rolling and forming.

Mixing the bread dough

Their particular type of breadmaking leaves very little room for creativity or improvisation. In fact, watching them go through the motions was rather hypnotic in its structure, and fascinating how their very hands could create finished loaf shapes in very few seconds. For a traditional loaf, they followed the same steps:

  1. Mix ingredients in the mixer, turn out onto the workspace.
  2. Cut approximate chunks from the dough mass and roll them out lightly for the first rising.
  3. After the first rising, re-shape them, flour them and place them (top up) into their pre-floured containers.
  4. After the second rising, quickly snap the sides of the cloth to separate it from the dough.
  5. Turn out the basket onto the floured paddle, add more flour.
  6. Slash the dough with a razor for its distinctive cuts.
  7. Put the dough into the oven.

Even bread loaf shapes have their meanings – here he forms the traditional loaf shape for Monte Sant’Angelo (Gargano).

Forming the traditional Monte Sant'Angelo loaf

After talking to them for quite a while and watching them work, they turned to me suddenly and said, ok, now your turn! Though their work is hypnotic and repetitive, it is anything but slow. In fact, they were not setting aside a piece for me to play with, but it was needed now to finish this morning’s batch, and there were hundreds behind it. They were taking about 30 seconds maximum for a loaf, so I had only a few seconds to not hold up the whole operation.

So I found a good resting place for my camera, wiped my brow since it was the middle of the summer and I was surrounded by ovens, and gave it a shot.

Here’s what I started with:

Bread dough ready for forming

Can you tell which one was mine?

Can you tell which one is mine?

What about now?

Can you tell which one is mine, now?

I tried to imitate the rocking motion they did without thinking, but I think I’ll need a few more years of practice to get it as smooth as theirs.

Luckily my lump was going to be turned into panini, little rolls for sandwiches. Then came my next hands-on test – feeding the panini rolling machine, by following these simple steps:

  1. Place the 3-4 kilo bread dough into the form.
  2. After cutting into 36 different cubes, place them two at a time into the panini rolling machine.
  3. Place the finished rolls onto baking sheets.
  4. Rinse, repeat.

It rolled about 3-4 kilo of panini in about 2.5 minutes, which meant I had to keep up. That conveyor belt was moving fast, but I had to balance between going too slow and too fast, since they had to place the rolls on the baking sheet.

Making rolls

Some of the finished product ready for the oven.

Panini (little bread/rolls) ready for the oven

Here’s some of the bread ready for the oven in a few hours.

Bread dough resting

I’m probably going to go back there now that I have my new Bogen / Manfrotto Mini Tripod – it would have been perfect for some of those action shots and getting a good look inside the oven. Tomorrow…..putting the bread in the oven, and the finished product!

(Bread) dough ready for the Oven

Be sure to read Part 2: Inside a Pugliese Forno (Breadmaker): Into the Oven!

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  1. Giulia says

    That is so cool! Can I be honest though? I think it’s best when sometimes we don’t know exactly who is making our food… the amount of hair on that one man’s arm makes me cringe. Think about it…

  2. says

    Great post. I love huge loaves of bread and these are some beauties. Giulia, just don’t think about it, the hairy arms, that is. It’s better that way, really. Having worked in a lot of kitchens over the years and listening to coworkers experiences and tales, it is far far better not to think about it!

  3. Giulia says

    You’re absolutely right, Pasticciera! ;) Normally I try not to think about it. I just couldn’t help myself and commented about it. Sorry, if I grossed anyone out!

  4. Ms. Adventures in Italy says

    @Giulia – I prefer to think of it as the d.o.c. guarantee that the bread is being made here in Italy :) – gotta love the authenticity!

  5. Ms. Adventures in Italy says

    @David – yes, they definitely salt. I prefer the salted bread, but since I lived in Tuscany for 4 months, I got used to the unsalted version, too. It’s best for Panzanella :)

  6. says

    Wha! How cool is that? At the Lecco market this past w/e, a bread stall selling stuff from Puglia was on hand and I was saying out loud “I want an ENTIRE round of that big one there. Yeah, that one.” My husband of course (who is very keen on what goes on in my head when it comes to food), immediately cut in and asked where was I going to put all of it, since there was no way we’d be able to finish the loaf between us two.

    So I settled for a section of it. :-P

  7. Rachel says

    That last picture of the dough – is that the second rising? I’m curious about the floured towels. I always have trouble getting the dough off the towel when I cover it, and out of the bowl after the first rising. Perhaps I should flour?

  8. says

    That is so amazing! How did you get back there to take pictures of that! Gotta love the Italians! We have nothing like that here in the states, or at least in Texas :)

  9. says

    Wow! Thanks for the great behind the scenes look at breadmaking. I think you did a great job on your loaf, by the way. I don’t think people realize how physical breadmaking is. My biceps were pretty buff back when I was baking a lot. And every baker I’ve ever met had arms like steel. (p.s. I tagged you over at my blog… It’s in the ‘Tagged by Prof. J’ post.)

  10. says

    Oops! Forgot that I had already commented on this post but what the hay, I’m already here.

    I love what mentalmosiac had to say. It’s true about the biceps thing (not mine, but the guys I worked with). What I liked was the fact that all that hard work really made my back toned. Great for all those cut-low-in-the-back dresses!

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