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Filone, pronounced “fill-oh-nee,” is a type of Italian yeast bread. The word filone means “line” in Italian, and filone is a long, relatively thin, loaf. Filone originated in the Tuscany and Calabria areas of Italy but is now found throughout the country. It is made with semolina flour, which gives it a chewy crust and dense, moist interior crumb. Sesame seeds are often sprinkled on the crust.
Semolina flour, the flour used for this bread, is a fine grind of durum wheat. European semolina is different from what is marketed as semolina in North America, which is more like cornmeal in texture. Suitable substitutes for semolina from Italy are labeled fancy or extra fancy durum flour.
The traditional Tuscan bread from which filone developed was saltless. Current recipes usually call for salt but less than is normal for many types of breads. Another distinguishing characteristic of traditional filone is the use of a wild yeast preferment, or culture, called biga, as part of the rising agent.
Biga is similar to sourdough starter but is slightly mellower and is frequently described as having nutty or fruity overtones. Like a sourdough starter, biga is stored for periodic use and must be divided and renewed with new flour to stay active. Most recipes call for both biga and yeast. The flavor and texture of the bread is a result of the use of biga and a long ferment, or rising, period. Cooks without access to a biga starter can achieve much the same effect by using a poolish, a very wet mix of some of the flour, yeast, and water from the recipe's total, allowed to rise overnight.
Filone is shaped into long, narrow loaves before the last rise and rolled in the sesame seeds if they are used. The oven is hotter than used for many breads, usually 400 to 450 degrees F (204 to 232 degrees C.) Not all recipes call for steaming the oven during the baking period, but the best recreate the conditions in traditional wood-fired brick or stone ovens and ensure the crust develops properly.
A loaf of authentic filone should have a darker than usual crust that is crisp yet chewy. The interior should be moist and dense with a silky texture. The loaves develop a network of irregular and different-size holes in the interior. Filone is ideal for open face sandwiches, dipping in olive oil, or for serving with sauces.