Pane Bianco is an Italian soft white (bianco) bread (pane), and from what I understand generally refers to a country white bread. There is also a stuffed or filled version of the Pane Bianco. This is a “S” shaped Pane Bianco with sun dried tomatoes, cheese, garlic and basil. Some people add olives too. It’s a gorgeous bread that will have people thinking you spend a lot of time and effort making it. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A lot of bread bakers across the world are celebrating World Bread Day today. It has been years since I baked bread just for this occasion. When I first started baking bread, I used to bake just for WBD every year. This seemed the perfect time to get back to that routine. WBD was round the corner, I was itching to bake some bread that I could also serve for dinner.
I have a go-to list of breads that I call my “Must Bake Breads”. Whenever some bread catches my fancy, I add it to this list. This is also the list I look through when I’m looking for something specific to bake. I used to use this list to choose breads for my We Knead to Bake group which is sadly no longer active. I decided to go back to this list for inspiration and that’s where I found the Pane Bianco.
The Pane Bianco ticked a lot of boxes for me. It is a savory bread, it is a stuffed bread, it is full of flavours we like, it’s beautiful to look at and I have a weakness for unusually shaped breads. It also helped that it is very easy to make.
I chose this recipe from King Arthur’s Flour and changed it a bit. We’re just two of us at home right now, so I halved the recipe to make a rather small loaf which cuts into about 10 slices. You can double the recipe below for a larger loaf or bake it as two small loaves.
I left the egg out from the original recipe. In the filling I used regular processed cheese because that was what I had on hand. You can use any cheese of your choice including crumbled paneer. I used sun-dried tomatoes stored in oil. I used garlic paste rather than whole garlic. This, I mixed with a little of the oil from the tomatoes and brushed it across the dough before adding the other ingredients.
I would also suggest that it is better to be a bit conservative with the amount of filling one uses in this bread. I tend to work with the “less is more” policy. While a little more of the filling would be alright if you like it that way, too much of it would end up coming out of the bread during the baking process.
Pane Bianco With Sun Dried Tomatoes, Cheese, Garlic and Basil
For the Dough:
- 1 tsp active dried or instant yeast
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/8 cup lukewarm water
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 cup lukewarm milk
For the Filling:
- 1/2 cup grated cheese of choice
- 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes chopped
- 1 to 2 cloves garlic minced, or 3/4 to 1 tsp garlic paste
- 1/2 tsp red chilli flakes
- 1/8 cup chopped fresh basil
Make the dough:
- If using active dried yeast, activate the yeast separately with the sugar and warm water. Once it is frothy add it to the dry ingredients. Put all the dry ingredients for the dough into a bowl or the bowl of your kneading machine. Mix together and add yeast mixture if using active dried yeast. Now add the oil and the warm milk and knead till you have a soft dough that will be just slightly sticky.
- If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much) and knead till required consistency. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in an oiled bowl, coating well. Cover and let it rise till double in volume (about 1 to 1 1/2 hours).
In the meanwhile get the ingredients for the filling together.
- If using dried tomatoes in oil, drain them well before chopping them into pieces. If you use garlic paste like I did, mix it with some of the oil from the tomatoes. Also chop the fresh basil into smaller pieces.
- Gently deflate the dough. Lightly pat to flatten the dough or lightly roll it out into an 11" x 8 1/2" rectangle. If using garlic paste, brush the garlic oil mixture evenly over the surface of the dough. Otherwise evenly spread the cheese, tomatoes, garlic, and basil over the dough.
- Starting with one long edge, roll the dough into a log. Seal the edge well and then pinch the edges to seal. Place the log seam-side down on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Using kitchen shears start 1/2" from one end and cut the log lengthwise along the centre, about 1" deep, up to 1/2" of the other end. Keeping the cut side up, bend both edges form "S" shapes. Tuck both ends under the centre of the "S". Your shaped dough should resemble a "figure 8;" pinch the ends together to seal.
- Loosely cover and allow the dough to rise until double in size (about an hour). Bake the bread at 180C (350F) for about 35 to 40 minutes till golden brown and cooked. If the bread seems to browning too quickly, loosely cover it with foil after about 20 minutes of baking.
- When done cool the bread on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. This Pane Bianco will keep , well-wrapped, at room temperature for a couple of days.