Friday, August 28, 2009

BBA Challenge Week 15—Italian Bread




We went international again in the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge, this time baking Italian bread.

I'm baking my way through Peter Reinart's award winning book along with 200+ other amateur bakers. Want to join in the madness, or just learn more about this semi-crazy undertaking? Check out the following links:





Italian bread, while much like French bread, has its own distinguishing characteristics. Because it is an enriched dough (contains some olive oil and the option to make with milk instead of water), Italian bread is softer than French, less crusty. But the flavor—oh, the flavor. It's all there. The use of a pre-ferment (biga, in this case), helps maximize the flavor of the dough, bringing out the natural sweetness and complexity of the flour.

A biga is about as simple as it gets: bread flour, a small amount of yeast and some water. That's it. Mix it together, knead, let it proof, then put it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or freeze up to 3 months.


Here's something new, at least for me. Diastatic malt powder. According to Peter Reinhart, the diastatic malt powder "produces better color because it will accelerate the enzyme activity and thus promote sugar breakout from the starch." Sounds good to me.



So I added the optional 1 teaspoon of powder along with the rest of the ingredients, mixed, kneaded and proofed. I divided the dough roughly in half, or what looked like half. It seemed like the pieces took on a life of their own and I ended up with two very different shapes without even trying. I didn't want to over-handle to dough and completely degas it, so I just went with it.

I scored these loaves using my trusty razor blade. I actually scored them twice, opening up the slit that much more. The razor makes such a clean cut that it's no problem going back over it. No tugging, no jagged edges. Love it.



And just LOOK at how they baked up. Oh my goodness, I was so happy with these loaves. They're the first ones I've made that really look like artisan bread. The flecks of flour, the rustic-looking scores, the COLOR of that crust. I'm guessing that the diastatic malt powder had a hand in that. I made sure to crank the oven to the full 500°F to start, misted inside the oven at the required times and reduced the temperature when directed to in the recipe. I wasn't going to risk a pale crust like I had with the French bread.



I didn't get a terribly open crumb, but I didn't mind. I thought it tasted great. The texture was a bit chewy and a little soft. It was superb dipped in olive oil and dipping spices and made incredible toast. It was decidedly different than toasting a regular white or sweet bread. It was crispy and light and perfect with a light spread of butter. Simple. Delicious.


Can't get enough Italian bread? Check out some other BBA bakers' breads:

19 comments:

  1. Your loaves are so gorgeous, I'm going to try to make mine look exactly like yours!! :-)

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  2. Wow, that's quite a compliment. Thank you!

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  3. I thought my Italian bread turned out well but yours is amazing!!!

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  4. Oh man! Just looking at your loaves makes me want to scrap my first effort and do it over again. Actually, I was going to do them over again, but looking at yours makes me want to do two huge batards. Great job!

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  5. Lovely loaves...gotta get some malt powder and pronto~

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  6. That is so incredible that the two loaves turned out so differently shaped. They are both breads a baker can be proud of!! Fantastic slashing. I hope mine look this good.

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  7. Yours look yummy! I just made mine the other day and loved it! So much bread so little time! Happy baking!

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  8. Kelly these are so perfect, couldn't be any better! I love how the two loaves came out different, yet they are both a work of art. Fabulous job!

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  9. A BIG thank you for all of the complements-they're all very much appreciated!

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  10. Wow, those look gorgeous!!!!!

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  11. Gorgeous looking loaves of bread indeed! Well done.

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  12. I have slash-envy. Slashing is my downfall when it comes to bread-baking. Someone told me I let my loaves rise too high, because when I slash them, they fall. Do you slash before or after your loaves have risen?

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  13. Linda - I slash just before putting them in the oven. The trick is using a very, very sharp knife or a razor blade. I've tried slashing with a regular knife and if I've just sharpened it, it does an OK job but it tends to tug and deflate the dough. The razor doesn't tug at all and allows for a really clean slash.

    As far as over proofing goes, I guess that's possible, but if you're following the times dictated or going by the rise size in the recipe (double, one and a half times the size, etc.) Then that shouldn't be the issue. Try a razor and see if you have better luck.

    Good luck and happy baking!

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  14. Thanks Kelly! Yes, my blade (actually purchased from King Arthur!) does tug at and deflate the dough. I guess it could be possible I'm doing it wrong though--LOL!

    I'll try the sharp razor & get back with you.

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  15. Kelly and Granny (Linda) are baking buddies. Are swapping baking secrets. It makes my heart sing in happiness! :)

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  16. Great loaves you have there! I divided mine into three skinnier ones and I like your voluptuous ones!

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