La Mafalda: the homemade bread of Sicily

La Mafalda: the homemade bread of Sicily

Over the course of its history Sicily has developed a rich agro-food heritage. Amongst its products of undisputed economical, historical and cultural value, bread plays a primary role. In Sicily bread is everything: culture, history, tradition, work, however it also has a unique taste than cannot be recreated. Already at the end of the Medieval period nobody ate any other bread than that made from durum wheat. In the peasant culture of preindustrial Sicily the real man was who ate homemade bread, obtained by the sweat on his own brow. Domestic bread making was typically a job for women: Saturday afternoon, when the worker returned from the field, he found warm homemade bread and some pies or pizza with parsley and oil. One of the most popular and traditional Sicilian breads around was, and still is, the homemade bread made with durum wheat flour, characterized by having tiny air bubbles inside. Its preparation requires a specific process, characterized by a dough with a low water percentage compared to standard preparation. This type of bread can be kept for a long time due to its low water content which makes it less susceptible to molds. This homemade Sicilian bread is also called scaniatu, a Sicilian word which describes how it is kneaded, vigorously using traditional utensils and methods, although today we see a production more and more using modern techniques and tools.
La Mafalda
Of all the different forms of bread most known and popular in Sicily la Mafalda certainly stands out being produced all over the region. The Mafalda is a bread with a golden crust and the delicate and characteristic taste of sesame seeds, it is shaped in different forms, among which for example are the “occhi di Santa Lucia” and the “Corona”, obtained by cutting the form of a crescent moon in two places on the upper side of a lump of dough, ensuring that it is not more than three hundred grams, so that when it rises and bakes it opens up into a fan in the cut part, making it look like exactly like a crown. The ingredients for the production of a Mafalda are 00 flour, malt, sesame seeds, brewer’s yeast and salt. It is prepared by dissolving the yeast in tepid water and then adding it to the oil and the malt, kneading it all together with the flour and salt. The dough is worked vigorously to work the gluten and then it is left to rest. They are then formed into long cylinders that are folded back on themselves in a spiral four times, with the first part put on the upper side of the bread. The upper side is dampened with water and sprinkled with sesame seeds then left to rest in a warm place for at least two hours after which it is finally baked. In Sicily, in addition to the traditional breads prepared with durum wheat flour, baked goods made with soft wheat, generally identified as “white bread”, are also available. With the arrival of raw ingredients and “modern” technologies like electric ovens and mixers production time has been reduced allowing better response to the requirements of the large urban areas, where it is necessary to bake more times throughout the course of the day.
Recipe by Piergiorgio Giorilli
(Master baker, lecturer and president of the “Richemont Club Italia e International”)
Biga 16/20 hours

  • 1,000g Flour W 300
  • 440g Water
  • 10g Yeast

Mixing time for the biga
Spiral: 3 minutes on the first speed
Plunging: 4 minutes on the first speed
Fork: 5 minutes on the first speed
Temperature for leavening of the biga: 17°/20°C
For the dough

  • Biga
  • 3,000g Durum wheat flour 00
  • 1,760g Water (55% of the total flour)
  • 90g Yeast (3% of the added flour)
  • 88g Salt (2.2% of the total flour)
  • 20g Malt (0.5% of the total flour)

Mixing times
Spiral: 6 minutes on the first speed – 4 minutes on the second speed
Plunging: 8 minutes on the first speed – 4 minutes on the second speed
Final temperature of the dough: 25°C
Knead together all the ingredients adding only half of the salt. Let it rest for 20 minutes. Take off the desired weight. Form it into long strips, making them to the desired length and giving it the classic shape. Dampen the surface of the dough with water and sprinkle on the sesame seeds. Place on a baking tray and let rise for around 60 minutes at 27°/28°C. Cook in a steam oven at 220 °C and open the damper for the last five minutes of cooking.

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