In preparation for some entertaining I hope to do next week, I was determined to learn how to make an authentic rustic Italian bread. I found a great recipe on line. It's originally from Cook's Illustrated magazine, a very reputable source, so I knew I should be in good shape. After several unsuccessful attempts, I finally nailed it. It tastes as good as looks - I'm thrilled! The recipe isn't terribly difficult, but it does have a number of steps and requires some concentration. Also, it does take a bit of patience as it is a 2-day process.
I learned a lot, partly by trial and error:
First, weighing the flour vs. measuring it is the secret. (As Dan at the gym says, "if the recipe calls for cups vs. ounces, don't even bother trying it!") Flour can vary significantly in moisture content which will affect the weight, which ultimately affects the volume. For my first attempt, I measured instead of weighing the flour, not realizing how much of a difference it would make. I ended up not using enough flour and had a mess on my hands - a very sticky dough!
Second, the secret to the flavor, texture and crust is the slow-rise process.
And third, the rest of the secret to the amazing crust is to spritz the bread dough with water just before sticking it in the oven, then bake it at a high temperature on a preheated baking stone.
Here's the link to the recipe blog that featured the recipe:
It has some helpful diagrams for turning and shaping the dough, but I'm also including the recipe below.
Rustic Italian Bread
Note: This recipe requires a standing mixer to make the dough, a spray-bottle filled with water for spritzing, a rectangular baking stone, and an instant-read thermometer for gauging doneness. It also requires a bit of patience… the biga, which gives the bread flavor, must be made 11 to 27 hours before the dough is made.
11 ounces bread flour (approximately 2 cups)
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast (Rapid Rise)
8 ounces water (1 cup), room temperature
16 1/2 ounces bread flour (approximately 3 cups)
1 teaspoon instant yeast (Rapid Rise)
10.7 ounces water (1 1/3 cups), room temperature
2 teaspoons sea salt (Don't add until the directions say to!)
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:
1. Remove the biga from refrigerator and it let stand at room temperature while making dough.
2. 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.
3. 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)
4. 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.
5. Increase the mixer speed to low (speed 2 on a KitchenAid) and continue until the dough forms a more cohesive ball, about 1 minute.
6. Transfer the dough to a large bowl (at least 3 times the size of the dough) 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.
7. Remove the plastic wrap and turn the dough following instructions below on "Turning the Dough". Replace the plastic wrap and let the dough rise 1 hour. Turn dough again, replace plastic wrap, and let dough rise 1 hour longer.
8. Dust the work surface liberally with flour. Hold the bowl with the dough at an angle over the floured surface. Gently scrape the dough out of the bowl and onto the work surface (the side of the dough that was against bowl should now be facing up).
9. If you want two smaller loaves, split the dough into two equal halves. Use a knife or bench scraper.
10. 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.
11. Shape the dough following the directions below on "Shaping the Dough", and transfer it to a large sheet parchment paper. Dust loaf liberally with flour and cover loosely with plastic wrap; let loaf rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
12. Meanwhile, adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position, and place a baking stone on the rack. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
13. Using a single-edged razor blade, or 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. 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.
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. When the bread is done, transfer it to a wire rack and discard the parchment paper. Cool the loaf to room temperature, about 2 hours.
Turning the Dough:
1. Slide plastic bench scraper under one side of dough; gently lift and fold one third of dough toward center.
2. Repeat step 1 with opposite side of dough.
3. Finally, fold dough in half, perpendicular to first folds. Dough shape should be a rough square.
Shaping the Dough:
1. After delicately pushing dough into 8 to 10-inch square, fold top left corner diagonally to middle.
2. Repeat step 2 with top right -corner
3. Begin to gently roll dough from top to bottom.
4. Continue rolling until dough forms a rough log.
5. Roll dough onto its seam and, sliding hands underneath each end, transfer dough to parchment paper.
6. Gently shape dough into 16-inch football shape by tucking bottom edges underneath.
This bread freezes nicely, up to 6 months. As with any hard-crusted bread, wrap loosely to allow air to circulate; a Ziploc bag works fine. Then, thaw at room temperature while still in bag. Before serving, place bread in 400 degree oven for 4-5 minutes to bring back the freshness.