L’Otto di Merano for the 8th month (BBB August 2015)

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BBB: Let's Get Baking summary: recipe for l’Otto di Merano, based on a recipe in “The Italian Baker” by Carol Field; brief review of “The Italian Baker“; camping; a Bread Baking Babes project; (click on images to see larger views and more photos)

Bread Baking Babes (BBB) August 2015

And then, all of a sudden, a shrill voice broke forth out of the darkness: “Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!” and so forth, without pause or change, like the clacking of a tiny mill. – Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

BBB Otto di Merano wp-image-2244 I cannot stop making bread with malted grains! No, I cannot….

I have the honour of hosting this August. Ever since March, when the BBBabes made Granary Bread, I cannot stop making bread with malted wheat! We cannot believe our fortune that the Noble Hop, the wonderful shop selling supplies for home-brewing beer, is about a five minute bike-ride from us.

So, a couple of weeks ago, when I went to replenish our stock of malted wheat, I noticed that the shop also sells malted rye. And I remembered about a bread I’ve had bookmarked for ages. One of my friends was born in Finland; a few summers ago, she returned for a wedding where she tasted the most wonderful bread. She raved and raved about how great it was, asked for and received (by snailmail!!!) the recipe and very kindly translated it for me. She hasn’t made it yet either. Because it calls for mämmimalltaita (malted rye for mämmi, a Finnish pudding), an ingredient not so easily found here in Canada.

Suddenly, I realized that I could make the bread at last by using malted rye purchased from the Noble Hop. Sure, I don’t really know exactly what mämmimalltaita means (I think it’s “mämmi malt”). But why should I let an inability to speak/read Finnish stop me? :stomp:

I WAS going to suggest making this bread for the August BBBabes’ project but when I saw that the bread takes close to two hours to bake, I decided that would be a foolish choice for the Dog Days of summer.

So, in a sudden change of direction, I am choosing a rye bread from an area of Europe much further to the south. It’s L’Otto di Merano, a rye bread based on one of the recipes in Carol Field’s classic bread book, “The Italian Baker”.

When I suggested this bread to the other BBBabes, I hadn’t yet made the bread (of course I hadn’t – when have I ever done anything in advance??? …don’t forget my family motto: “there’s plenty of time at noon”).

Otto di Merano wp-image-2241 Please note that I did make a couple of changes to Carol Field’s recipe. She does not call for malted rye but for a small amount of barley malt powder. Also, she calls for caraway rather than fennel seeds. I don’t really have a clue what the volume of 25 gm of “crushed malted rye” is (remind me to look next time I get to the kitchen…). So I made an executive decision and used the weight/volume equivalents for cracked wheat from King Arthur Flour’s chart.

Here’s how things went:

BBB Malted Rye Bread diary:

3 July 2015 08:17 I’ve made all-purpose/wholewheat bread with small amount of malted rye in the starter and it’s really really good. There is just the tiniest hint of rye flavour. I can’t wait to see how it changes rye/wheat-flour bread!

3 August 2015 19:11 It has been unpleasantly hot for the past week or so (but I’m NOT complaining!! Humid days a little above 30C are far preferable to damp sub-zero winter days when the temperature in our drafty kitchen might climb as high as 15C. And that’s even when the oven has been on!)

Mercifully, it rained yesterday and brought a cooler front in. The temperature finally dropped below 20C in the night and it’s only going up to about 25C tomorrow. So, with this window of opportunity before the heat of the Dog Days, I just made the starter. It was beautifully soupy – I love it when it’s so easy to stir.

Because I’m always a little slow to measure things, the whole process took five minutes. As I was on about stroke 80 of 100 when stirring the mixture, I once again marvelled at how ridiculously easy it is to make bread. Why on earth did I ever imagine that it was not? Why does anyone?

4 August 2015 09:40 Shriek!! I just put in WAY too many fennel seeds! I added 25g instead of 2.5g!! Why oh why oh why oh why didn’t I pay attention to my gut feeling when I saw all those seeds on the scale?

Because I looked at it and thought, “Really?? Isn’t that kind of a lot?”

What an idiot I am.

But. I’m not a complete idiot. I decided that the dough seemed a little stiff when I was kneading it, so I added 15g water….

I also added half the yeast called for in the actual dough.

13:35 The bread has risen beautifully! I just pushed it down to let it double one more time. Happily, a.) it doesn’t smell like too much fennel seed, and b.) both of us like the taste of fennel.

Otto di Merano wp-image-2252 17:13 I shaped the bread and still don’t get too much fennel smell from it. The dough is beautiful! It’s firm but not too firm and formed into boules easily. As I put the two shaped loaves together on the parchment paper, it occurred to me that it would be fun if the bread looked more like an 8. I thought of poking holes in the center of each but then decided to use the clay sunflower stamp (is it supposed to be for butter??) to stamp indentations in the center of each round.

I left the stamp upside-down on one of the rounds so that the sunflower pattern would go into the bread.

BBB Otto di Merano wp-image-2243 19:29 Sigh. Why oh why don’t I research things properly? I CANNOT get the clay stamp off the bread. It won’t come off. No matter how hard I try. :stomp:

So. We liberally sprayed the loaf, with the clay stamp still attached and into the oven it went.

20:05 The bread looks beautiful (if you avert your eyes from the burning hot little clay disc that refuses to budge)!

BBB Otto di Merano wp-image-2246 21:15 Now that the bread is cool enough to touch with bare hands, I managed to wrestle the disc off the top of the bread without too much damage. Alas, there is no sign of the sunflower pattern.

I put a lace umbrella overtop and stomped away. Maybe the bread will look better in the morning….

We tasted the bread the next morning.

The malt flavour is virtually undetectable. I don’t know if it would make any difference to omit it entirely. Still, next time I make the bread, I’m still going to add it.

BBB Otto di Merano wp-image-2245 And hmmm…. Pretty fennelly. But also pretty good. It’s on the airy/fluffy/sandwichbread side but we’re thinking that it will be delicious sliced, grilled on the barbecue and drizzled with olive oil to go with chili.

Here is the BBB August 2015 Otto di Merano recipe:

L’Otto di Merano (Eight from Merano)
based on a recipe in “The Italian Baker” by Carol Field

“This moist and slightly tangy rye gets its name from its shape: two balls of bread connected at the center look like a figure eight. Eat it with smoked meats, game, smoked salmon, caviar, fresh cheeses, or oysters.”
-Carol Field, L’Otto di Merano, Regional and Rustic Breads, The Italian Baker, p. 134


  • 300g (300 ml) water at 100F
  • 0.5g (0.125 tsp) active dry yeast
  • 25g (40ml???) malted rye berries, crushed
  • 75g (~0.75 c) dark rye flour
  • 100g (~0.75 c) unbleached all-purpose flour


  • 60g (60 ml) water at 100F, + 15g (15ml), if required
  • 2g (0.5 tsp) active dry yeast (I only used 1g (0.25 tsp))
  • 27g (2 Tbsp) olive oil
  • 400g (~3 c) flour
       » 300g unbleached all-purpose flour
       » 85g 100% wholewheat flour
       » 15g (~2 Tbsp) flaxseed, ground
  • 10g Kosher salt (scant 2 tsp fine table salt)
  • 2.5g (1.25 tsp) fennel seeds (or caraway seeds)
  1. starter: On the evening before baking the bread, warm the water to 100F – are you allergic to a thermometer? Heat it until it’s the temperature safe to feed to a baby: a few drops on the inside of your wrist feel warm. (Please do NOT use hot water from the tap. You don’t know how long things other than water have been festering in the bottom of that tank.) Pour the warm water into a medium-sized bowl and whisk in the tiny amount of yeast. Add the flours and malted rye and, using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture 100 times. Cover with a plate and leave overnight in the oven with only the light turned on.
  2. mixing the dough: The next morning, warm the rest of the water to 100F (if it gets too hot, add cold water) and pour into a smallish container. Whisk in the rest of the yeast until it has dissolved. Pour this mixture into the starter (that should be bubbling nicely).
  3. Add oil, flour, salt, and fennel seeds to the starter. Using a wooden spoon, stir to combine.
  4. Kneading Use your hands to knead the dough in the bowl. Using one hand to turn the bowl, wet the other hand and knead for 5 to 10 minutes the dough by pulling the bottom of the dough up to the center until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover the bowl with a plate and put it into the oven with only the light turned on until it has doubled in size.
  5. shaping Line a peel (or cookie sheet) with parchment paper. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board. Divide the dough in two and form into two rounds, one of which is slightly larger than the other. Place the rounds close together on the parchment paper to form a figure 8. Cover with a clean tea towel and allow to rise in a draft-free area at room temperature until it has almost doubled.
  6. baking With a baking stone on the middle shelf, turn the oven to 400F.
  7. When the oven is hot, just before putting the bread in the oven, spray the top liberally with water. Put the bread into the oven and immediately turn the thermostat down to 350F. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the internal temperature is between 200F and 210F (the bread sounds hollow when knuckle-rapped on the bottom). Remove the bread from the oven.
  8. cooling Remove the finished bread from the oven and put it onto a footed wire rack to cool. Allow the baked bread to cool completely before cutting into it. It’s still baking inside! But, of course you may want to serve warm bread. Reheat it after it has cooled completely. To reheat any UNsliced bread, turn the oven to 450F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread in the hot oven for ten minutes.

About Malt:

Malting and enzymes […] Dark-colored flours have higher enzymatic activity than lighter-colored flours, because they contain more particles from the outer layer of the grain (the bran also contains some enzymes).[…]
Malting and enzymes […] If too much diastatic barley malt is added to a dough, there will be too much breakdown of the starch and the result will be a sticky dough and gummy bread with an overly brown crust from the residual sugar.
-Rose Levy Beranbaum, “The Bread Bible”, p. 552


1.) Malt: Field calls for barley malt in her Otto di Merano. But because we CAN get malted rye easily, I decided to use it instead. Next time, I will up the amount of whole wheat and perhaps up the amount of malted rye as well.

2.) Fennel Seeds: Field calls for caraway seeds. Judging from my inability to notice the dot in “2.5g”, it’s a mercy that I didn’t use caraway seeds…. Next time, I will use the smaller amount of fennel seeds to judge whether more malted rye is in order.

3.) Water: The amount of water, as always, may vary. Just make sure that the dough is workable. For me, the dough was initially quite dry. If there is still a lot flour in the bottom of the bowl after stirring the dough ingredients with a wooden spoon, do add more water. It’s far easier to add the water then than when kneading (which is how I had to add the extra 15g).


BBB Otto di Merano wp-image-2248 Indeed, the grilled bread was fabulous. The extra fennel almost seemed like it was there on purpose.

We took the last of the Otto di Merano bread with us when we went camping this past weekend. We thought it would be brilliant for breakfast cooked over a fire. And – rats rats rats!! – we FORGOT TO TAKE THE CAMERA. Other things we forgot: oven mitts, large grate to put over the fire pit and last but by no means least: coffee (!@$$%##^^!!!. A nearby corner store charged us $9 for some really inferior supposedly “exquisitely dark and flavourful” roast).

We made the coffee: camp style in a pot of boiling water, letting it sit for about ten minutes and pouring it through a strainer to catch the grounds. Unlike other times that we’ve used this method, the coffee was AWFUL.

Why were we surprised??

Our first clue should have been the label: “This isn’t just a can of coffee. It’s a can of BRING-ON-THE-DAY. […] It’s a can of 100% pure ground cup of CAN-DO” (I’m not making this up.)

We sat on the edge of a field of clover, looking at a little stand of poplar trees and the beautiful blue sky studded with slightly pinking clouds (yes, it absolutely poured just after we arrived home in the early afternoon).

In spite of the inferior coffee, breakfast was fabulous – really good bacon from our favourite butcher and farm-fresh eggs (fried in bacon fat) and Otto di Merano toast (very smoky because it was toasted on cookie racks precariously balanced over the white-hot coals). We spread the toast with bacon fat instead of butter. Because, yes, we forgot to bring butter too….

The toast was wonderful. It was so wonderful that I think I might need to make Otto di Merano again. Maybe with a little less fennel seed….

Bread Baking Babes L'Otto di Merano for the 8th month (BBB August 2015)

As you already know, I am hosting August 2015’s Bread Baking Babes’ challenge.

And if I hadn’t insisted on adding too much fennel seed and stamping the eight with a clay disc, it wouldn’t have been very challenging at all. This bread is well worth making (just make sure to do as I say rather than as I did…).

We know you’ll want to make eights too! To receive a Baking Buddy Badge to display on your site: make L’Otto di Merano in the next couple of weeks and post about it (we love to see how your bread turns out AND hear what you think about it – what you didn’t like and/or what you liked) before the 29 August 2015.

Here’s how to let us know:

  • email me
    » Remember to include your name and a link to your post
    » Please type “BBB August 2015 bread” in the subject heading

edit: Please note that it’s not enough to post about your bread in the Facebook group. Because of the ephemeral nature of Facebook’s posts, your FB post may be lost in the shuffle. Please email if you want to be included.

If you don’t have a blog or flickr-like account, no problem; we still want to see and hear about your bread! Please email me with the details, so your Otto di Merano can be included in the roundup too.

For complete details about this month’s recipe, the BBB and how to become a BBBuddy, please read:

Please take a look at the other BBBabes’ August 2015 bread:


The Italian Baker by Carol Field

The Italian Baker Carol Field’s classic bread cookbook is the first serious bread book I got and I love it. Our copy (given to me Christmas 2000) is ravaged, with the spine broken and pages taped to stop them from falling out, showing that it is indeed a cookbook well worth having. While we haven’t made every recipe in the book, we have made almost all of the rustic breads, as well as pizza and focaccia. There are pencilled notes and ratings in the margins – several recipes are marked 9/10 and few have received anything lower than 8/10.

We’ve made some of the recipes countless times. Are the recipes the best recipes in the world? I don’t know. But we like them….

Except the croc. One of us dislikes the croc; one of us loathes the croc and even hearing its name, runs away screaming in terror, having tried to wrestle it to the ground on more than one grisly occasion. (Read more about that here.)

I read the review of the revised edition and am happy to see that the only major changes were to add some colour photos. (I wonder if they fixed the salt amount in the dreaded Croc recipe. I hope so; I hope so!)

Carol Field’s description of pizza, as written in the original edition of “The Italian Baker” published in 1985, reads as follows: “These crisp or chewy country breads are the food of peasants and wily city dwellers with little money but lots of imagination.” […]” The irony is that the food of the poor is no longer for the poor,” she said. […]
The 2011 version [of “The Italian Baker”] includes a few key additions – notably color photographs, a second ciabatta recipe, a natural yeast recipe and both metric and U.S. customary units – but the content is almost identical, even as the state of Italian bread, both in Italy and in America, has changed.
“I wrote this book in the golden age of bread,” Field said […] “It’s not the golden age anymore.”
-Sophie Brickman, Carol Field’s ‘The Italian Baker’ republished SFGate, Thursday, November 3, 2011
When my family lived in Italy in the ’70s, our rental house in Liguria was no more than 30 miles from good friends who lived in Tuscany, but it could have been 200 for all the differences in the food and bread. In Liguria, we ate focaccia as our daily bread; in Tuscany, it was saltless loaves. In Liguria we ate pesto on pasta; in Tuscany pasta turned up rarely so we ate hearty soups instead. Easter in Liguria was celebrated with torta pasqualina, 33 phyllo-thin layers of dough enclosing a chard and egg filling. In Tuscany Easter week brought pan di ramerino, rosemary and raisin buns that reminded me of hot cross buns with an apricot glaze.
On the 12 or 13 trips to Italy it took to write The Italian Baker, I realized that I had plunged into an unknown world. With good introductions, there I was, an American woman turning up in Italian bakeries at 10 or 11 at night wanting to learn how bakers made the iconic breads of their cities and regions and countryside. Night after night, city after city, trip after trip, I was determined to get it down. […] Bread making is an art handed down from father to son, so I ended up relying on the equivalent of oral history, with the additional challenge of learning a whole new vocabulary. I watched, wrote copious notes, asked question after question, saw massive amounts of flour whirl in a machine with water and yeast and salt. I wrote down numbers.
-Carol Field, Fillmore to Italy and back again


zucchini fritters and chili wp-image-2249
BBB Otto di Merano wp-image-2247

I was kept busy all day in the cave packing the minted money into bread-bags.
It was a strange collection, like Billy Bones’s hoard for the diversity of coinage, but so much larger and so much more varied that I think I never had more pleasure than in sorting them. English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Georges, and Louises, doubloons and double guineas and moidores and sequins, the pictures of all the kings of Europe for the last hundred years, strange Oriental pieces stamped with what looked like wisps of string or bits of spider’s web, round pieces and square pieces, and pieces bored through the middle, as if to wear them round your neck—nearly every variety of money in the world must, I think, have found a place in that collection; and for number, I am sure they were like autumn leaves, so that my back ached with stooping and my fingers with sorting them out.
– Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island



15 responses to “L’Otto di Merano for the 8th month (BBB August 2015)

  1. Elle Lachman

    Love your grilled bread. Wish I could have figured out a way to make this one, but rye is off the table right now, as well as any gluten containing flour and I didn’t think it was worth making with some insipid gluten free blend.

    1. Elizabeth

      You never know with gluten-free flour blends, do you? I haven’t had a lot of experience with them but I gather that if there’s enough xanthan gum and arrowroot included, you might be able to trick the bread into working. I wonder if substituting buckwheat for the rye would mimic the flavour that rye lends.

      Have you seen this handy page?

      1. Elle Lachman

        Thanks for the link….that’s the best explanation yet that I’ve seen of the various uses of the many flours that are OK. Fortunately I have a lot of those flours and have begun to experiment with different combinations. Nothing really tastes like rye but rye. I might try the recipe later with buckwheat and brown rice and oat flour, but still getting used to the proportions and, as you know, proportions are crucial for baking.

        1. Elizabeth

          Here is another page that has some flour mixtures that are similar to what my mom used to make gluten-free bread, cakes, muffins for my dad who was a celiac.

          Mum made up batches of gluten-free flour mix (she said it was markedly cheaper than buying packaged gluten-free flour mixes) and then she used it measure for measure in her recipes calling for regular flour.

          And I know what you mean. Only rye tastes like rye. But buckwheat also has that slightly wilder flavour that rye has.

          However, this particular bread is not very heavy in the rye flavour. In fact, we didn’t really taste the rye at all. (Of course, that might have been because I added WAY too much fennel.)

          You might also try using sorghum flour.

  2. Baking Soda

    phew! Baked and delivered! Post is up, sorry to be a day late (and yes I antidated my post. Such honesty! Loved the bread Elizabeth! I totally stole your byline re the Buddies , you phrased it so beautifully I couldn’t resist. Again, such honesty! <3

  3. Lien

    Thanks for this lovely bread E! It’s a lovely book by C. Field, and how nice (although not handy) when a book is so used that it shows! (eventhough you debolical croc lives in it).

    1. Elizabeth

      I’m really glad you like it, Lien! And errrmmmm… it’s not MY diabolical croc…. :lalala: (Every so often, I imagine that I’ll put my gloves on and try wrestling the croc again. Luckily, other recipes in Field’s book distract me.)

  4. tanna jones

    All I can say Elizabeth is I will be baking this upon my return to the cabin even though I’ll have to use the downstairs oven and that an only be on Wednesday. This is just so perfect! I love the camping story … I even think that is perfect as well since for me camping and any travel is about the unexpected and making do. You made do incredibly well … especially with that bacon fat on toast!
    Do you ever entertain baking your way through a book? This is one I entertain that idea with of course I’m never able to hold that thought very long ;-)
    Hopeful I can get the malted rye and think if I can I may also use a little of the syrup she calls for … not 25 grams of fennel seeds though.

    1. Elizabeth

      When I got Carol Field’s book, I imagined that I was going bake every recipe, but there were a few that I looked at and said, “ewwwww” because of too much sugar, or too many eggs, or too many steps.

      If you still have some of that expensive English malted granary flour, I bet you could use that instead of the malted rye, Tanna. I can’t wait to hear what you think of the bread. Even though you’re going to chicken out and omit the 10 times too much fennel.


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