Catching up in 2010: Coccodrillo one more time (BBB March 2008)

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BBB: Let's Get Baking summary: one last attempt at making (by hand) Coccodrillo based on a recipe in “The Italian Baker” by Carol Field; information about Bread Baking Babes and Lynn’s High5; submission for YeastSpotting; (click on images to see larger views and more photos)

Bread Baking Babes (BBB): Coccodrillo

bread books Coccodrillo was one of the first kinds of bread I wanted to make when I was given Carol Field’s wonderful cookbook, “The Italian Baker” for Christmas 2000. It was my first serious bread cookbook – the one that gave me the courage to take the dough out of the pan and bake directly on a stone (also given to me that same year).

We love almost all the breads that I’ve made from this really fabulous book. In fact, Italian Country Bread is one of our standard breads – what we call “fish soup” bread…. I’ve made it so many times that I always feel certain I’ve blogged and photographed it ad nauseum.

I gradually worked my way through almost all the bread recipes in the “rustic bread” section of the book. It’s Field’s book I open whenever we have pizza or foccaccia. It really is one of the best bread books to have on hand.

But enough about that. Back to the coccodrillo… I really wanted to make coccodrillo.

But these words were what stopped me:

This is one dough that you will find difficult to make without an electric mixer, for it requires thirty minutes of continuous stirring for the final dough-of course you could enlist help. The result is an extremely light bread with a crunchy dark-speckled crust and a very chewy interior. The bread stays fresh for an amazing number of days.

– Carol Field, Coccodrillo – Crocodile Bread, The Italian Baker, p.116

Eventually, after reading and re-reading that phrase “extremely light bread with a crunchy dark-speckled crust” (not to mention all the cajoling and begging to please please try that one!!), I steeled myself and took the plunge to make this bread by hand anyway, even though Field said not to try. Yes. I have been foolish enough to make this bread before.

I tried it in December 2003 (eewwwwww!!! too salty!!) and then again in February 2004 (even though I reduced the salt – what a disaster!!)

DRAT!!! it wasn’t the fabulous bread I was expecting. Way too much salt! And not at all light (not exactly brick-like either but disappointingly heavy) The interior was more pudding like than chewy […] (I reported the “way too much salt” to the newsgroup people and only then did they all agree that they used half the amount of salt she says….)

– me, “Coccodrillo”, 14 December 2003

I admit defeat. I’m afraid that I won’t be making coccodrillo again for a very long time….

– me, “Coccodrillo revisited” 10 February 2004

I was looking at Carol Field’s recipe for coccodrillo again, wondering why I had wanted to make it in the first place. Oh HERE it is:

The result is an extremely light bread with a crunchy dark-speckled crust and a very chewy interior.

– me, “reasons for making coccodrillo” 12 February 2004

Scrawled across the top of the page in my poor tattered copy of “The Italian Baker” is the following:

Forget this one – Feb 2004

But the photo of Lien’s bread was wonderful. This was the kind of bread I want to make!! And I see from looking at the comments on Lien’s (Notitie van Lien) Recipe in English: Coccodrillo that I said I was going to try this again “when the kitchen was warmer”.

Well… how embarrassing. It’s definitely warmer now. Not to mention that it’s two and half years later. :lalala:

coccodrillo I still insisted on doing this by hand. We do not own an electric stand mixer, nor do we have any intension of getting one (no shelf space). Besides, I LIKE mixing things by hand.

And although Field has food processor instructions for most of the bread recipes, there are only “mixer” instructions for the coccodrillo. We don’t have a mixer and I was NOT going to just wing it with the food processor and repeat January 2005’s horror with the food processor! I also was not going to go begging next door to perhaps mirror January 2005’s horror with my neighbour’s lovely and shiny Kitchen Aid.

As I washed my hands and got out my shiny digital scale in preparation for the ordeal adventure, I thought: 3rd try lucky??

Here’s how things went:

early evening of day 1: The first step went swimmingly. We didn’t have any durum flour so I used some of the semolina flour we always have on hand. I wasn’t at all upset that the starter was runny.

early afternoon of day 2: The second step continued without trauma. I was only vaguely alarmed at the amount of water underneath the bubbling mass of the first starter. And again, I wasn’t at all upset that the starter continued to be completely and entirely runny.

early morning of day 3: I was only a tiny bit alarmed at the amount of water underneath the bubbling starter. It smelled fine – a little fermented perhaps, but that’s a good thing, right?

And I began to stir the flour into the dough. Dough??? Please note that I’m using the term “dough” loosely. (Ha!! Yes. Pun definitely intended).

Okay, this has got to be a joke:

BY MIXER […] Add the salt and mix 3 minutes longer, adding the remaining flour if needed for the dough to come together.

BY HAND […] add the salt and remaining flour if needed and stir 5 minutes longer.

– Carol Field, “The Italian Baker”, Coccodrillo, p 116

(Note that Field doesn’t mention the “come together” part for those of us who are foolish enough to try making this by hand.)

I stirred and stirred. And stirred some more.

I went and got the rubber scraper to see if that worked better for stirring.

Stirring, stirring, stirring. I picked up the wooden spoon and began stirring with both hands. Stirring, stirring, stirring, stirring, stirring. For the full 30 minutes recommended by Field.

And then 5 minutes more.

This wasn’t dough!! This was soup. The perfect consistancy for crepes. Surely, they added more flour!!

So I consulted Ilva’s post – Ilva makes all her bread by hand – to see what she did… she can’t remember though. She referred me to Lien, who wrote:

Subject: Re: What does come together mean?
Date: 8 September 2010 11:58
From: Lien

I personally don't think it possible making it by hand, maybe only if you have enormous biceps, you can stir with the speed of light and for 15 minutes or more.

Better add enough flour to make a sort of ciabatta or focaccia with it.

I’m afraid that by the time I saw the email. I’d already caved in and added about a cup more flour. It was still like soup. I decided to treat it as “no-knead bread”.

Phooey!!!! Pancakes, anyone?

<major whine alert>This is the LAST time that I make a recipe that I am pretty sure is not going to work.

It’s way too much stress. (The resident expert kept pursing his lips and shaking his head every time he looked at the dough slop.) I ended up adding about a cup more flour but was hesitant to add too much extra because I know it’s supposed to be slack.

And it’s not as if I’m not fairly adept at dealing with slack dough. I look on it as a challenge and always look forward to chasing it around on the board with my dough scraper.

But slack? Ha. This particular “dough” was always like soup.

When I took it out of the oven, I hoped that it wouldn’t taste terrible. In spite of the fact that the internal temperature was high enough, I was not even pleased with the crust. And I could tell from lifting the bread that crumb was probably on the wet puddingy side.

But I hoped even more that it wouldn’t taste brilliant. Because I’m never making this again.</major whine alert>

And how did the bread taste?

Hmmm. A little sour. A little heavy. Not terrible. But not great either.

T’s first words were: “It’s a bit puddingy”.

There’s that dreaded word again. I HATE hearing that word when we taste my bread!!

coccodrillo We rescued the first failed attempt at coccodrillo to make stovetop stuffing – really good stovetop stuffing.

I think we will do the same with this slightly less failed attempt. And I suspect it will also be excellent on French Canadian Onion Soup.

It’s the perfect thing to have in September now that the nights are getting cooler. Yes!!! Let’s have onion soup! Maybe tomorrow night?

Here is the official BBBabe Coccodrillo recipe. For what it’s worth, here’s what I did (Recommendation: unless you have an electric mixer, do not, under any circumstances try making this bread):

based on “Coccodrillo” in The Italian Baker by Carol Field

makes 2 loaves that are flat as pancakes if you do this by hand

Starter I

  • 1 gm (¼ tsp) active dry yeast ¹
  • 240gm lukewarm water ²
  • 35 gm semolina flour
  • 30 gm whole wheat flour
  • 60 gm unbleached all-purpose flour³

Starter II

  • 2 gm (½ tsp) active dry yeast
  • 80 gm lukewarm water
  • 320 gm room temperature water
  • 70 gm semolina flour
  • 180 gm unbleached all-purpose flour


  • all the starters from above
  • 35 gm semolina flour
  • 140 gm unbleached all-purpose flour4
  • 15 gm (1 Tbsp) seasalt5
  • lots of unbleached all-purpose flour, for “shaping”
  1. Starter I On the early evening of two days before you will be baking the bread, put the yeast and water into a medium sized bowl. (I used a small lidded pyrex casserole dish) and whisk well. Set aside for a few moments.
  2. Measure the flours and dump into the yeasted water. Stir with a wooden spoon about 50 strokes. Cover the bowl and allow to rise at room temperature from 12 to 24 hours.
  3. Starter II The first starter will be bubbly. The next morning, pour the warm water into a small bowl and whisk in the yeast until the yeast is dissolved and the mixture looks like cream.
  4. Add the room temperature water, yeasted water and flours to the first starter and stir well, using a wooden spoon. Cover and allow to rise in a non-drafty area of the kitchen (or in the cold oven with the light turned on if your kitchen is cold) for 12 to 24 hours.
  5. Dough If you are crazy enough to ignore all the warnings and insist on going ahead to make this dough by hand, put the starters, flours and salt into a large bowl. Stir, stir, stir, stir with a rubber spatula and/or wooden spoon for 30 minutes. Try to ignore the fact that it still looks like soup. Stir, stir, stir for another 5 minutes. Give up and decide to use the “fold and turn” method to finish developing the (excuse me while I laugh hysterically for a moment) dough. (mixer instructions here)
  6. Kneading hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
  7. Proofing Cover the bowl and allow to rise on a rack (so that air can circulate all around the bowl) in a non-drafty area of the kitchen (or in the cold oven with the light turned on if your kitchen is cold) for an hour. Scatter some flour on a board and pour some of the slop onto the flour. Use the dough scraper to chase the mess back into the bowl and forget about folding and turning. Use a wide spatula to lift the slop as best you can from the bottom of the bowl to the top a couple of times. Cover the bowl and allow to rise at room temperature for another hour. Use the wide spatula to lift and turn the mess again. Imagine that it’s looking less like soup. Cover the bowl, etc. Repeat this hourly maneuver until you get tired of it and decide that this is going to be “no-knead” bread. In desperation after the 3rd or 4th hour, stir in another 120 gm (1 c) of flour. Note that it still looks like pancake batter. Try not to cry. Cover the bowl again and allow it to ferment until it has doubled or even tripled. At least be really bubbly.
  8. Shapinghahahahahahahahahahahahahaha (no really. stop it. don’t make me laugh any more). Early the next morning, dump a very generous amount (go nuts) of flour onto the board and gently pour half the bubbling sludge out onto the flour, trying to disturb everything as little as possible. With the help of the dough scraper, fold the left side (hahahahahahaha – move fast!! move fast!!!) into the center (try not to disturb the bubbles), then the top, then the right side then the bottom. Turn it over hahahahahahahaha and do the best you can to scrape the floury blob from the board to a large piece of parchment paper on a peel. Repeat the nightmare with the other half of the glup. Cover the shaped bread hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha *cough* hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha *wheeze* ha h… with a clean tea towel followed by plastic bags. Leave it in a non-drafty area until is has about doubled. To test, flour your finger and press gently on the edge – it should very slowly spring back. (about an hour)
  9. Preparing the Oven About half an hour before baking the bread, put the baking stone on the middle shelf of the oven, making sure there are no racks above the stone. Preheat the oven to 400F.
  10. Baking Slide the bread (parchment paper and all) onto the stone. Half way through the baking, remove the parchment paper and turn the bread around to account for uneven heat in the oven. The finished loaf should have an internal temperature that is 205F to 210F.
  11. When the bread is done, turn off the oven. Put the finished bread back in the oven and leave with the door ajar for 5 or 10 minutes. Remove to cool on a cooling rack. Wait til the bread is completely cool before cutting it (it’s still baking when it’s hot out of the oven). 5


1.) Yeast: Field calls for about twice the amount of yeast than I used: almost 7gm in all as opposed to the 3 gm I used.

2.) Water: Tap water is fine to use – just make sure that it has stood for at least 12 hours so that the chlorine has dissipated. Under no circumstances should you use water from the hot water tap. Of course, saying that it is unsafe to use water from the hot water tap might be an urban myth, but why tempt fate? Heat the water in a kettle or microwave and add cold water until it is the correct temperature, (use the baby bottle test on the back of your wrist – your fingers have no idea of temperature!) Or you can use a thermometer. The temperature should be BELOW 120F because yeast begins to die when the temperature is higher than 120F.

3. Flour Carol Field calls for durum and stone ground unbleached all-purpose flour. Apparently, semolina flour can be substituted for durum flour. (That’s what I used.) Lien suggests using strong bread flour in place of all-purpose for a better result. We didn’t have any bread flour left (we can no longer get unbleached bread flour at our supermarket – nor, it seems, at any Toronto supermarket. Why?? Faulty demographic studies is my guess).

4.) How much flour? Carol Field calls for 120 to 140 gm flour, suggesting that not all need to be encorporated. This might work if an electric mixer is used. But by hand, more flour is required. If using an electric stand mixer, Field says to mix “with the paddle on the lowest speed for 17 minutes. Add the salt and mix 3 minutes longer, adding the remaining flour if needed for the dough to come together. You may need to turn the mixer off once or twice to keep it from overheating.”

5.) How much salt? Field calls for 25 gm salt. I’m convinced that this is a typo. With this amount of salt, the resulting bread is insanely salty.

6.) But I want Warm Bread!! If you wish to serve warm bread, reheat it after the loaf has cooled completely. To reheat UNsliced bread, turn the oven to 500F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread in the hot oven for ten minutes.

Analysis: I think I should have baked the bread for a longer period. But I was afraid of burning it. Of course, it didn’t help that something from the previous night had dropped onto the oven floor and WAS burning when I was baking the bread.

Bread Baking Babes
Bread Baking Babes: coccodrillo Lien (Notitie van Lien) was the host of the March 2008’s Bread Baking Babes’ task. She wrote:

Monday, February 18, 2008

I know you can all hardly wait to get your hands on some dough again. If you’re on for a wet dough; I’d say let’s do the coccodrillo. (sounds like a dance)

I’ve made it once before and still am not sure if it’s called Crocodile because of its looks after it’s been baked or because it tries to crawl off your workcounter when you’re trying to handle the dough.

And if you didn’t already see them, or if it has been a while since you looked, please take a look at the other Babes’ Coccodrillos:

Also, please remember that the BBBabes’ anniversary is coming up in February. We’d like you to pick the Anniversary Bread recipe for February 2011. In November 2010, we’ll ask you to submit a recipe for us to bake for our anniversay.

For complete details about the BBB, please read:


Lynn’s High Five

High5: I did it! High 5! I did it!! I have now completed “part 2” of my own private challenge to bake more of the BBBabe’s recipes. I’m afraid I may have to take some time to lick my wounds before attempting another. This one was particularly trying. So trying that I’m not sure I should be putting up the “high 5” sign.

You select the challenge – you know best what intimidates you, what you’ve been putting off trying. When you put up your post, just slap up this logo to let the world know you’ve taken on something new and given it a good kicking! – Lynn (Cookie baker Lynn), I Did It (and you can, too)


Yeastspotting - every Friday ( image)

Each week, Susan (Wild Yeast) compiles a list of many bread-specific recipes from across the web. For complete details on how to be included in the YeastSpotting round up, please read the following:


edit: I should stress that the coccodrillo recipe is the only disappointing bread of the many many recipes in “The Italian Baker” that we have tried. All the others have been from good to stellar. I think this is the main reason that I have returned to be 3 times bitten. And now finally shy. Judging from the results from those who used electric stand mixers to make the bread, the recipe is as good – as long as the salt is reduced – as any other in the book.

(I am NOT going to get a stand mixer – there is no room for one anyway – to gather dust on the counter, except for the one or two times it’s pulled out to make this bread.)

My Coccodrillo Posts:


5 responses to “Catching up in 2010: Coccodrillo one more time (BBB March 2008)

  1. Elle

    YOu DO get a High Five for trying this the third time. It is a shame that an electric stand mixer is necessary. It is also probably that semolina doesn’t make a good replacement for durham. It might be necessary to bite the bullet one day and order flour from King Arthurs, at least fro bread baking. They even have the ash content and protein for all their flours so you know what you are working with…I bet you would love ’em.
    Could you send some of that Canadian onion soup my way? Sweetie love onion soup!

    Thank you, Elle. I too think that it’s ridiculous that a stand mixer is necessary for this bread. I’m NOT going to buy one. I’m also very reluctant to import flour from the USA. It just doesn’t make sense. -Elizabeth (I’d be happy to send some of the soup but I’m afraid someone who shall remain nameless but whose name begins with E and rhymes with Hogizabeth ate it all….)

  2. Carola

    Hi Elizabeth,
    pssst, it’s a secret: this is the recipe I’ve chosen for the September 2014 recipe of “Back to the future, Buddies”.
    I wish I had read your post before starting this adventure and not after having taken out the bread of the oven and said “what a nightmare! Let me see what the other babes thought of this recipe back then!”
    Maybe is egoistic from me, but I am happy that it was not just me having trouble with the dough but it was a general issue :-)
    Since I’m working with grams and not cups, I did weight my flour and the grams given in the book are far less then what I had on my scale.
    So, even if I’ve used much more flour, I had to add 6 more tablespoon at “turn 3” (rising time) it was still extremely pancake-like.
    I had to put much more flour on my working surface, then I had to “treat it badly” and do some stretch and fold in the air and “bang it back” (I do not recall what’s the right name for this “procedure”, would you please enlighten me?).
    Not to mention the “sprinkle the hot baking stone with cornmeal”… My cornmeal burned!! ( I wonder if C. Field tried it)…
    The first positive experience: it did have an ovenspring.
    Now it’s cooling – I am so curious to see its crumb….
    All the best dear Elizabeth

    I don’t know if there is an official term for strengthening slack dough like that, Carola. I call it “stretching and folding”.
    I feel certain that Field did make the bread and probably on several occasions. And hers probably turned out. In the past, I’ve seen lots of reports of success with making this recipe. I thought my failure was due to a.) inexperience, b.) semolina flour, and (most importantly) c.) my insistence to make the bread by hand, when everyone who has succeeded used their stand mixers.
    I do hope your bread turned out after all! It’s always so disheartening to have to break up a failure and feed it to the birds, isn’t it?

  3. Carola

    Oh yes, it did turn out well, dear Elizabeth.
    The kids asked: “Mummy, you’re doing it again, soon… Don’t you?” … will I? Ehmmmmmmmmmm ….

    How cool is that?! Clearly, you’ll have to make it again, Carola. Lucky you… :lalala: -Elizabeth


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