Guess it's about time for me to weigh in with my bread-making efforts...
Since I lack a baking stone and have zero experience making "rustic" breads, I thought I'd try using Carol Field's biga recipe (link to recipe is in first post of this thread) for a white bread baked in loaf pans. I had to return her The Italian Baker
to the library so I really had no starting point beyond her biga, a scale, a KA mixer and my past experience making loaf-style bread.
I did some reading of bread books that focus on rustic bread and I mastered the baker's percentage
. I decided I wanted to make a white bread that used a high percent of biga and was wetter than the usual "American style" white bread but not as wet as the true rustic breads. The dough would be baked in a loaf pan. I wanted a recipe that yeilded 2 loaves, each about 1 lb.
After a couple of "by guess and by golly" attempts which seemed to produce an interesting bread, I figured it was time to be more organized about this recipe development. I decided to use 12oz of biga, 1/2 tsp AD yeast and 2 tsp Kosher salt plus, of course, white bread
flour and water. And there was the dilemma - how much water? how much flour? I wanted to experiment with a wet dough but was otherwise clueless. Here's how I went about it. I weighed 16oz of bread flour, reserved about 1/2cup and used the KA to knead in all the other ingredients. Then I hand kneaded the dough adding the reserve flour in small amounts to the final dough until it "felt" the way I wanted. I went through 3 trials this way, once with 6oz water, once with 7oz and once with 8oz water. Each time, after the bread was made, I weighed how much of the original 16oz of bread flour was left so I knew exactly how much I used. I kept notes for each try and, beside eating my own product, gave away loaves to friends in my apartment building, asking for their feedback.
Enough babble - here's what I came up with (the instructions are for a stand mixer with a dough hook)...
A Few Preliminaries
If you're not
using Active Dry
yeast, go to http://breaddaily.tripod.com/yeast.htm
for adjustments. (For example, instant yeast users need to reduce the yeast by 1/3 and stir it into the flour).
If you're not
salt and you're measuring by volume you may want to adjust the salt quantity downward since 1 tsp table or fine grind sea salt weighs more than 1 tsp kosher salt.
The bread is baked at 375F so make sure you know how long it takes your oven to preheat to this temperature. When the bread has risen sufficiently you will run into problems if you try to make the bread wait for your oven to reach temp.
You will need 2 loaf pans, each 5-cup capacity; capacity is determined by pouring in water in 1-cup increments until the top of the pan is reached. I use pyrex b/c that's what I have - use what you like.
Ingredients in OZ and volume
biga 12.0 oz
AD yeast 0.05 oz 1/2 level tsp
kosher salt 0.30 oz 2 level tsp
water 8.0 oz 1 cup ("warm" to the touch)
white bread flour 16 oz 3-1/2 cups using the "scoop into a measuring cup and level off" method is about 16oz
If the biga's frozen, defrost it. Don't make the mistake I did and defrost it in it's plastic wrapper then attempt to get it in the bowl. Dump it frozen into the bowl you're going to use to mix your dough. You can let it defrost in the frig or at room temperature. At room temperature it will take about 1 - 1-1/2 hours to defrost. It is ready when there no more lumps and it has returned to it's original gloppy state. Don't worry if it is still cool to the touch.
Put 16oz white bread flour in a bowl and 8oz water in a measuring cup.
When the biga's ready, pour about 3/4 of the water on top it - sprinkle the AD yeast on top of the remaining water in the measuring cup to dissolve (don't be compulsive about temperature here, you just want to dissolve the AD yeast in the water; it will take 5-10 minutes).
Get a little bowl and put about 1 cup of the bread flour in it, add the salt and mix it up.
With the dough hook, mix the biga and all the water on "low" (KA speed 2) until most of the biga has dissolved into the water. Add the AD yeast with it's water and mix it in well then start adding the flour. Add flour in smallish amounts and incorporate each batch before adding more flour. Start with about 1-cup of the bread flour, then your bread flour/salt mixture and then all but 1/2 cup of the remaining flour. This 1/2 cup is your reserve for hand-kneading
. We're not in a lab or professional bakery here and the water content of the dough will vary. By the time you've added all but your 1/2 cup reserve of flour, the dough should be clearing the bowl and have balled on the hook. Increase the speed to medium (KA speed 4) and knead for about 2 minutes. Very lightly flour your board with your reserve flour, dump the dough on top of the floured board, invert the bowl over the dough and walk away for 30 minutes or so while the gluten relaxes and the dough hydrates a little more.
OK, 30 min or so later and you're back. Now we get to the tricky part b/c you're going to be kneading in your reserve flour until the dough "feels" right and what the *!?*$#* is that? Don't despair, I'll describe it as best I can and include pix. I generally find that I have 1 to 2 oz of the reserve flour left (that's about 1/4 cup) at my stopping point. Just don't knead in more than your reserve, using it to flour the board and your hands.
Knead gently, adding a small amount of the reserve flour at a time (a handful? about 2-3TBS?) and kneading it each time until it is completely incorporated. Don't smack the dough around - have a light hand here. The final dough should be smooth, supple and light but still soft to the touch (not firm like a more "standard" loaf dough); it may grip the board slightly when you're kneading so that you may to lift it to give it a quarter turn. If you lift it up it stretches out and glops down like this
If you press your palm lightly on the dough and then lift up, the dough sticks to your palm and then falls back in a soft peak leaving a slight residue on your palm.
When it feels right to you, lightly oil the mixer bowl, shape the dough into a ball, put in the dough, turn it up so it has a light film of oil on the top, cover the bowl with plastic wrap
Let it rise at room temperature until it has doubled in bulk. This will take about 2-1/2 to 3 hrs. Don't try to rush the rise - be patient.
scoop the risen dough onto your board. It will deflate on it's own and flatten out like this
Grease your pans (I use shortening or lard rather than oil b/c I find that sometimes the baked bread sticks to an oiled pan. However, use what you're comfortable with.) With a knife, dough scraper or whatever, cut the dough in half (don't stretch or pull it to divide - cut it!). Lightly oil your hands (you should not need to flour the board at this point). Gently
strech and pat the dough into a rectangle as wide as the loaf pan and about 3 times as long as the width of the pan. You're going to shape the loaf in a manner similar to folding up a business letter. Gently
fold over about 1/3 of the dough and pinch it together then fold the remaing 1/3 over the dough, pinch together, turn the seam side down and place in the pan.
Lightly oil your hands, rub them over a piece of plastic wrap and cover each pan with plastic wrap, oiled side against the dough (if you don't oil the plastic wrap it may stick to the dough when you remove it). Let rise until doubled in bulk and just cresting over the top of the pan, approximately 2 hrs. Again, patience is all - it will
The oven should be preheated to 375F so make sure it is ready when the dough has risen b/c the dough doesn't take kindly to being over-risen.
Bake about 50 minutes at 375F. To be honest I'm still struggling with temperature. Check it after 20-25 min. and if it's browning too fast for your taste, put some tin foil, shiny side up, on top of the loaves and reduce the temp to 350F. Cool on a rack. The bread should have a crunchy golden-brown crust and a soft interior with an irregular crumb.
Geeze - all this effort for 2 loaves of white bread!? It takes half a day (only a small part is actual work time but nevertheless...). On the other hand, never having made bread with just flour, water, salt and yeast, I'm really amazed at the flavor that can emerge from such simple ingredients. Everything came straight from the local supermarket (hey! not the H2O, of course, but let's not be picky here).
My neighbors who got samples all said they liked it and I think they were being reasonably honest. Two of the recipients like to purchase "artisan" breads from local bakeries or better supermarkets and they gave favorable reviews. We all agree that it shines when lightly toasted. The sides get slightly crunchy while the interior remains moist and it gives off a wonderful aroma - pretty much like fresh out of the oven. I think it is lovely with soft cheeses and have been told it makes great grilled sandwiches too.
I've read that using a pre-ferment (like the biga used here) is supposed to contribute to the bread's keeping qualities but so far all of us have finished the bread within 2-3 days (or faster).
Request to readers
If you decide to try this, please post your opinion. If you have any suggestions how to improve it, please post also. TIA and cheers to all.