KOven and baking are two different things. Anyone who can conjure up a delicious dish from vegetables and meat can still be brought to their knees by a yeast dough. Conversely, not every pastry chef needs to be an ace at the stove. Fortunately, Italian star chef Gennaro Contaldo can do both. “If my professional career had developed differently, I would probably have become a baker,” he writes in the introduction to his new baking book. Pizza, pan, panettone. Contaldo’s uncle was a baker, so he spent an incredible amount of time in the bakery. It can also be seen in his new baking book: Pizza, pasta, panettone is a loving, sophisticated introduction to the art of Italian baking.
It is said that there are more than 1,500 types of bread in Italy alone. In one way or another it is present at every meal: like grissini, focaccia or ciabatta, for example. The latter is missing from Contaldo’s book, but you don’t miss it a bit. There are recipes for hearty things like a braided bread with ricotta and sage, sweet things like milk rolls or Neapolitan farmhouse bread. The right bread for every occasion can be found in Contaldo’s book.
The situation is similar with pizza, the absolute classic of Italian cuisine. It is explained here in detail and in a wide variety of recipes, big, small, as a calzone, with meat, without meat or “bianca”, just with oil, salt and pepper. All from a simple basic recipe of yeast, water, salt and flour. If you have to do without wheat flour, you will find a recipe with polenta-based dough in the book.
Almost as perfect as the regular Italian
Contaldo has many little tricks up his sleeve that he shares with his readers. It starts with choosing the right flour, continues with the right kneading and ends with the right rising time. The result is a pizza dough that is almost as perfect in the domestic oven as one from the wood-fired oven of an ordinary Italian. This basic dough can be topped with anything you like. For a classic margherita, simply top with tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil and place in the oven. If you have children, you can make small mini pizzas instead of large pizzas. Contaldo himself offers some nifty new creations or interpretations of classics. But if you only have a glass of tomato sauce and some vegetables in the fridge that need to go, you can blow off steam with Contaldos basic dough. Overall, this is one of the best things about this book: it teaches you the basics of pizza dough, focaccia, and the other Italian pastry specialties and ultimately gives you the freedom to experiment further on your own.
However, the freedom stops in the cake department. This is where the precise descriptions of the individual work steps, in which each word fits, pay off. The precision paid off during the test baking of the “Torta Pan die Spagna”, a cake made of biscuit dough and vanilla cream filling. Because Contaldo specifies exactly what the dough looks like and how long you have to mix it with the mixer to reach the necessary consistency, it actually becomes as fluffy as you would otherwise only get from a pastry chef. The fact that the cake comes together relatively quietly does not hide the fact that – depending on the decoration – it makes a perfect birthday cake or just a simple treat with coffee and if it is too strenuous to make the cream filling yourself, you can you do it easily use pudding powder. Various tarts, fruit cakes and an apple strudel recipe (a South Tyrolean specialty) complete the chapter; Cakes for all occasions, so to speak.
Deeply relaxed like a monk
The detailed descriptions also make the book seem a little text-heavy and the photos are sometimes a little smaller. They show what is important here: fun. When Contaldo in the photos in a white T-shirt, with a towel over his shoulder, kneads chili flour on small balls, you want to stand there wide-eyed and ask when the food will finally be ready. The photographs of the dishes (by Dan Jones) are staged in a simple, rustic and timeless manner. Pies and bread are arranged on rough wooden boards, instead of tablecloths there are decoratively draped linen towels, and Contaldo himself is always the center of attention, looking so concentrated and deeply relaxed as he bakes, like a monk after years of meditation. Sure, a lot of it is self-portrayal as an Italian cook who appreciates simple country cooking, but in the end it’s this relaxed attitude that sets Contaldo’s book apart. Nothing is too difficult or requires ingredients from a chemistry set. If the cookies are not perfectly round, or if you only have dry yeast in the house, you can still work with it. What counts is fun and flexibility and this makes Contaldo’s baking recipes very suitable for everyday use Pizza, pan, panettone good chance of being exhausted and full of dough balls in a few years.