There are bread recipes, and then there are bread recipes. This is one of the latter. The bread’s taste, texture, crust and even recipe, strike the perfect balance between complex and simple. It is something in between sandwich bread and a rustic country loaf. This recipe has a lot of steps, but it is pretty much fool-proof. You will end up with something tasty, if not pretty!
This bread’s secret is the pre-ferment (or biga) you make the night before and place in the fridge. The pre-ferment gives the bread its flavor and helps out the texture. Using a pre-ferment gives you many of the benefits of a sourdough, but is a ton easier.
The recipe may look a little complicated at first, but really it is pretty easy. Here is a quick overview:
- Mix the pre-ferment – flour, yeast and water, together in a bowl with a spoon
- Refrigerate the pre-ferment over night
- Mix the pre-ferment together with remaining items for the dough (salt, water, flour and yeast)
- Let the dough rise for 2-3 hours, turning every hour
- Shape into a loaf, and let rise for an hour
Here are some good things to have for this recipe, but you can live without:
- A plastic bench scrapper – These are about $2 at Sur La Table or other kitchen stores. You can get away with a large spatula.
- Parchment paper â€“ Parchment paper is non-stick, silicon coated paper, that is oven safe and make it easy to transfer to loaf to the oven.
- Pizza stone â€“ Helps get you a great crust. Unglazed quarry stones from Home Depot could also work. If you don’t have either of these, just use a baking sheet.
Rustic Italian Bread
This recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated, an amazing magazine. I have added my notes, but it is their recipe and they deserve all the credit.
This recipe requires a standing mixer to make the dough, a spray-bottle filled with water for spritzing, a rectangular baking stone, and an instant-read thermometer for gauging doneness. It also requires a bit of patience—the biga, which gives the bread flavor, must be made 11 to 27 hours before the dough is made.
- 11 ounces bread flour (2 cups)
- 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
- 8 ounces water (1 cup), room temperature
- 16 1/2 ounces bread flour (3 cups)
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast
- 10.7 ounces water (1 1/3 cups), room temperature
- 2 teaspoons table salt
For the biga:
Combine flour, yeast, and water in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Knead on lowest speed (stir on KitchenAid) until it forms a shaggy dough, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer biga to medium bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature until beginning to bubble and rise, about 3 hours. Refrigerate biga at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours.
For the dough:
- Remove the biga from refrigerator and it let stand at room temperature while making dough.
- To make the dough, combine flour, yeast, and water in bowl of the standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Knead the dough on lowest speed until rough dough is formed, about 3 minutes.
- Turn the mixer off and, without removing the dough hook or bowl from the mixer, cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes. (This allows protein in the dough to relax, making for a stronger dough that can rise higher, with a better crust)
- Remove the plastic wrap over the dough, and add the biga and salt to bowl. Continue to knead on the lowest speed until ingredients are incorporated (dough should clear the sides of the bowl but should stick to the very bottom), about 4 minutes.
- Increase the mixer speed to low (speed 2 on a KitchenAid) and continue until the dough forms a more cohesive ball, about 1 minute.
- Transfer the dough to a large bowl (at least 3 times the size of the dough) and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a cool, draft-free spot away from direct sunlight, until slightly risen and puffy, about 1 hour.
- Remove the plastic wrap and turn the dough following illustrations below on Turning the Dough. Replace the plastic wrap and let the dough rise 1 hour. Turn dough again, replace plastic wrap, and let dough rise 1 hour longer.
- Dust the work surface liberally with flour. Hold the bowl with the dough at an angle over the floured surface. Gently scrape the dough out of the bowl and onto the work surface (the side of the dough that was against bowl should now be facing up).
- If you want two smaller loaves, split the dough into two equal halves. Use a knife or bench scraper.
- Dust the dough and your hands liberally with flour and, using minimal pressure, push dough into a rough 8- to 10-inch square. If you are making two loaves, shape each piece into a smaller rectangle.
- Shape the dough following the illustrations below on Shaping the Loaf, and transfer it to a large sheet parchment paper. Dust loaf liberally with flour and cover loosely with plastic wrap; let loaf rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position, and place a baking stone on the rack. Pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees.
- Using a single-edged razor blade, or sharp chef’s knife, cut a slit 1/2 inch deep lengthwise along top of loaf, starting and stopping about 1 1/2 inches from the ends. Lightly spray the loaf with water. Slide parchment sheet with loaf onto baker’s peel or upside-down baking sheet, then slide parchment with loaf onto hot baking stone in oven. If you are not using a baking stone or tile, simply place the baking sheet in the oven.
- Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees and quickly spin loaf around half way using the edges of the parchment paper.
- Continue to bake until deep golden brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center of loaf registers 210 degrees. For one large loaf this will be about 35 minutes longer. For two smaller loaves this will be closer to 30 minutes.
- When the bread is done, transfer it to a wire rack and discard the parchment paper. Now the toughest part, cool the loaf to room temperature, about 2 hours.
(I traced the illustration from the recipe… I can’t draw this good!)
Turning the dough:
Slide plastic bench scraper under one side of dough; gently lift and fold one third of dough toward center.
Repeat step 1 with opposite side of dough.
Finally, fold dough in half, perpendicular to first folds. Dough shape should be a rough square.
Shaping the dough:
After delicately pushing dough into 8- to 10-inch square, fold top left corner diagonally to middle.
Repeat step 2 with top right -corner
Begin to gently roll dough from top to bottom.
Continue rolling until dough forms a rough log.
Roll dough onto its seam and, sliding hands underneath each end, transfer dough to parchment paper.
Gently shape dough into 16-inch football shape by tucking bottom edges underneath.