This takes time to make but with little effort and is well worth it. It supposedly keeps well too but ours didn’t last long enough to test this theory. If you’re not keen on fennel seeds you can leave them out or else substitute sesame or poppy seeds.
Pagnotta con finocchietto – makes 1 oval loaf
- 450g strong white flour
- 1 tsp salt plus a bit extra for the top
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 10g fast-action dried yeast
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds, crushed
- 280ml water, warm
- 30g salted butter, melted
- 1 egg white
- olive oil for brushing
Brush a baking tray and the inside of a large bowl with oil.
Sift the flour into another bowl with the salt, sugar and yeast and make a well in the centre. Sprinkle over ½ tsp of the fennel seeds and pour in the water and butter. Mix with the tips of your fingers until you have a soft dough.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Shape it into a ball and put it in the oiled bowl. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place without draughts for an hour (the hot press is good).
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and punch dozen. Shape into an oval and place on the oiled baking tray. Brush the top with a little oil and cover with clingfilm. Leave to rise in a the same warm and draught-free place for another 40 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 220ºC/gas mark 7.
In a small bowl, mix the egg white with a pinch of salt.
Brush the top of the loaf with the egg white and sprinkle over the remaining fennel seeds. Use a sharp knife to make a cut right down the length of the dough.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 180ºC/gas mark 4 and continue to bake for another 10 minutes.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly before serving warm with some cured ham or salami.
Wine Suggestion: A light fruity red will be perfect here – try a Chianti perhaps from the Rufina district.
(Original recipe from Gino d’Acampo’s, Italian Home Baking, Kyle Books, 2011.)