Apr 2011
Rustic Italian Bread

About a week ago, I was blessed with my first bridal shower thrown by my wonderful bridesmaids. It was a wonderful day, and I was given so many great gifts to be used in the kitchen. My favorite gift of all, was my beautiful empire red KitchenAid Mixer. :-) I have wanted one ever since I was a little girl, and my mom told me years ago that she would buy me one for my wedding. I knew she had purchased it last year, and it taunted me sitting in her closet, just waiting for my shower. I finally received it last week, and have been giving it a good workout by making pizza dough, breads, cookies, etc.

Now that I don’t have to knead bread dough myself, I find making bread dough a much more pleasant experience. Since we make Italian food so often, I knew I needed to add an Italian bread recipe to my repertoire. This bread has a perfect crisp crust, with a soft, dense center. When I saw that it was from Cook’s Illustrated, I knew it would be a great recipe.

This recipe has quite a few steps, but don’t let that scare you – the steps are pretty fool-proof. The first step involves making a biga, which will pre-ferment in the fridge overnight. The biga gives the bread flavor and helps create a chewy texture. The next day, you mix the rest of the dough, let it rise, shape into a loaf, then let it raise a second time, then bake!

Note: When making bread, it is best to measure ingredients by weight, using a food scale. If you are not using weight measurements, you may need to adjust your flour or water until you get the right consistency.

Rustic Italian Bread
Yields: 1 large or 2 small loaves

Ingredients:
Biga
11 ounces bread flour(2 cups)
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
8 ounces water (1 cup), room temperature

Dough
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

Directions:
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 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 out onto a floured surface, and fold as illustrated below. Fold the sides into the center, then fold the bottom up until you have a rectangular shape. Place the dough back into the bowl, 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. Gently scrape the dough out of the bowl and onto a floured 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 using a sharp 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 into a long roll, bringing the sides together and pinching the top. Flip the dough over so the seam side is down, and gently shape into a football shaped loaf. Slide the dough onto parchment paper. Dust the 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 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 from a spray bottle. 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. Let the loaf cool to room temperature before cutting, which will take about 2 hours.

Source: Cookography, originally from Cook’s Illustrated

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4 Responses to Rustic Italian Bread

  1. Liz says:

    Yeah, Cook’s Illustrated does not disappoint. Your bread looks perfect…all those fabulous nooks and crannies…perfect for sopping up some delicious sauce :)

  2. I have never made a biga before, but this bread has inspired me to do it. Thanks!

  3. Mike says:

    Perfect recipe right up to putting it in the oven- Parchment paper cannot handle 500 degrees. Burnt the hell out of the bottom of the bread. Bad advice to an otherwise good recipe….

    • Chrissy says:

      Hmm, sorry to hear that! I use parchement paper all the time at 500 degrees when I make pizza and have never had a problem with the crust burning. Perhaps you used a low rack in the oven?

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