Baking Bread with Enrico Biscotti’s Larry Lagattuta

Learning everything Scott Baio knows about bread making.

Larry Lattuta explains some of the finer points of bread baking

I think we all realize that extruded loaves of supermarket bread aren’t very good, but a day of baking bread with Larry Lagattuta teaches you (among other things) what utter crap they actually are. “Our bodies can’t digest unincorporated flour,” explains Larry while describing why you want to be frugal with the flour you put down on the table while you shape your loaves, “but the only way they can get the dough soft enough to plop into the pans in the bread factory is by adding lots of water. Water makes it sticky, so they coat the insides of their tubes with flour so the dough will go through. The result of that is, lots of undigestable flour winds up in that bread,” the end result being that our bodies rebel against the onslaught and develop allergies to wheat.

That gluten allergies are so common today is quite remarkable, especially in consideration of the fact that man has been eating bread for millennia, a history Larry recounted for his workshop participants in a jocular monolog at the beginning of the class while we dined on a breakfast feast. He tells a story, involving workshop participants as characters for illustrative purposes, about how bread evolved from a little, flat, unleavened flour pancake in the pre-Phoenician era through to beautiful Neapolitan pastries and various types of leavened loaves in Italy. “This is a worldwide history,” he says, “I just tell it for Italian bread because that’s my heritage, it’s what I know.”

beautiful loaves of panneotne

His lively story tells you that bread is an ancient treat, but its denouement shows you how the last sixty years have destroyed a community tradition of baking that stretches back to the beginning of time. “Your grandmother would be upset if she knew you didn’t know how to bake,” he says more than once. “She did this every day, and so did your great grandmother, and so did all the women in your family all the way back as long as anyone can remember until after World War II, when supermarkets changed all of that” and people started buying bread instead of making it.

Larry shows that bread-making doesn’t have to be a worrisome, time-consuming, or back-breaking effort. If you’ve got a free-standing mixer with a dough hook, it’ll do most of the work. It’ll take ten minutes or more for the dough to finish mixing, so don’t sweat it. Keep an eye on it, but feel free to go about your other business. Then, let it rise for a while: again, keep in mind that it’s there, with the yeast cells “eating and having sex, making carbon dioxide” but there’s nothing you need to do with it while they’re going about their business. Punch it down and let it rise again and when it’s done with its second rising, spend a few minutes shaping it into loaves. Put it in the oven and wait for it, “don’t you open that door!” Larry cautions, “I know you always make that mistake, ‘I wonder how it’s doing, i should check on it.’ NO! Put it in the hot box and trust that after 45 minutes, a miracle will have happened and you will have a perfect loaf of bread.” And he’s right.

Larry removes the loaves from the oven

Though I’ve baked bread before, learning from Larry was an enlightening and tremendously enjoyable experience. The joy and the energy that he devotes to the simplest of delicacies is infectious. He instills a genuine desire for a return to the basics of home-baked bread and makes you believe that you can do it. Your first loaf might not be the best, but that’s no reason to give up. “Fail gloriously!” he invokes you, “fail so badly that future generations will write songs about it” but don’t give up. Think about what mistake you might have made, and correct it the next time you try. And really, no matter what the result, you’ll still have a pretty decent loaf of bread to enjoy with your family.

bread baking sign

Larry teaches the class on some Sunday mornings. Call (412) 281-2602 for scheduling and reservations, or visit the Enrico Biscotti website.
For more on baking bread, check out my article from this month’s East End Food Co-op newsletter.

8 Responses to “Baking Bread with Enrico Biscotti’s Larry Lagattuta”

  1. slu Says:

    Neat! I hope you have sent this to Larry. I will send notification to Mary Rose (Walko) and Laird (Cooper)–Phil is sending you their email addresses. slu

  2. lindy Says:

    They make some very nice bread there, and it’s a charming place. I’m not so sure about the “wet dough plus lots of flour=bad bread” theory, though. Seems to me that lots of the best artisan type bread is made with very wet dough and lots of flour in the handling, and that it has nice big -holed, elastic, wheaty-tasting crumb, and good, crackling, dark crust. Especially when it’s baked long enough.

    Maggie Glezar’s Artisan Baking Across America (I think that’s the name of her book) has a ton of examples from great bakeries like Acme in Berkeley, and they are mostly pretty wet, with lots of flour. And they work pretty well, even at home.

  3. MIL Says:

    Will expect some good homemade bread when in Pittsburgh at Christmas!!

    Your MIL

  4. jwsharrard Says:

    Re: Lindy’s comment:

    I’m not the expert on bread that Larry Lagattuta is, but if I’m interpreting him correctly, he’s not talking about sticky artisan doughs. Those doughs, even if stickier than some, are still, by definition, of such a texture that they can still be worked and shaped by hand. The factory-produced loaves of enriched white bread, on the other hand, are gloppy, unworkable, and injected by machine through tubes coated with massive amounts of flour (much greater than any artisan dough would require). It’s this large-scale addition of unincorporated flour to which he was referring, as opposed to smaller amounts of unincorporated flour (which he himself includes as decoration on the tops of his loaves, see picture above).

  5. Corduroy Orange » Blog Archive » Bread Baking Update Says:

    [...] I have not had store-bought bread for almost two weeks now: I’m following my own advice and baking my own. It’s turned out to be a fairly easy process: I’ve baked two batches at home(thogh I have been making bread at work some lately, which experience has helped my learning curve quite a bit), and each has lasted for about a week. The improvement from my first batch to my second was quite noticeable—it went from being not bad to being pretty darn good. I’ve got a couple of tips that might help you kick the store-bought habit, too. [...]

  6. Brian Says:

    Enrico Biscotti has also been named one of the FAB 5 Bakeries by Delta Sky miles mag.

    If anyone has a good email for larry please drop me a line.

  7. John Says:

    Great stuff man. Enrico is the best!

  8. Jay Says:

    I think you meant Larry, but yeah he sure knows a lot :P

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