Monday, June 22, 2009
Chewy "big holes" Italian Bread
First let me just say, I can't believe this came out of my oven.
Ever wondered how people make chewy Italian breads like ciabatta? With those big holes in the middle, crunchy on the outside, soft and doughy on the inside. The kind of bread you rip a chunk off of and dip in olive oil? Good-enough-to-eat-by-itself bread? I always have.
Since I have quite a bit of time on my hands this summer (side note: I highly recommend teaching as a career) I decided that a good challenge would be to learn how to make good bread. Not dense and crumbly bread, good bread. After a few Google searches I learned the secrets...
Fist: the secret to chewy bread is a "starter" - or biga in Italian.
A biga couldn't be simpler - it's just flour, water, and a tiny amount of yeast that sits around for a few hours and is allowed to ferment. It's not sour like a sourdough starter, it just gives the bread deeper flavor and moister texture.
Secret #2: the thing that gives this dough its characteristic large, irregular holes and chewy texture is the wet dough. It's so sticky that you have to use a food processor to knead it.
Secret #3: Food processors make amazing bread. After making this bread I have new appreciation for my food processor. It does the work it would take your arms half an hour to do in just 2 minutes. The dough comes out smooth, elastic, and perfectly kneaded.
Secret #4: A slow rise gives the bread time to develop its flavor. Using ice water and letting the dough rise in a cool place lets it rise slowly and develop more flavor. I can't tell you how good this smelled while it was baking.
Secret #5: Ok, this one isn't a secret - Olive oil makes everything taste better.
You will need...
1 packet of yeast, divided
About 3.5 cups of flour, divided
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Water (ice-cold and lukewarm)
Olive oil (for bowl)
Step One: Make the biga
1. In a bowl, combine 1/4 cup lukewarm water and 1/4 teaspoon yeast. Let stand until yeast is dissolved, about 5 minutes.
2. With your hands, mix in 3/4 cup flour until evenly moistened. The dough will be very stiff. Rub the biga and the bowl with olive oil. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until the biga is bubbly and has tripled in volume, 3 to 5 hours. (It's unseasonably cold, so I left mine overnight.)
Step Two: Mix the dough
1. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup lukewarm water and 1 teaspoon yeast. Let stand until yeast is dissolved, about 5 minutes.
2. In the food processor, whirl the biga and 1/4 cup ice-cold water until smooth.
3. Add the yeast mixture, 2 teaspoons salt, and 3/4 cup ice-cold water. Pulse until blended.
4. Add 2 3/4 cups flour. Pulse until incorporated, then whirl until dough is very smooth and elastic, about 2-3 minutes. The dough will be very sticky.
Step Three: First rise
1. Scrape dough into a well-oiled bowl. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until tripled, about 3 hours.
Step Four: Shaping and final rise
1. Sprinkle counter top with a dusting of flour and scrape dough onto surface.
2. Gently form a smooth log by first folding dough in half, then pinching a seam where halves join.
3. Turn dough seam side down. Lightly sprinkle with flour. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let stand on board until puffy, about 30 minutes.
4. While dough rises, place a 14 x 16 inch baking stone or 14 x 17 inch baking sheet in oven and set at 425 degrees. Let the stone and oven heat for at least 30 minutes.
Step Five: Baking
1. Ease hands under dough, pick up, and gently transfer it onto the hot stone or baking sheet.
2. Bake bread until deep golden, about 30 minutes. Let the loaf cool on a rack.
3. Serve immediately, store in a paper bag up to 1 day, or freeze it.
* Note: Making ahead? The biga can be made ahead and kept in the fridge or freezer. The kneaded dough can rest in the fridge for up to 24 hours before its first rise.
Adapted from Elaine Johnson's article.