After my first attempt at a Pa de Sant Antoni and realising that it was sweeter than I remembered it, I decided to develop a recipe for a savoury version.
I was also really determined that it had to be a plaited bread, which inevitably forces you to use a less wet dough so you can handle and shape it without losing your wits.
The result, once baked, has less definition in the plait than I’d like, but I am very pleased with the bread itself nonetheless. The crumb was quite open, and the anise flavour was there to give it the air of an special bread. I also practiced “painting” the surface with water to give it a smoother surface, and it worked! It felt a bit like biting into a brioche. Quite interesting!
Again, I separated some dough to make four buns, like the ones that would be given to people that brought their animals to be blessed. This time I shaped them like small baguette shaped buns. We’d call these panecillos in Spanish, meaning “little bread loaves”.
Interestingly, although they didn’t open up and swell a lot while baking, their crumb was way more open (i.e. there were much bigger holes) than inside the plaited loaf. I suppose the plait gave some “structure” to the dough and that prevented it from expanding too much, but this is just my hypothesis!
Also, is it just me or they look like avocado-shaped buns?
The buns were perfectly sized for a lunchtime sandwich: I first gave them “the Catalonia treatment”, by rubbing them with garlic and drizzling with olive oil and adding some thinly sliced tomatoes, before adding the omelette… and it all held it shape nicely and nothing collapsed! Really good structure overall—*chef’s kiss*
Note: “the Catalonia treatment” is my way of describing how to get the bread as close as possible to “pa amb tomaca”, which is something akin to a religion in Catalonia, and literally means bread with tomato, although in practice it also includes oil, salt and garlic! It’s a very good way of “priming” your sandwich bread, but it requires a decent piece of bread. No, fluffy white generally won’t do, as it’ll break down with all the liquids.
- 820g strong white flour (plus more for dusting)
- 450g water
- 320g sourdough starter
- 1 or 2 tbsp aniseeds
- 1 tsp sea salt
Measure the water in a jug, then place the contents in a pot, add the aniseeds and bring to a boil. Then turn the heat off and let it slowly extract the anise flavour out of the seeds.
When the temperature of the water is around 30ºC, mix the flour with the aniseed “liquor” and the seeds too (don’t filter them out). Mix everything well and allow to rest for 30 minutes so it “autolyses” itself.
Then add the starter and the salt, and mix everything very well, until it is one slightly sticky dough.
Do three cycles of cover, wait 10 minutes, stretch and fold with oil. Except wait 30 minutes on the last one.
Then do three cycles of cover, blanket fold, wait for an hour.
After these cycles check if the dough has risen enough to look “alive” and puffing up (e.g. feels elastic and swollen and maybe even starts to have small puffy blisters on the surface). Otherwise wait for a bit longer. Sometimes you have to, if the weather is colder (and thus the temperature at home)! Give it one hour and check back later.
Separate some dough for the buns, if you’re going to make those. I separated about one third of the dough for the buns and used the remaining two thirds for the plaited loaf.
You might need to dust your counter with some flour to aid you in the next step so the dough doesn’t stick to the counter. Don’t add a lot of flour at once as it will make things too dry and the seam of the balls will not stay closed—the dough needs to be a tiny bit sticky still.
Shape the buns into balls, and leave them over the counter to rest.
Divide the bigger dough portion into three portions, and also shape them as balls.
Leave all the dough balls over the counter so they rest, for about 10 minutes. Mine are here, with the bigger dough balls for the plait in foreground, and the bun balls in the background.
In the meantime, turn the oven to 200ºC fan.
After the rest time, shape the buns into small baguettes, by turning them seam side up, and folding in a sort of hexagonal shape making sure the seam is well sealed (this is why you want to make sure the dough is still a bit sticky—if the surface is too dry, they’ll open while baking). Then place them seam side down in a tray and allow them to continue proving.
Carefully shape the bigger dough balls into batons, following a similar process by first doing the hexagon fold, then rolling them with your hands to expand them length-wise.
Then join them at one end—a bit like a pyramid. And make a plait!
I find the ends are always quite messy looking and I haven’t found an strategy to avoid this yet (other than cutting them out, I guess?)
Once the oven is hot enough, maybe after 40 minutes, it’s time to bake!
Baking the buns
Slice the top of the small buns lengthwise using a scoring knife or lame before placing in the oven. Then bake until they have a nice colour to them. Since they’re quite small, it might take just about 30 minutes, but do keep an eye on them! How much colour is up to your tastes.
Baking the loaf
Brush the top with water before placing in the oven. This will give it a thinner crust and somehow produce a bit of “brioche” feeling on the surface. I think the water allows the surface to caramelise, but I’m not sure if I’m misremembering and this is total nonsense. In any case it seemed to work for me, so hey.
Then bake for about 35-40 minutes, again until you’re pleased with the colour. After you take it out of the oven, wait for a bit to cool down, then transfer to a grill to fully cool down rather than allowing the condensation to build underneath and making it all soggy.
Some final thoughts…
Overall I’m really pleased with this result!
They were more satisfactory than the earlier yeasted version—nicer crumb, easier to manipulate and more defined.
I think they could probably do with more seed flavours; either doubling the amount of aniseed or maybe adding fennel seeds too. I had only added one tablespoon, you probably can do with double it.
I am now pondering whether to go all in and try replicating the sweet version with sourdough with just some ingredient replacements (e.g. replace part of the water with milk) or maybe doing proper research about how sourdough interacts with sugar and bla bla bla.
We’ll see how I feel!
In the meantime, the 3rd of February or Saint Blaise’s day is approaching fast, so if you fancy some sweets which might also protect your throat, Saint Blaise’s buns are what you should be baking. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that there’s no better time to be in good respiratory health than these strange days we live in 😉