The sky always shone blue and cloudless. The sea was of a blue so intense it was impossible not to want to dive into it. I was on the island of Malta to study English and enjoy a vacation after over a year of working full time as a nurse and studying at a university full time. I was having a great time.
Going to Malta for my first study vacation (vacanza studio) was an excellent choice. We had language classes morning and afternoon. In October, the temperature was still mild and the sun welcoming, so we spent our lunch break along the shore. Colorful fishing boats dotted the water in front of us, houses built with a sand-colored stone called globigerina limestone and made pretty with brilliantly colored doors and shutters (porte e persiane), were behind us.
Every Wednesday and Saturday, the school organized a tour. We visited the capital city of Valletta. The postcard above (from the stack I brought back in lieu of taking photographs, which, at the time, I thought I could not do) shows the city's Grand Harbour (Port il-Kbir). Notice the buses parked around the square on the bottom of the image. Riding the bus in Malta was a bit of an adventure. The buses were old, not particularly comfortable and they did not really stop to let you get off, but merely slowed down, so you had to hop off. It was all right once I figured it was the custom of the country.
Our visit to Mdina, the old capital of Malta, located in the center of the island, was enchanting. It is called the Silent City and indeed in the evening it relaxed in a meditative quiet and the atmosphere was quite magical.
I have a lot more stories from my stay in Malta, from visiting Gozo, to admiring this beautiful painting by Caravaggio, from listening to Maltese language, to being introduced to Meissen china, but I need to move on to more edible matters.
Of the traditional Maltese foods that I tasted, I remember lampuki, which I liked. Did I have ftira? I don't remember, but that is what I decided to make to celebrate our stop in Malta.
After browsing around the web a bit, I chose this recipe as guide and made a good number of adjustments to it, mostly in the procedure. Does it taste ike the real thing? I have no idea, but the bread I baked tastes really good and I hope that if I served it to a Maltese expat, it would bring a smile to his/her face. I made it many times during the past three weeks to test various details, so if you come to my house for dinner soon, chances are high you will get a taste as I have a stash in the freezer.
Print-friendly version of briciole's recipe for ftira
Ingredients for the preferment:
- 4 oz. / 113 g sourdough starter refreshed in the morning (see below for details)
- 4 oz. / 120 ml water at room temperature
- 1 g instant yeast
- 120 g King Arthur Flour all-purpose flour (this is the flour I always use to make bread)
- 10 g whole-wheat flour
Ingredients for the final dough:
- All of the preferment
- 7.5 oz. / 212 g water + up to .5 oz. / 14 g more if needed (see below for details)
- 1 oz. / 28 g high gluten flour
- 2 oz. whole-wheat flour
- Enough King Arthur Flour all-purpose flour to reach a total of 260 g flour
- 1.5 g instant yeast
- 2 teaspoons / 10 g fine sea salt
- 1 tablespoon / 15 ml olive oil
- sesame or poppy seeds
Preparing the starter
The morning before you plan to bake the bread, when you refresh your sourdough starter, put in a small container:
- 2 tablespoons / 30 ml sourdough starter from the day before
- 2 oz. / 60 ml water
- 2 oz. / 56 g all-purpose flour
Cover the container and let the starter ferment in a draft-free place (in my case, the top of the refrigerator) until the evening, when you'll make the preferment.
Preparing the preferment
Weigh 4 oz. / 113 g sourdough starter prepared in the morning and put it in a mixing bowl. (The leftover can be used to start a new batch of starter.)
Add the rest of the preferment ingredients and mix until well combined. Cover the mixing bowl and place it in a draft-free place (in my case, the top of the refrigerator) until the morning after, when you'll make the bread.
Preparing the bread dough
The morning after, you will see that the preferment is quite bubbly.
Mix all the ingredients of the final dough, using 7.5 oz. / 212 g of water. This is a wet dough and mixing it by hand, like I do, requires some care. Adding flour without having a sense of how much is a risky proposition, so I hold some water (the original recipe had 1 cup / 8 oz.) and mix all the ingredients.
Let the dough rest for 10 minutes and in the meantime, oil a food-grade plastic tub with lid. This will allow you to manipulate the dough later. I didn't get a good shot of the one I use, so take a look at this photo to give you an idea. You need a rectangular container that will allow you to stretch, fold and flip the dough: not too high and large enough.
After the 10 minute rest, mix the dough again for a couple of minutes and decide whether it needs some more water. Keep in mind, again, this is a sticky dough.
Pour the dough into the oiled tub. Wet your hands. If you have never done this, it feels counterintuitive, but indeed the way to handle wet dough is to have wet hands and a wet scraping tool. Stretch and fold the dough:
- Slide your hands under the side of the dough farthest from you, raise the hands and stretch the dough, then fold it over onto the side closer to you.
- Slide your hands under the side of the dough closer to you, raise the hands and stretch the dough, then fold it over onto the side farthest from you.
- Turn the tub 90 degrees and repeat step 1 and 2.
- Slide your hands under the dough, flip it and at the same time turn it 90 degrees. (For this step, you may use a wet scraping tool as helper.)
(In this video, Peter Reinhart shows the stretch and fold technique. He does not use a tub, but the concept is the same.)
Cover the tub and let the dough rest for one hour.
(A) Fold the dough again as described above. Cover the tub and let the dough rest for 30-45 minutes.
Repeat the steps described in the previous paragraph (labeled A) 2 more times.
Lightly flour a silicone baking mat. Uncover the tub and flip it over the baking mat: the dough will slowly drop onto the mat.
With wet hands and delicately, shape the dough into a flat disc and make a hole in the center, as shown in the photo above. Cover it either with the tub upside-down (which is what I do) or with some oiled plastic film. Let proof for half an hour, while you warm up the oven.
Place an oven rack on the lowest level of the oven. Place a small round pan on the oven bottom. Place baking tile on the rack. Preheat the oven to 450 F / 232 C and keep it at that temperature while the dough rests.
Prepare a glass of water. With a mister, spray some water on the surface of the dough. Optionally sprinkle some sesame or poppy seeds on the dough. Transfer the baking mat with the dough onto the hot baking tile. Pour the glass of water into the hot pan on the bottom of the oven: this will create some steam in the oven and give more time to the bread to rise before the crust sets.
Do you even look at your bread rising in the oven? I do: it's mesmerizing.
Bake for about 20 minutes. The final internal temperature should be about 210 F / 99 C.
Transfer the ftira to a rack and let cool completely before cutting. (I don't allow the knife to touch it for at least two hours.)
Slice and enjoy.
A nice open crumb and a delicate sourdough flavor makes this a great bread to put on the table or to snack on. It shines next to a soup, with some cheese on it or with some spread. Basically, a winner.
I ♥ bread
My bread participates to the 18th installment of the Abbecedario culinario della Comunità Europea (European Community Culinary ABC), an event organized by Trattoria MuVarA that will bring us to visit 26 countries of the EU (all except Italy) using the alphabet as guide. R like Ross Fil Forn (Malta) is hosted by Lucia of Torta di Rose.
This page contains the list of contributions to the event.
Questa pagina contiene la lista dei contributi all'evento.
I am sending this bread to the January edition of Panissimo, a monthly event created by Barbara of Bread & Companatico and Sandra of Indovina chi viene a cena? and hosted this month by Sandra.
This post contains the list of contributions to the event.
- to the monthly showcase Sourdough and Yeast by Wisla (in Polish). This post contains the roundup of the event.
- to Yeastspotting. This post contains part 1 of the roundup and a link to the other two parts.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the pane maltese audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]
Bellissimo pane cara Simona!!! grazie per la tua partecipazione :)
Posted by: lucia | January 19, 2014 at 02:25 PM
what a lovely berad Simona! love the open crumb, the ring shape and the thin crust! thank you for your contribution to Panissimo.
Posted by: Bread & Companatico | January 20, 2014 at 06:02 AM
Wonderful shape, looks very similar to ciabatta!
Posted by: diary of a tomato | January 20, 2014 at 06:11 AM
There is nothing like traveling and coming home to bake what you loved from the trip. I enjoy your cooking/baking posts so much! Never been to Malta - it's not on the current list - but what a lovely experience and the bread looks divine.
Posted by: A Canadian Foodie | January 20, 2014 at 06:33 AM
What a wonderful post. Complimenti! This bread is really intriguing. And isn't Peter Reinhart a wonderful resource! Buon anno a te!
Posted by: Adri | January 20, 2014 at 11:21 AM
Grazie a te per l'ospitalita', Lucia.
Ciao Barbara. I recommend this bread: it's fun to make a delightful to eat. It's always a pleasure to contribute to Panissimo.
Hi Debra. Indeed, the texture is very similar.
Thank you Valerie. I have not been to Malta in many years, so I don't know how much it has changed and I guess a part of me is afraid it has changed a lot. In any case, I treasure my memories. Thank you for your kind words.
Grazie Adri. Peter Reinhart is a great resource and a wonderful teacher. Buon anno anche a te!
Posted by: Simona Carini | January 20, 2014 at 12:25 PM
Grazie per non esserti persa neanche questa tappa! Tutte le ricette sono qui: http://abcincucina.blogspot.com.es/2013/12/r-come-ross-fil-forn.html.
E ora...tutti in Austria!!!!
Posted by: Aiuolik | January 20, 2014 at 01:18 PM
Non ho intenzione di perdere una tappa, ma tantomeno una in un paese che conosco. E mi sa che in Austria finalmente imparero' a fare gli spaetzle. Grazie Aiu'.
Posted by: Simona Carini | January 20, 2014 at 10:05 PM
I absolutely adore wet doughs. They make the best bread, in my opinion. But I didn't know about the stretch and fold technique, which could have saved me a lot of trouble, lol!
Maltese cookery intrigues me, by the way. Heavily Italian influenced, of course, but from what I have been able to gather, mixed in with the English and Moorish. A truly unique combination.
Posted by: Frank @Memorie di Angelina | January 26, 2014 at 06:03 AM
Ciao Frank. I am glad I introduced you to the stretch and fold technique: you'll see what difference it makes.
I wish I were more into food when I was in Malta, so I'd have taken notes. I can tell you that the language is like that: an interesting mix of various sources.
Posted by: Simona Carini | January 26, 2014 at 01:29 PM
In this recipe, what percentage gluten is the high gluten flour used in the final dough? Is it 4% as in a bread flour? Or higher?
Thanks for the recipe. I’ve tried it several times, but can’t get the open crumb. It always comes out too dense.
Posted by: Marcia | October 27, 2018 at 04:45 AM
Dear Marcia, thank you so much for visiting my blog and for your question. I got the flour from the bulk section of a local store. I believe that it is Giusto's high performer and so at least 13% protein. If they still carry it, I may be able to confirm or correct my theory.
Posted by: Simona Carini | October 30, 2018 at 02:17 PM
Thanks so much for your reply. I fisrt experienced Ftira in the late 70’s at a little bakery in Mosta. No sign - you could just smell the bread. You got to know when they made the diffrent kinds of bread and could purchase it hot and fresh. Nothing I had ever had compared with that Ftira. I’ve been trying ever since to duplicate it. Your recipe comes closest to anything I’ve found. Thank you so much for the recipe and the help. I added gluten to the all- purpose flour I used - about 1 Tbsp per cup. I still find it difficult to work with such a wet dough, but the video helped. Grazzi hafna!
Posted by: Marcia | October 30, 2018 at 03:54 PM
Hi Marcia, I confirm that the high-gluten flour I have is Giusto's Ultimate Performer. I am glad my recipe and the video were useful. When working with wet dough, it helps to keep your hands and the scraper wet: it sounds counter-intuitive but it works :)
Posted by: Simona Carini | November 23, 2018 at 11:43 AM