Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Italian Bread Recipe

Several years ago I had a person working for me that was Italian. Her mother made all of their bread and she would bring loaves of her bread to me. It had the best texture and flavor of any Italian bread I had ever eaten. I started a quest to reproduce her bread but was never quite able to get mine to be just like hers. Until now.

The secret is in the biga. A biga is like a sponge which is left to ferment.

After the biga has fermented you add additional ingredients to form the dough. Once the dough rises you divide it into 3 pieces.

Each piece is rolled into a long rope.

Then the dough is braided.

Then placed on cornmeal and parchment paper on a cookie sheet.

It rises about an hour to an hour and a half.

This is what it looks like after it rises.

Then it is brushed with egg white.

And I cracked sea salt over the top.

These loaves do not get very dark. They are done when they look like this.

They are crunchy on the outside and dense and chewy inside. And the flavor...oh the flavor. Try this, you will like it!

The Recipe:

1 cup (8 ounces) cool water, about 65F
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1/2 cup (4 ounces) cool water, about 65F
2 to 2 1/2 cups (8 1/2 to 10 5/8 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 egg white mixed with 1 tablespoon water
The Sponge: Combine all of the sponge ingredients, mixing just till a cohesive dough forms. Allow it to rest, covered, for 24 hours. I forgot about mine and let it rise 48 hours. When the sponge is ready, it will be filled with large holes and bubbles.
The Dough: Add the water to the sponge, and mix till smooth. Add the flour, yeast and salt, and knead the dough till it’s fairly smooth but not necessarily elastic, about 3 minutes by machine, or 5 minutes by hand. (The gluten will continue to develop as the dough rises, so you don’t want to develop it fully during the kneading process.)
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours. To help develop the gluten and distribute the yeast’s food, turn the dough twice during the rising time: gently fold all four sides into the middle, and turn the dough over.
Divide dough in thirds, and roll each third into a 20-inch-long rope. Braid ropes. Set the braid on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until just puffy.
Preheat oven to 425F. Gently brush the braid with the beaten egg white mixture and sprinkle generously with sea salt. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.