Tuesday, December 05, 2006

My daily Italian bread

My favorite all-purpose daily loaf is a semi-rustic Italian, from "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart. It begins at least a day before baking with a biga starter, which I then refrigerate overnight at the minimum, and usually for 3 days. Typically, I make a double batch.

And on the third day the biga is mixed in with a fresh batch of dough. The final product is just bread flour, water, salt, yeast and a splash of extra-virgin olive oil.

Here it's set to rise in my new Cambro container:

And after two hours (if only my bank account would grow at the same rate!):

Next, dump the whole lot on the counter:

Divide the dough into four equal pieces by weight, then shape them. I like to make two shapes - the torpedo or batard, and the round or boule:

After an hour, the shaped loaves have expanded. Notice how the torpedoes are almost touching:

After rising a little more, they get thrown into a 475 degree oven, directly on to the terra cotta tiles I use in lieu of a baking stone. (After breaking several pizza stones, I went with Julia Child's suggestion and bought some thick, unglazed terra cotta tiles from Home Depot, and get them cut to fit my oven. They work even better than the pizza stone!) The stones/tiles are absolutely key if you want crusty, rustic-looking loaves. These are the torpedoes, which I dusted with a little flour just before slashing and baking. During ovenspring, the loaves swelled even more and merged:

With the boules, the slash marks always seem to fill up during the ovenspring, leaving a smooth surface. I can't seem to get the slashes to stay, but at least you can see where the slashes were made:

The crust makes crackling and tiny popping sounds as the loaves cool, but it remains crisp. Still, it's never so hard that it shreds one's gums. The crumb has a mix of small and medium holes, and is incredibly flavorful for a white bread. It's great eaten plain, but with a drizzle of top-quality extra-virgin olive oil, or good Irish butter, it's a revelation.

And what do we love to do with the torpedoes? Split them in two, butter one half and spread the other half with a mix of extra-virgin olive oil, minced garlic, oregano, Italian parsley, salt and pepper. Put the pieces back together, wrap the whole loaf in foil, bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees, then unwrap and bake for another five minutes to crisp up the crust. Who knew garlic bread could be divine?

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