Tying myself in knots OR to lard or not to lard (BBBwB)

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BBB: Let's Get Baking summary: recipe for Italian knot bread made with active dry yeast; fresh and active dry yeast equivalents; Italian 00 flour equivalent(ish); YeastSpotting post; information on Bread Baking Babes; information about Breadline Africa’s Worldwide Blogger Bake Off Challenge (click on images to see larger views and more photos)

I don’t know; maybe I just don’t have it in me. I really want to be a babe (“buddy” just doesn’t have the same cachet as “babe”) but… well, you know… I am still a

Bread Baking Babe wannaBe (BBBwB)

BBBwB My wanna-be-babe thoughts about the BBB’s May challenge, Italian Knot Bread:

  • Lard??? (But the knots look so cute!) I can’t do it!
  • And soft flour? All white? (Maybe if I put some whole grain in!)
  • There’s lard though! I can’t do it! (But they look so good!)

Allow me to drone on a little more about the lard factor. Not that I really have anything against saturated fat. For instance, I love butter. And of course, bacon is an essential in our diet. :lalala: However, I’m not positive that I really like our lard OR things that have been made with lard.

It brings to mind a reception I attended in East Berlin in 1990 (yes, that’s right, when the wall was still standing – just – and Berlin was officially divided by armed guards). There were many crudites being served, almost all of them meat related. However, I was really craving vegetables and cheese and was thrilled to see bite-sized cucumber slices with little mountains of herbed cream cheese piped onto them. How delightful!!

I popped one into my mouth and held it there, so I could really savour the cream cheese. And held it there a little longer. The cucumber was wonderfully crisp. But the cream cheese was, umm… weird tasting. What to do, what to do… I stood there, frozen, in that formal room filled with dignitaries. Holding the dressed cucumber slice in my mouth. Trying to look casual. The cream cheese was really funky. Because it wasn’t cream cheese. It was lard!! Herbed lard!! No doubt a delicacy. That someone was very proud of. And so, I swallowed it. Congratulations to me; I managed to not gag.

There were two other sticking points about these knotted rolls; the first was that they call for fresh yeast. Now I can buy fresh yeast at one of the delis. But I’m lazy and decided I could use active dry yeast just as easily. So I looked into various sources to remind myself about how much I’d need.

According to Carol Field in “The Italian Baker”:

2+1/2 tsp (one package) active dry yeast = 18 gm cake fresh yeast

And Sydny Carter wrote the following in Yeast: The Basics:

A .6-oz cube of cake yeast is roughly equivalent to 1½ to 2 tsp. instant yeast or 2 to 2¼ tsp. active dry yeast.

And from Golden Oven: leavening agents

• To convert fresh yeast to regular active dry yeast, multiply the quantity by 0.5. For example, if the formula calls for 1.5 oz fresh yeast, multiply by 0.5 to get 0.75 oz active dry yeast.
• To convert fresh yeast to instant dry yeast, multiply the quantity by 0.35. For example,if the formula calls for 40 g fresh yeast, multiply by 0.35 to get 14 g instant yeast.

Which works out to 13 gm active dry yeast for the full recipe for the Italian knots. I think.

And then there was the flour. Ilva called for “normal bread flour”. I wasn’t quite certain what she meant by that but then I noticed she mentioned that the recipe in Gennari’s book calls for 00 flour. I wasn’t positive but I seemed to recall that 00 flour is much softer than our bread flour.

Back I went to various references to find out exactly what 00 flour is…

Carol Field writes that “if you’re determined” to mimic 00 flour, mix “1 part pastry, 3 parts all-purpose” but that (as Karen confirmed in the comments section for her knotted rolls) all-purpose is the closest to 00 in North America.

“Bread flour” to me means a strong flour with higher protein percentage at around 13% (I think it might be labelled “Manitoba flour” in some parts of Europe) as opposed to the ~11% for our all-purpose flour and ~9% for cake flour.

I saw from Tanna’s post that she used some whole wheat flour. And flax seeds too! Ha. So that was the flour problem solved.

More wanna-be-babe thoughts as I made the rolls:

  • [biga preparation] 250gm flour… La la la! 135gm water La la la!! (How much biga will I need tomorrow? 250 gm, right? Ooops!!! Of course this is going to produce more than 250 gm!)
  • [mixing] Oops, forgot to get cake flour. Should I throw in some rice flour to bring down the gluten content? (Rice flour in Italian bread?? That’s ridiculous.) How about a little corn flour? But how much corn flour? Too dangerous. What if the rolls fail entirely because I put in corn flour? Besides, the corn flour is in the freezer. And it’s already pretty cold in the kitchen… (oops, too late, already measured and mixed the all-purpose and wholewheat flours together).
  • [mixing] To lard or no? T says yes. But I’m not wild about our lard. Field says to use good olive oil if you can’t get decent lard. I want duck fat!! Why can’t we have duck fat in our fridge? (Hey!! Is that what it takes to be a babe? …must look for duck fat at the store…).
  • [mixing] An extra 135 gm in the biga (there’s a big surprise… :lalala:)! Should I put it in? Should I make something else with it? Nah! Throw it in!
  • [kneading] What stiff dough!! And why oh why didn’t I break the biga up into little pieces the way I know I should?!
  • [1st rising] Aughhh!! The flax seeds (flax seeds?? Ilva didn’t use flax seeds! Those were Tanna’s addition!) were supposed to be ground!
  • [shaping] Initially, the knots looked incredibly easy to do. But after staring at the photos from the cookbook on Ilva’s site, suddenly they looked Gorgonesque! Good thing that Lien translated the knot drawings in the book!

Other problems I encountered while knotting: gale force wind (albeit beautifully scented with lilacs blooming just outside) coming through the kitchen window left open all night; kitchen temperature 14C!! (rrrrr, it’s the end of May!! It is NOT supposed to be the same temperature in the kitchen as it is in the winter!); couldn’t find the two huge jars of honey I got up north a month or so ago – luckily there was some left in the little jar of crystallized rosemary honey languishing in the cupboard; oven started smoking crazily because of juices from previous night’s smoked pork running over unbeknownst onto the floor of the oven – turned oven off and stood around jumping nervously as T bravely dove in to wipe up the steaming mess; oven back on and rolls went in about 15 minutes later than expected; put the rolls on the second from the top shelf of the oven rather than the top shelf – received major flak for almost burning the bottoms (remind me that I should ALWAYS bake rolls on the top shelf of our ancient oven!)

Otherwise, everything else went along swimmingly. :-)

knots Here is what I did to make the knots:

Italian Knots
based on the BBB’s Pane Di Pasta Tenera Condita from “Pane: Il piacere di preparare pane” by Anna Gennari

biga . bread

makes 8 largish knots


  • 135 gm lukewarm water*
  • ⅛ tsp (0.5 gm) active dry yeast
  • 250 gm all-purpose unbleached flour

biga preparation

  1. Day before Baking – Evening In a medium sized bowl, whisk yeast into the lukewarm water (do the baby bottle test on your wrist) until the yeast has dissolved.
  2. Add flour and use a wooden spoon or your hands to knead the flour in. This is quite a stiff dough. Only knead as long as it takes to mix in the flour. Cover the bowl and leave on the counter, away from drafts, overnight.
  3. Baking Day Morning: The mixture should have doubled and be a bubbling mass. It will still be quite stiff.

actual dough

  • 250 gm lukewarm water*
  • 7 gm (1¾ tsp) active dry yeast
  • 25 gm olive oil
  • 25 gm rosemary honey
  • 2 Tbsp flax seeds**
  • 300 gm unbleached all-purpose flour (high-gluten)***
  • 200 gm whole wheat flour***
  • 17 gm (1 Tbsp) seasalt
  • 30 gm lard
  • all the biga from above****

bread preparation

  1. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together yeast and lukewarm water (do the baby’s bottle test on your wrist) til it looks a little like cream. Add oil, honey and flax seeds. Stir them if you want.
  2. In largish bowl, mix the flours and salt together. Add lard and rub it gently into the flour as if you were making pastry. Add the yeast mixture and stir well with a wooden spoon.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a board. Wash and dry your mixing bowl. This prepares the rising bowl AND gets your hands clean.
  4. Hand knead the dough for around 5 minutes. This dough is quite stiff.
  5. Notice that the biga is still waiting to be added. Spread it out on top of what is on the board and continue kneading til the dough is smooth and silky and the two have been incorporated – about 10 minutes.
  6. Put the dough in the clean mixing bowl. (It is entirely unnecessary to oil the rising bowl!) Cover and allow to rise to double in a no-draft place (2 to 3 hours in our kitchen). Notice that the flax seeds were supposed to be ground rather than left whole. (rrrrrr)
  7. Shaping: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. (Actually, this dough was so stiff that I didn’t bother flouring the board) Divide it into 8 even pieces.
  8. Use your hands to roll each pieces that look like dowels or ropes.
  9. Form each rope into an upside down U shape. Twist at the bottom three times to form a loop. Pull the untwisted side of the loop over the twists. Press the ends together and tuck them underneath. Push the twisted part up through the loop to make the rolls tall. (Confused?? Take a look at Görel‘s and/or Ilva‘s photos of knotting rolls.)
  10. Put the shaped rolls well apart on two parchment covered cookie sheets and cover with plastic (or a clean damp tea towel), place in a draftfree area (oven with only the light turned on) and allow to rise to double (about 3 hours).
  11. Baking: Half an hour before baking, remove the rising bread from the oven and place it on the counter. Put the rack in the highest position. Turn the oven to 400F to preheat.
  12. When the oven is well preheated, spray the rolls liberally with water. Put the trays on the top shelf of the oven and IMMEDIATELY turn the oven down to 375F. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn the trays around – to account for uneven heat in the oven. Bake another 10 to 15 minutes until they are hollow sounding on the bottom.
  13. Remove to cool on a rack. Wait til the bread is cool before cutting it. It is still continuing to bake inside!*****
*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.

** Tanna used ground flax seeds….

*** The unbleached all-purpose flour is “No Name” (about 11% protein). The whole wheat flour is “Robin Hood” (about 12% protein). The actual recipe calls for all “00 flour” which is roughly equivalent to all-purpose flour with a little cake flour added. I believe it is around 10% protein, but of course, I could be wrong wrong wrong. (My being wrong has been known to occur on other occasions.)

**** The actual recipe calls for only 250 gm biga but I decided to just go ahead and use all of it. What difference would it really make? That I would be making slightly larger knots??

Next time, I’ll try to make just the amount of biga required. The biga is 54% water, 100% flour and .2% active dry yeast. Obviously, the yeast will be the trickiest part to deal with… let’s see now… if I used 162 gm flour, 87.5 gm water, .3gm yeast (I think I’d just fill around half of an ⅛ tsp – our scale isn’t sophisticated enough to do fractions of grams) to make about 250gm biga.

***** If you wish to serve warm bread, reheat it after it 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.

Italian Knots The rolls were HUGE!! And beautiful – perfectly cooked!

And how did they taste?

Fabulous!!! We had them for breakfast this morning – warm (reheated after allowing them to cool) with butter and red currant jelly. Tomorrow night we’re going to use them as hamburger buns.

I’m not completely convinced that the lard made all that much difference to the flavour or texture and will probably just use olive oil next time. And even though Tanna ground her flax seeds, I think I’ll leave them whole. I rather like that there are seed lumps in the rolls.

Italian Knots Interesting that the dough I made wasn’t even remotely slack the way that Lynn’s (Cookie Baker Lynn) was. But I’m really glad she mentioned to spray the rolls just before baking them to make them crusty. Brilliant!!!

By the way, you’ll be happy to hear that when the rolls were rising, I found the 2 litres of northern honey I bought. No wait, I lied. I didn’t find it. T showed me where I had carefully put it so I would know where it was. :lalala:

Also, when I was wandering around the internet in search of information on lard, I came across this wonderful recipe booklet from the 1950s: Mealtime Marvels: Lard in 133 Recipes. The front cover alone is worth looking.

Bread Baking Babes/Buddies

Ilva (Lucullian delights) is the host of May 2009’s Bread Baking Babes‘ task. She wrote:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


[I]t is time for our monthly bread and this month I got to choose what to bake and it didn’t take me long to decide which bread it was going to be. A couple of months ago I bought an Italian bread book called Pane. Il piacere di preparare pane in casa by Anna Gennari and every bread I have baked from it has been really good but the one that have had the biggest success all over (and then I mean with every member of the family, dog included) is pane di pasta tenera condita or what I call Italian Knot Bread. […] [I]f you want to join the ranks, make, bake and blog about the bread and send me[, Ilva,] the link to the post before the 30th of May [2009] and I will send you a Buddie badge and include you in the roundup!

For complete details on how to become a BBB, please go to:

Take a look at the Bread Baking Babes’ Italian Knot Bread:


Yeastspotting - every Friday (wordle.net 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:


Breadline Africa’s Worldwide Blogger Bake Off Challenge

Worldwide Blogger Bake Off The Breadline Africa Worldwide Blogger Bake Off Challenge was created and began on 15 October 2008. (It ends on 15 October 2009 or when US$1 million has been raised, whichever occurs first.)

For more details on how you can join in, please see:

Breadline Africa is an internationally registered charity supporting ground level African charities that are working with communities to help them to become self-sustainable and “break the cycle of poverty in the lives of individuals and communities in Africa through sustainable, long-term solutions“.


edit: The BBBuddies RoundUp is here: Lucullian Delights: Bread Baking Buddies – the Roundup!

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3 responses to “Tying myself in knots OR to lard or not to lard (BBBwB)

  1. Baking Soda

    Haha…duck fat in the fridge = Babe! (Mind you: not the movie, the girls) Really? Lard on cucumber? Eew! I’m the one that cuts all the white of off anything, wouldn’t have swallowed for the world. Lard/duck fat in this recipe however… totally yum! Love your knots!

  2. MyKitchenInHalfCups

    It’s taken me two day to really read all the way through. We’ve had way too much company and I’ve been cooking for way to many folks.

    This is fabulously funny write up; delightful that you so enjoyed the knots, we sure did! Pork fat maybe great but I’ve decided duck fat rules!!

  3. Astrid

    ok, second try:
    Your knots are looking really great! and while reading through your post you made my day!! it was hilarious! thanks for the smile :)


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