First posted 3 July 2003 at 1840 GMT
Last updated 21 July 2003 at 2028 GMT
By Joe O'Connell,
LOS ANGELES, California, USA ó Muffoletta bread refers to a special
kind of bread. The bread originated in Sicily hundreds of years
ago. The bread has a unique shape, with a softer crust and denser
interior than most Italian bread. Its form and texture make it
ideal for filling and for sandwiches.
Because it is unique, the muffoletta bread is often difficult to
find, and many bakers use the muffoletta name for bread that is
not made in accordance with the authentic recipe.
Authentic muffoletta bread originated in Sicily hundreds of years
ago. Ingredients include the standard ones for making Italian
bread: flour, water, yeast, salt, shortening and sugar, plus
fennel or sesame seeds for the top.
The authentic muffoletta bread from Sicily is baked with a softer crust and a denser
interioir than 'normal' Italian loaves. Its shape is
round (about 10" diameter) and lower in height than 'normal'
loaves. Fennel or sesame seeds usually top the loaves. (Fennel seeds often top the muffoletta loaf in Sicily, where the bread
was invented, while sesame seeds usually top the muffoletta in the U.S.)
The authentic muffoletta is a pure bread. That is, the
ingredients consist only of flour, water, yeast, sugar, salt, shortening
and (for the top) fennel or sesame seeds. The breadís ingredients do not include
hard wheat, brown flour, olives, rosemary or any of the other exotic
additions often added by many artisan bakers.
Note: Traditional French and Italian breads are made with the
identical ingredients in essentially the same way. The major difference
between them is their shape: French bread tends to a long and round
shape, like the baguette, while Italian tends to a round and thick
shape, like the ciobatta.
Like all great breads, the muffoletta should be enjoyed and eaten on
the same day it is baked. The flavor peaks within a few hours if not minutes
after being removed from the oven. The texture of the bread
reflects the warmth with a soft exterior which contrasts with
the dense interior.
The shape of the muffoletta bread makes it ideal for stuffing.
The bread is round, thin and dense.
residents fill the bread with cheese, fish or meat. In New
Orleans, Sicilian immigrants in 1906 created the famous sandwich with the bread,
filling it with olive salad, meats and cheeses. Because the bread
is so dense, it absorbs the oil in the olive salad. As a result,
the sandwich retains the liquid ingredients without leaking. Most Italian
loaves lack the density to absorb the olive salad.
For customers in many parts of the world, including the U.S., the
surface and texture of the original muffoletta bread are unusual.
The exterior is softer and its interior is denser than customers expect.
Therefore, bakers today often use a different recipe to make a loaf
which they call a muffoletta but which does not have the characteristic
exterior or interior. Most so-called muffoletta recipes produce a
harder crust and lighter interior than the softer, denser original.
The muffoletta bread requires special care in handling and keeping.
Because muffoletta has a soft exterior and dense interior, the bread
will become moldy much faster than other Italian bread. Most
Italian bread has a dry, hard crust, so it lacks the surface moisture to
support bread mold. Muffoletta, however, has a softer and moister
exterior, so bread mold grows quickly.
To prevent mold from spoiling the muffoletta, the bread should be
eaten as soon as possible after being baked, or it should be frozen.
Like all bread, muffoletta is best enjoyed when taken fresh from the
oven. However, unlike most other Italian breads, muffoletta is not
harmed by freezing.
Muffoletta bread may be frozen and thawed without harming the texture
and flavor of the loaf. Normally, Italian bread loses its texture
if it isfrozen and then thawed, because the outer crust becomes soft and
mushy, and the interior loses its light, airy texture. However,
muffoletta bread does not lose its texture when frozen and then thawed,
because the exterior of the muffoletta is soft and the interior is
dense. Thus, muffoletta bread may be frozen.
Of course, the bread should be wrapped in freezer-quality plastic
(which is much thicker than usual pastic wrap). This prevents
moisture from being absorted by the bread (remember that muffoletta is
especially dense, so that it absorbs moisture more easily than other
bread). Properly wrapped and kept at a below-freezing temperature,
muffoletta bread may kep in the freezer for several weeks.
To defrost the bread, do not remove it from its plastic wrapper.
Either leave the bread at room temperature to defrost over several hours
or defrost in a microwave at the defrost setting (which is a
low-temperature setting and cycles every 10 seconds between on and off).
Because few bakeries make authentic muffoletta bread, the ease of
freezing it makes it helpful for consumers. Several loaves may be
purchased from a bakery and then defrosted and used as neeced. In
fact, several bakeries sell mail-order muffoletta bread and, upon
request, will freeze the bread and ship it in its frozen state. As
a result, when the consumer receives the shipment after a few days, the
bread is stale but is fresh-frozen and will be like freshly baked when
Joe O'Connell is senior research specialist for Muffoletta Ltd.,
the official resource for information about the authentic muffoletta.