|One could almost mistake the crackling bits for golden raisins!|
In her wonderful book Celebrating Italy, Carol Field describes a bread made with pork cracklings and a bit of lard in honor of St. Anthony Abbot, a hermit who lived to 105 and died in the fourth century. Earlier in the chapter, she goes into great detail about the ritual hog-butchering done for this feast and all the tasty dishes that are cooked for the occasion in many regions of Italy.
I loved the idea of this bread, and I tried it twice in the past, with OK results. My problem has been how to make pork cracklings that don't break your teeth. I remember Dad cutting off the skin from a picnic ham and rendering it until it was crispy. However, my attempts to repeat this have been disappointing. For New Year's pork and sauerkraut dinner this year I had a fresh pork shoulder with a good bit of skin on it. I cut off the skin with as much of the fat as possible, divided it into strips, and put them into a cast iron frying pan with water to cover. I then put it in a low oven for several hours. (I had read several versions of the "best" way to make cracklings and this one sounded interesting. Good news is, it worked!) I chopped up the strips of skin into bits and poured off the rendered fat into a separate container.
I must give total credit to Carol Field for her recipe, which you can find in the link above. I followed the recipe pretty closely, using Pete's starter, as her recipe calls for both biga, or starter, and yeast. I even had fresh yeast available this time. Since cracklings keep for a very long time in the fridge, as does the rendered lard, I had that part already done on New Year's.
What I did this time was bake the boules in lidded pots as I usually do instead of on a stone. I used the 1 1 /2 quart le creuset Dutch ovens, preheating them in a 425 F oven, baking the breads (with the lids on) for 20 minutes, then baking them at 400 F for another 15 minutes, then lids off for about another 5. Since this is an enriched bread, the lower oven temp keeps the bread moist and the crust easy to cut.
This is one tasty bread! The cracklings were chewable instead of tooth-breaking, and the bread has a rich smoothness to it that is quite different from a buttery bread. You truly do not need any butter on this stuff. Toasted up, the bread regains its best qualties even after several days.
I am glad I made it with the cracklings and not with bacon. I think that the smokiness that is found in bacon can make the bread taste like something else all together. This bread is more nuanced than I think a "bacon bread" would be.
|Also called "pane con i ciccioli"|