Homemade Italian bread © 2011 theCrackerBoxKitchen. All rights reserved.

Italian Bread

I am a novice bread maker. In fact, I’ve never made a decent loaf of bread in my life. My greatest success was the yeast rolls at Thanksgiving.

So, why have I decided to take on Italian bread as my first “real” foray in to bread making?  For one, I’m made Sunday Sauce for New Year’s Eve,  and you can’t have Sunday Sauce without Italian bread. Two, there’s no time like the present…? And three, I’m a glutton for punishment.

(As a funny side note, I just recently decided to foster an almost 10 year-old kitty from the Guilford Co. animal shelter. Her registered name is/was “Cupcake”. It’s not that she’s not a sweet kitty, but, she’s not really a “cupcake”. T thinks she’s more like a loaf of bread, so, we’ve decided to call her “Biga”.)

Any-hoo… On with the bread!

Day 1: “Biga

2  cups unbleached flour
1/2 cup white wheat flour (you can use all white flour if you’d like)
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast (I used Fleischman’s bread machine yeast– which accourding to Fleischman’s FAQ is the same as any “RapidRise” or instant yeast.)
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (no more than 1 cup) water, at room temperature

Stir together the flour and yeast, either by hand, or with a stand mixer. (If you only have a hand mixer, I recommend just stirring by hand.)
Add  water and stir until the dough comes together in  a coarse ball, or mix on low speed for 1 minute with the paddle attachment of stand mixer. Adjust the flour or water, accordingly so that the dough is neither too sticky, nor too stiff. (It is  easier to adjust sticky dough during kneading than dry.)

Move dough to lightly floured work surface and knead for 4-6 minutes. I first tried this step with my mixer’s dough hook, but the dough just kind of rolled around the edge of the bowl. Thus I recommend kneading by hand (it’s more fulfilling anyway!)

Move dough to lightly oiled bowl, rolling dough to cover with oil. Cover with plastic freezer bag (or plastic wrap; I no longer use wrap, so I just use a large freezer bag laid over the top), cover with a dish towel and set aside to ferment/rise for 4 hours, or until doubled in size.

Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it lightly to de-gas.  Return dough to bowl, cover, and set it in the refrigerator over night.   (Biga can be refrigerated for 3 days, or frozen for 3 months.)

Day 2: Bread!

Makes two 1-pound loaves

All of the biga
2  cups unbleached flour
1/2 cup white wheat flour (you can use all white flour if you’d like)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 cup to 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, lukewarm (90 to 100°F)
Cornmeal for dusting

One hour before making dough, remove biga from refrigerator and cut into 8 portions; set aside.

After biga has set for an hour, stir together the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast. Add the biga pieces, olive oil, and water and stir together until a ball forms, adjusting flour and water accourdingly.  Dough should be slightly sticky and soft, but not batter like or very sticky. If the dough feels tough and stiff, add more water to soften.

Move dough to lightly floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes, adding flour as needed.  (After 10 minutes of kneading you can skip your arms at the gym.)
Dough should be tacky and supple, but not sticky.  Move dough to lightly oiled bowl, rolling dough to cover with oil. Cover with freezer bag/plastic wrap and a hand towel and set aside to ferment/rise for 2 hours, or until doubles in size.

Gently divide the dough into 2 equal pieces of about 18 ounces each. Carefully form the pieces into batards, degassing the dough as little as possible. Lightly dust with a sprinkle of flour, cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and let rest for 5 minutes. Then complete the shaping, extending the loaves to about 12 inches in length. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment and dust with semolina flour or cornmeal. Place the loaves on the pan and lightly mist with spray oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap.

I couldn’t make heads or tails out of the batard making instructions, nor could I find a decent video of an Italian/French batard. However, I did find an alternative method that I quite like. If you’re an amazing bread maker and know how to properly make a batard, go for it. If you’re a novice like me, take a look at this video.  Your final loaf should be 6-12 inches long.

Proof at room temperature for about 1 hour, or until the loaves have grown to about 1  1/2 times their original size. Score the breads with 2  diagonal slashes.

Preheat the oven to 500°F, and set either a cast iron pan on the floor of the oven, or a  heavy sheet pan on the top shelf.

Dust the back of another sheet pan with corn meal and gently place loaves on pan. Move loaves to oven and pour one cup of hot water in the frying or sheet pan.
Wait 30 seconds, then spray the oven walls with water and close door. Wait another 30 seconds and spray the walls again.  After the second spray, reduce heat to 450°. Bake for 20 minutes. (My loaves actually took about 30-40 minutes).  Loaves should be golden brown and 200° in the center.

Transfer loaves to a cooling rack and let rest for at least an hour before slicing.

Recipe Source: Adapted from Peter Reinhart, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread (c)2001 via SmittenKitchen.com

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  1. By Sunday Sauce | theCrackerBoxKitchen 28 January, 2013 at 12:20 PM

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