Saturday, March 13, 2010

GT Bakes Italian Bread

I blame taxi.

For some reason, her question sent me on a hunt for a good Italian bread recipe. Found this Peter Reinhart recipe on smittenkitchen. Also found some additional bread-baking advice in general and for this recipe. The recipe is from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, by the way, which is supposed to be a wonderful book. Another link about bread baking: Better Bread with Less Kneading.

Also went back to take a look at the place where I got my first bread advice, sometime before I knew about the internet (early '80s, I think), The Enchanted Broccoli Forest.

Other info I discovered; best find: Food Blog Search, which you can add to Firefox search, by the way...

Anyway, here's a brief account of my bread-baking adventures:

As I mentioned in the MMP, I only made one loaf. (The linked recipe makes 2.) To do this, I made the full recipe for the biga (pronounced BEEG-ah, I think, Italian-speakers feel free to correct me), and then only used 1/2 for the bread.

What I did differently with the biga: Instead of letting it ferment for a few hours at room temperature, I left it in the fridge all day (nearly 12 hours), then let it sit for an hour or so to come back to room temperature before degasing and placing in the fridge overnight. I used one of my large kitchen knives to cut it into 16 pieces. I placed my small silicon mat on a small baking tray, place 8 of the biga pieces (isn't that fun to pronounce?) on the mat and covered them with the mat. Placed the tray in the freezer for about an hour, then put the frozen pieces in a freezer bag so that I can use them later either for 1) another loaf of bread, 2) a couple of smaller loaves, or 3) pizza dough. By the way, I used all-purpose flour because it's what I had and the recipe said I could.

Mixing the dough: Mixing old dough into a new batch of dough, was an odd though to me, but it's not much different from using the sponge method that I learned from Mollie Katzen. It mixed much more easily than I'd anticipated. I used one of my large silicon spatulas to do the initial mixing and it formed a uniform-looking dough very quickly.

Kneading the dough: I don't have a standing mixer or bread machine because I don't bake bread all that often and because really like kneading dough. Because you're incorporating the biga into the dough, you'll feel sticky spots as you're kneading. The recipe said to knead until the dough was tacky, but not sticky. I spent all ten minutes kneading, wondering what that point would be. What I decided was: the dough should hold together, and want to stick to the counter and to your hands, but still come off without leaving globs of dough on either surface. I kneaded for just over 10 minutes, adding little bits of flour as I went, until the dough was uniformly mixed, tacky and still slightly glossy.

It's on it's next rise right now... More detail as I finish.

Shaping the bread: Followed instructions, but didn't really seal. Just placed the bread seam side down on the parchment paper. Also didn't dust with cornmeal.

Baking: Put my cast iron pan on the top shelf of the oven and placed a square baking pan on the oven floor. Turned the heat down to the lower recommended temperature. Wound up baking for about 50 minutes, I think.

Bread turned out excellent. The texture was denser than I was expecting (maybe because the dough never got up to the temperatures mentioned in the recipe? also, my ingredients weren't super-fresh). The flavor was really nice, too. A bit tangier than most white bread, but not as tangy as sourdough.

I'll definitely make again and make a version with part whole-wheat flour.

So far, I've made: 1) plain bread with butter, 2) toast with scrambled eggs, 3) Mexican sandwich with refried beans, ham, salsa and cheese, and 4) grilled ham and cheese and am very pleased with all of the results.

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