Monday, September 21, 2009

Italian Bread BBA Challenge


As some of you know I have been baking through Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice. This week I baked Italian Bread, French Bread's softer and sweeter cousin. I was very pleased with the formula and it turned out quite nicely. I do not usually post the formulas, but this one is so easy and a real winner. I suggest that you try it if you have not done so yet.

First, I qualify this as an Italian American Bread, a loaf that holds up to juicy sandwich making, bruschetta and great garlic bread. It however is not like the more rustic loaves I have eaten in Italy. The formula also includes the option of adding barely malt which adds some color and flavor to the basic formula. I used Barley Malt Syrup, because that is what I had on hand. I think it was a nice addition. You can find Barley Malt Syrup at your local health food store.

If you prefer a crustier loaf, you can lower the baking temperature to 400 degrees after steaming and increase the cooking time.

This formula, like many of Reinhart's uses an Italian Biaga, a pre-fermented dough which is done 1-4 days in advance of the baking day. This adds depth of flavor to the bread and is essential in most rustic breads. The use of this biaga insures a maximum sugar break out from starches which belies the small amount of actual sugar in the formula.


2 1/2 Cups (11.25 ounces) unbleached bread flour
1/2 teaspoon (.055 ounce) instant yeast
3/4 plus 2 tablespoons to 1 cup (7 to 8 ounces) water at room temperature

1) Stir together flour and yeast in a 4 quart bowl or electric mixer. Add the 3/4 cup + 2 tbs of water stirring till everything comes together and makes a course ball (or mix on low with paddle attachment.) Adjust the flour or water according to need so that the dough is neither too sticky or too stiff. (it is better to err on the sticky side, as you can adjust easier during kneading. It is harder to add water once the dough firms up.)

2)Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for 4-6 minutes (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook for 4 minutes), or until the dough is soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky. The internal temperature should be between 77 and 81 degrees.

3) Lightly oil a boil and transfer the dough 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.

4) Remove the dough from the bowl, lightly knead it to degas and return it to the bowl, covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight. You can keep this in the refrigerator for up to three days or freeze in an airtight bag for up to three months. I make up a few of these to keep on hand and freeze them.

The Bread

Makes two 1-Pound Loaves or 9 torpedo (hoagie) rolls

3 1/2 cups (18 ounces) Biga
2 1/2 cups (11.25 ounces) unbleached bread flour
1 2/3 teaspoons (.41 ounce) salt
1 tablespoon (.5 ounce) sugar
1 teaspoon (.11 ounce) instant yeast
1 teaspoon (.17 ounce) diastatic barley malt powder (optional)
1 Tablespoon (.5 ounce) olive oil
3/4 cup + possible additional (7-8 ounces) water or milk if making torpedo rolls lukewarm (90-100 degrees)
Semolina or cornmeal for dusting

1) Remove the biga from the refrigerator 1 hour before making the dough. Cut it into about 10 pieces with a pastry scraper or serrated knife. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let sit for one hour to take off the chill.

2) Stir together the flour, salt, sugar, yeast and malt powder in a 4 qt. bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the biga pieces , olive oil and 3/4 cup of water. If using malt syrup it should go in now. Stir together or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until a ball forms, adjusting the water or flour according to need. The dough should be slightly sticky and soft, but not at all batter-like. If the dough feels too stiff, add water to soften. It is better to have the dough too soft than too stiff at this point.

3) Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter and begin kneading (or use the dough hook with medium speed) adding flour as needed for about 10 minutes. At this point the dough should be slightly tacky, but not sticky and supple. The dough should pass the windowpane test (take a small piece of dough and pull on it to see if it will make a thin membrane that you can see through. If it falls apart before you can achieve this you need to knead more. The dough should also register about 77-81 degrees at this point. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

4) Ferment at room temperature for about 2 hours or until the dough doubles in size.

5) Gently divide the dough in to two equal pieces of about 18 ounces each (I used three as I wanted smaller loaves) or into 9 pieces of about 4 ounces each for the torpedo rolls. Gently roll the dough into batard shapes 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.

6) Proof at room temperature for about 1 hour or until the loaves have grown to about 1 1/2 their original size.

7) Prepare the oven for hearth baking (using a baking stone if you have one.) Pre-heat the oven to 550. Score the breads with 2 parallel , diagonal slashes or one long slash. I use a razor blade for this. Have an empty steam pan on the lower shelf and have a spray bottle of water available.

8) Rolls can be directly baked on the sheet pan. I used perforated batard pans or you can bake directly on your baking stone. If using the baking stone, dust a peel with some semolina or cornmeal and very gently transfer the loaves to the peel, then slide them onto the baking stone. You can also bake directly on a sheet pan if you do not have a stone. Pour 1 cup of hot water into the steam pan and close the door. 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 hte oven setting to 450 degrees and bake until done, rotating 180 degrees half way through the baking process. It should take about 20 minutes for loaves and 15 minutes for rolls. The loaves should be golden and register at least 200 degrees at the center.

9) Transfer the rolls to a cooling rack and allow to cool for at least one hour before slicing or serving.

As I cut into the bread and tasted it, my first thought was that it would be a terrific bread for a meatball sandwich. I am going to make this formula again and make torpedo rolls.


Pete Eatemall said...

I loved to Italian bread! But which one dont I love?! Yours looks delish and love all the pics! Happy Baking!

Amanda said...

I just made this bread yesterday! it was delicious, you are right. What a gorgeous view you have, I am so envious. :)

Devany said...

Amanda... come bake with me! Pete... you are right... all of the breads are great. But I think this one is really special.

Janice said...

Looks so good! (The view, too.) Love the way bread proofs there, with all the warmth and humidity. Here, we just have warmth OR humidity. :)

Cindy said...

Your bread turned out wonderfully! I love your ancient scale. So low-tech!

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