I love fresh and warm bread and who doesn’t? One goal I’ve been trying to accomplish for a couple of weeks now is to make delicious and edible bread! The first time I tried to make bread, the oven was just too hot and my breads came out so hard that we used them as pet rocks. The next couple times, I was able to make softer bread, but the insides were not fully cooked–we used that to make croutons. After my bread baking failures, I decided to take a break. Then I picked up a copy of Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and was enlightened. (For reals). The reading was so fun and interesting and one of the many things I learned to enjoy was listening to the sound of the fresh-out-of-the-oven crackling bread–it’s like a lullaby. And my favorite recipe in the book is the Italian bread…the crust is crisp and the inside is soft, I’m almost tempted to use the bread as a pillow.
With my Italian bread dough, I made breadsticks, mini pizzas, and a couple bread boules for homemade chili…it was so good! No more rock-like breads! No more undercooked dough! These Italian bread pieces were just perfect. And because I was so happy with my breads, I saved one bread boule for sir butter. They get along so well.
Italian Bread Recipe:
(adapted from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice)
Biga: (pre-ferment for Italian bread)
yield: 3-1/2 cups dough
2-1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
1/2 tsp instant yeast
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp water, at room temperature
1. Stir together the flour and yeast in electric mixer. Add 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp water and stir until a coarse ball forms. Add flour or water, according to need, so that the dough is neither too sticky nor too stiff.
2. Knead in electric mixer on medium speed with dough hook for 4 minutes.
3. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled 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 nearly doubles in size.
4. Remove the dough from bowl and knead lightly to degas and return to bowl, covering bowl with plastic wrap. Place bowl in the refrigerator overnight.
yield: two 1 pound loaves or 9 torpedo rolls
3-1/2 cups biga
2-1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
1-2/3 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp diastatic barley malt powder (optional)
1 tbsp olive oil, vegetable oil, or shortening
3/4 cup to 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp water (or milk if making torpedo rolls), lukewarm 90-100 degrees F
semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting
1. Remove biga from refrigerator 1 hour before making the dough. Cut it into about 10 small pieces with a pastry scraper or serrated knife. Cover with towel or plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour to take off the chill.
2. Stir together the flour, salt, sugar, yeast, and malt powder into a large bowl or electric mixer. Add the biga pieces, olive oil, and 3/4 cup water and mix on low speed with paddle attachment until a ball forms. The dough should be slightly sticky and soft, but not batterlike or very sticky. If dough feels tough and stiff, add more water.
3. Knead dough in electric mixer on medium speed for 6 minutes. The dough should pass the windowpane test. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer dough to bowl, rolling to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
4. Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours or until dough doubles in size.
5. Gently divide the dough into 2 equal pieces or 9 pieces for torpedo rolls. If dough is not flexible, let dough rest for about 5-10 minutes. On a floured surface, carefully form pieces into batards, bread boules, pizza dough, or breadsticks. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap.
6. Proof at room temperature for about 1 hour, or until dough has grown to about 1-1/2 times their original size.
7. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Score the loaves with parallel streaks and bread boules with ‘x’ slashes.
8. Transfer dough onto baking pan lined with parchment paper and dusted with cornmeal. Lower oven temperature to 450 degrees F and bake for 10-15 minutes.
9. Transfer loaves to a cooling rack and cool for at least 45 minutes before slicing.