Goth Panda

BBA Challenge #15: Italian Bread

I have been neglecting both my bread baking and poor Goth Panda recently. First I closed on the house and moved all my worldly possessions. Then we started arranging everything, buying all the things we need for a house that we didn’t have (I don’t want to count the number of times or amount of dollars I have recently spent at Lowe’s), and hosting an open house. So this weekend, I tried to get back into my bread baking routine. I started by making the biga for the Italian bread on Saturday. But somehow I didn’t get to baking the bread on Sunday.

In fact, I was too busy to make it until almost the very last minute. The biga is supposed to be good for three days in the refrigerator, and I made it on Tuesday after work. I started by taking the biga out to warm up to room temperature.

Unfortunately I forgot about it and went out to caulk. [And also get eaten alive by mosquitoes.]

So after almost two hours had gone by, I saw the biga on the counter. I was almost afraid of it.

Scary Biga

But I went ahead. I mixed together the rest of the flour, yeast, water, olive oil, malt powder, salt…am I forgetting anything? Oh, yes, and the scary biga. And mixed it all together. I started using the dough whisk, and then ended by mixing it by hand to make sure everything got incorporated.

Shaped

Then I kneaded it for four minutes in the Kitchen Aid. You know, I bought my Kitchen Aid Artisan mixer not too long ago. I wavered between getting the Artisan and the Professional, and I remember reading a review that said the only reason to get the more expensive Professional was if you would be using it frequently for kneading bread. I thought to myself at the time, I won’t be needing it for that.

Little did I know.

Then I finished kneading by hand. I popped it into a King Arthur Flour measuring beaker.

Set to Rise

It was almost 8 p.m. by this point, and I was really hoping that my bread would rise quickly because I wanted to go to bed at a decent hour. I will admit that I was willing to sacrifice bread quality for a decent night’s sleep.

Still, when I checked on my bread after an hour of rising, I didn’t expect to see this:

Overflow!

I quickly set about shaping. I think I did it badly, because the loaves turned out very similar to the baguettes of the last challenge, very long and slim. I think Italian bread loaves should be shorter and fatter than these.

Shaped

I baked them on the sheet pan again, because my pizza stone is too small to fit both loaves. Since the move, though, I do have a standard-size oven. Maybe on one of my next trips to Lowe’s I should pick up some of those unglazed quarry tiles everyone is always talking about.

I will also confess that I didn’t “prepare my oven for hearth baking” this time. I was in a rush to get this bread finished, and I didn’t want to mess around with a steam pan or spritzing. I also have been wondering what the difference would be, so I thought I would refrain this time and see what happened.

Done

I think the crust turned out softer and less crackly. I did hear the fabled crackling crust on the cooling baguettes last time, but no crackles this time.

Slash

I also think I’m not doing a good job of slashing. I was reading Reinhart’s instructions, and trying to keep the blade almost parallel to the loaf, but I think the result has been that I am not slashing deep enough.

My crumb shots came out overexposed, so you will have to trust me when I say the crumb was very even, with not a lot of big irregular holes. I wonder if I should have hydrated more?

However, the bread tastes really good. I was surprised at how sweet it tasted. I would like another try at this recipe when I’m not so rushed.

Since I now feel like I have fallen behind on my BBA baking, I am considering trying to knock out both the Kaiser Rolls and Lavash Crackers this weekend. This plan could get pushed to the side if the weather is nice, because our pool is still open and it hasn’t lost its novelty yet. I have a neat little pink pool float with a canopy shade and everything. If that is the case, I can almost guarantee that I will be busy making coconut rum daiquiris instead of working on my bread baking skills.

8 thoughts on “BBA Challenge #15: Italian Bread

  1. Your loaves look beautiful! I can hear the crackling when I use my baking stone, but not my baking sheet. You are right, a deeper slash will open up your loaves a little more.
    I believe the Italian crust is a tighter crumb because of the milk…I got the same results that you described.

  2. I love the crust on your bread. I wish you had a crumb shot because I am dying to know how they looked on the inside.

    I also had a similar experience with my Italian bread with regards to the slashing, and when I re-did them they were awesome. I also sort of left my biga in the fridge for a week before using, and it was still fine.

    For slashing, you need the dough to not be overproofed, have good surface tension, and make the cuts with full conviction.

  3. Wow, you have a lot going on in your life right now! If I were you I would be on the pool float with the little pink canopy drinking daiquiris.

    I can relate with spending too much time and money at one store. Bed Bath and Beyond just opened up in our city and I feel like I live there!

    I had to laugh at your scary biga! That took either a great leap of faith or just sheer desperation to use that thing. In your case, I suspect it was desperation.

    The whole slashing thing has got me scratching my head too. I also wish PR would come to my kitchen and demonstrate the proper technique. I think Daniel is correct in saying that the dough can not be overproofed and that you must do it with conviction. I guess that’s true for anything you do in life!

    I enjoyed reading your post. Glad the bread turned out wonderful despite all you have going on.

  4. I used to be a good slasher…but the bread always tastes good! Your loaves look great. I hope to get to Kaiser rolls and Lavash crackers this week to feel caught up but the beach is calling – you should so go to the pool! Happy Baking!

  5. You need to be commended for getting to the bread at all with everything going on!

    Reading your description, I think one thing that specifically may have gone against your scoring was the lack of steam. When you put the loaves into a very hot oven, even one without stones, the first thing that’s going to bake up is, naturally, the crust. Without steam, the crust will set very early and become crispy and inflexible. With steam, however, there’s still heat but the dough remains somewhat pliable and stretchy, so although the insides can still warm up and expand, the outside isn’t binding it and still allows the slashes to expand and widen.

    Of course, the slashes also need to be bold and definitive; you may well have done that though but thwarted your effort by skipping the steam.

    This was one of, if not “the” best breads we’ve made from the BBA so far, IMHO. I’d definitely be rooting for a second go at it when you’re a tad less pressed for attention.

    Hope you’re settling in nicely!

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