Pane Rustica

pane rusticaRecently the King Arthur Flour Company introduced White Whole Wheat Flour to the supermarket. Because it is milled from soft white winter wheat rather than the more familiar hard red spring wheat it is significantly lighter. As it happens, white winter wheat is one of two varieties traditionally grown in Italy—the other being durum used to make pasta—so it seemed logical to try white whole wheat flour in a simple rustic Italian bread. (I tried a loaf using only that flour and found it rather dense, so I reduced it to about a third of the total flour content.)

Rustic breads typically have high water to flour ratios, i.e. high hydration percentage. That yields a loaf with large holes but also makes the dough very sticky and hard to handle. Not kneading the dough at all, or only very little, gets around that problem. For this bread I chose hydration of 72% and added a good dose of olive oil to give it an Italian flair. I decided on a loaf of around 750 grams (26 ounce) which gave me a starting recipe of:



Baker’s Percentage


436 grams



313 grams



9 grams



17 grams



9 grams


Olive oil

22 grams



For a bit more authenticity I decided to replace about half the yeast with sourdough starter. Using a rule of thumb that 40 grams of sourdough is equivalent to a gram of yeast and adjusting the flour and water to compensate for what is in the starter, I came up with the following recipe.

Note: I designed and tested the recipe using metric units. The customary units are approximate equivalents. Do not mix units.



100% hydration sourdough starter

160 grams

¾ cup

Warm water

233 grams

1 cup plus 2 teaspoons


17 grams

1½ Tablespoons


9 grams

1¾ teaspoons


5 grams

1 envelope

Olive oil

22 grams

2 Tablespoon

White whole-wheat flour

156 grams

1¼ cup

Unbleached white bread flour

200 grams

1⅔ cup


Combine the sourdough starter, water, sugar, and salt in a large bowl then add the yeast and stir to dissolve. Mix in the olive oil. Weigh the flour out into a separate bowl. Slowly add the flour to the liquid, stirring with a wooden spoon to form a thick, sticky dough. Flour your hands and form the dough into a ball. Cover loosely with a piece of plastic wrap directly on the dough. Set aside to proof until doubled in size. At the end of proofing, punch down the dough and turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Using floured hands shape it into a loaf and cut four diagonal slashed across it with a sharp knife or with a razor blade.

The best way to bake this bread is on a pizza stone. If you do not have one, bake it on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan. Traditionally the loaf would have been put into the oven using a peel dusted with corn meal. Since the dough is so sticky, I prefer to use a piece of parchment paper. In either case, place the formed loaf onto the parchment paper, spritz lightly with water, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and allow to double in size.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 205°C (400°F). If using a stone, be sure to allow at least 30 minutes for it to get hot. Bake the bread for 40 to 45 minutes. The best way to determine when it is done is with a thermometer; the center of the loaf should be between 200°F and 210°F (93°C and 99°C).


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