This past weekend I had the opportunity to jump in with some of my Twitter friends who were planning to make these Italian knots. I joined Twitter on a whim a few months ago without any clear idea what I planned to use it for but it really has turned into a wonderful place to connect with others in the food blogging community. It's such a neat experience for me to make recipes with others as I love having someone to bounce my silly questions off of ("Is my dough supposed to be this sticky at this stage?" or "Can I substitute x for y?") I find that it makes the process a ton more fun to share it with others.
Because I decided to make these knots at the last minute, I had to make substitutions on a few of the ingredients. The recipe calls for fresh yeast, 00 flour and lard, none of which I had on hand. After a bit of internet research, I decided to substitute a combination of cake flour and all-purpose for the 00 flour and I used butter in place of lard. I used instant yeast in place of the fresh yeast. Additionally, this recipe comes from an Italian bread book and consequently the ingredients are listed by weight and not volume. I had to do quite a few conversions to make the recipe work in my kitchen since I don't have a digital kitchen scale yet and I was VERY nervous about the accuracy of my conversions.
I'm pleased to report that either my math skills were spot on or this is the most forgiving recipe ever as the knots turned out beautifully! I'll never get tired of the smell of fresh bread baking, and these knots smelled amazing in the oven. They baked up with a fairly crisp exterior, but on the inside they were so tender and delightful. I do wish they'd taken on a bit more color so next time I might try an egg wash in the hopes of achieving a deeper golden brown color.
I'm including the original recipe below but will note my conversions in green next to each ingredient with the exception of the flour, which I did actually weigh with my analog kitchen scale. Some of the quantities are odd (like .885 teaspoons of honey but just do your best to approximate - the recipe is quite forgiving). Please note that I only made 1/4 of the recipe (which yielded 6 fairly large knots) so the converted amounts are for 1/4 of original recipe. Also, I'm including a link to Ilva's site, where you can find step by step illustrations for shaping the knots.
Pane Di Pasta Tenera Condita or Italian Knot Bread
from Pane. Il piacere di reparare in casa by Anna Gennari as seen on Lucillian Delights
500 g /1,1 lb normal bread flour (125 g)
5 g/0,17 oz fresh yeast (.09 teaspoons instant yeast, which is slightly less than 1/8 teaspoon)
240 ml/1 cup water (~1/4 cup but I definitely added more as my dough was pretty dry with only 1/4 cup)
Combine the bread flour, instant yeast and water and quickly work the dough together. My biga was fairly wet and tacky. Put the biga in a high container and cover with plastic wrap. Leave it at room temperature for 15-24 hours.
0,500 g/1,1 lb biga
1 kg/ 2,2 lb 00 flour (250 g - I combined cake flour and all-purpose)
450-550 ml/ 1,9-2,3 cup water, finger warm
30 g fresh yeast (.596 teaspoons instant yeast)
50 g/ 1,7 oz extra-virgin olive oil (.925 tablespoons)
60 g/ 2,1 oz lard (I used 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter)
25 g/ 0,88 oz honey (.885 teaspoons)
25 g/ 0,88 oz salt (1 teaspoon)
Put the flour in a large bowl, add the butter and mix it with your fingers until it has 'crumbled' and is completely mixed with the flour. Add the instant yeast to the mixture.
Mix the salt, olive oil and honey with the finger warm water and add it to the flour. Now work it it until it holds together and then add the biga.
Knead the dough by hand until it is smooth and no longer sticky. I had to add quite a bit more flour to the dough so don't be too concerned if your dough is sticky and needs more flour. The hand kneading took about 5 minutes for me.
Put the dough in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature to rise until doubled.
Divide the dough into equal pieces. I made 1/4 of the recipe and divided my dough into 6 pieces, but if you'd like smaller knots you could probably do 8 or 10 pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a long snake and follow the instructions for shaping the knots found on Ilva's site. Put the knots on baking sheets and leave to rise until they have doubled in size. My knots doubled in size quite quickly so keep your eye on them.
Bake in a pre-heated oven (200 C/390 F) for 30-35 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the knots reaches about 195 F. This took about 25 minutes for me.