I think my two favorite food groups are bread and dessert. I know these aren’t “real” food groups, but when you eat bread and dessert in mass quantities like me, they should probably form the base of the food pyramid. Francis isn’t a huge fan of dessert, but one thing we definitely see eye to eye on is our love of bread. There’s nothing better than a fresh loaf of warm Italian bread to go with a plate of Vodka Penne (recipe to follow in the next few days/weeks). This bread is soft on the inside with the perfect crunchiness. It is made from one of my absolute favorite cookbooks; The Breadbaker’s Apprentice. It’s made with a starter called ‘biga’ that I keep in my freezer and that can be kept frozen for 2-3 months. That way, when you get the craving for a warm, chewy loaf of Italian bread, it’s only an hour away.
For Biga (starter) —This will keep in the refrigerator up to three days or in freezer for three months.
2 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
1/2 tsp instant yeast
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp to 1 cup water at room temp
Stir together flour and yeast in a large bowl or in bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment.
Add 3/4 cups plus 2 Tbsp of water, stirring until it comes together and makes a coarse ball.
Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer dough to counter. Knead for 4-6 minutes or mix on medium speed with dough hook for 4 minutes or until dough is soft and pliable.
Lightly oil a bowl and transfer to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 2-4 hours or until it doubles in size.
Remove dough from bowl, knead it lightly and return it to bowl, covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight.
For the Bread (with starter made)
3 1/2 cups Biga
2 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
12/3 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp diastatic barley malt powder (optional – I did not use this)
1 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup to 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp water, lukewarm
Cornmeal for dusting
Remove Biga from refrigerator 1 hour before making dough. Cut it into 10 small pieces with a serrated knife.
Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let sit for one hour to take off the chill.
Stir together flour, salt, sugar, yeast and malt powder (if using) in the bowl of a stand mixer or large bowl.
Add the biga pieces, olive oil and 3/4 cup water and stir together (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) until a ball forms, adjusting the water or flour according to need. Dough should be slightly sticky.
Sprinkle flour on the counter and begin kneading for 10 minutes if not using a stand mixer. If using a stand mixer, mix on medium speed with dough hook for about 10 minutes.
Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer dough to the bowl, rolling to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours until it doubles in size.
Divide the dough into two equal pieces and shape each piece into a loaf 6-12 inches in length. Sprinkle the dough with flourand cover with a towel. Let it rest for five minuntes.
Complete shaping and extending the loaves to 12 inches in length and rolling the dough into long loaves.
Line a sheet pan with wax paper or parchmentpaper and dust with cornmeal. Place loaves on pan and spray with baking spray. Cover with plastic wrap.
Proof once more at room temperature for one hour until the loaves have grown 1 1/2 times their size.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. While the oven is preheating, place an empty sheet pan or cast iron frying pan in the oven. Add hot water to the preheated pan to add steam to the oven to replicate hearth baking.
Score the breads with two parallel, diagonal slashes or one long slash.
Transfer dough to a baking stone or bake on a cornmeal-dusted sheet pan. Place this in the oven.
After 30 seconds, spray the walls of the oven with water and close the door.
Repeat once more after another 30 seconds. After the final spray, lower the oven setting to 400 degrees F and bake 20 minutes. The loaves should be golden brown.
Transfer the loaves to a cooling rack and cool for at least one hour before slicing or serving.
Source: The Breadbaker’s Apprentice