italian bread

A few weeks ago, in my ninth entry into my bread category, I expressed my desire to take this whole yeast/flour/water/tada! thing a step further, and begged for some cookbook guidance. At the end of it, with almost equal votes for Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Bread Bible and Peter Reinhart’s Bread Maker’s Apprentice, I was still torn, changing my mind back and forth until the final seconds of my order, eventually settling on the latter. On the day it arrived, I tore into it, certain that something would jump right off the page, and I’d be up to my elbows in flour, once again, that night. Instead, the opposite happened—I froze with terror. Bigas and poolishes and oh my god, all of these steps and seriously, are there any breads you can make in just a few hours and really, it was very humbling. And just like that, my fairy godmother of cookbooks found a way to deposit Berenbaum’s tome on my front step, equally intimidating. I was certain that I was completely over my head, silly to think that taking something one step further wouldn’t be such an involved process. What did I think it would be? One, two, three and then you’re Poilane?

italian bread, a wee unsealed

Fast forward to this past Saturday night, when my husband had to go into work for just a half-hour for some emergency testing, blah blah (yes, I asked what “her” name was), before we went out but of course something went wrong, he was stuck there for hours and there I was, on the sofa watching a two-hour E! True Hollywood Story about Jessica and Ashley Simpson. It was utterly fascinating, I have no shame admitting, and I learned a lot. (Fine, a little shame, but not as much as I should.) Yet, on a table across the room, my 1,000 bound pages of bread instruction sat sneering at me, and I knew they had my number. I have time to stuff my head with minutiae as the fact that Ashley is a trained ballerina and Jessica was originally a Christian singer but not time to try a pre-ferment? Busted, indeed.

So, at 10 p.m. (yes, after the E!THS was over), I made my first biga, which is the Italian version of a homemade starter that precisely resembles in ingredients and form an actual bread dough and is treated similarly. You mix, knead, rise and deflate it, and then rest it in the fridge overnight or up to three days, or in the freezer for a couple months, and when you want to use it, you bring it to room temp, break it into pieces, and mix it into your bread dough. Oooh, scary. (I’m such a wuss, right?) Alas, it was no trouble at all; Sunday afternoon I mixed it into the components for Italian bread, kneaded, let it rise, deflated, formed into batards, let it rise again, slashed the loves, filled a pan with water and baked the breads for but 20 minutes before they were ready to go. Yes, those are a lot of steps, and yes, this is a bread for those of you who really want to get involved in such things but it is simply not something a beginner can’t do. Reinhart’s instructions are simple, logical and they do lead to a tasty loaf.

peter reinhart's italian bread

Italian bread, eh? This would be a good time to point out that I have rarely, if ever, in my life had proper Italian bread. I tend to come across mostly Americanized versions, sort of shortened French baguettes with hard crusts and a salt-leaning flavor. This apparently authentic version has a firm-soft crust, a fairly neutral flavor and a sturdy but moist texture. It wasn’t exactly what I had expected, but it was delicious, and I think it has a lot to do with that extra fermentation—like wine, cheese and my dashing good looks (ha), bread dough improves with age.

We dipped pieces in olive oil, sprinkled them with sea salt and ate the bread alongside fresh basil-flecked fettuccini with a ton of wild mushrooms and later, a strawberry rhubarb crumble, but all I’m getting into today is the bread—because Rome was on and I didn’t take pictures or write down measurements, not because I’m trying to be a tease. Anyway, I vow to be less intimidated by these books, and in my pipe dream, the one in which my life flows along a predictable schedule like a well-oiled machine, I vow to try a new bread a week. Yet in real life, the one facing the realities of three glasses of wine with dinner and deadlines, oh the deadlines, I’ve got enough leftover bread to last us weeks, as I ponder my next move.

basil-flecked fettucine

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Peter Reinhart

From Reinhart: In Italy nearly every pre-ferment, including wild yeast or sourdough, is called a biga. So if you are making a recipe from another source that calls for biga, make sure you check to see exactly what kind of biga it requires.

You can substitute all-purpose flour for the bread flour if you prefer, or blend all-purpose and bread flour.

Biga will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for about 3 months. You can use it as soon as it ferments, but I prefer to give it an overnight retarding to bring out more flavor.

Makes about 18 ounces

2 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons to 1 cup water, at room temperature

Stir together the flour and yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Add 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the water, stirring until everything comes together and makes a coarse ball (or mix on low speed for 1 minute with the paddle attachment). Adjust the flour or water, according to need, so that the dough is neither too sticky nor too stiff. (It is better to err on the sticky side, as you can adjust easier during kneading. It is harder to add water once the dough firms up.

Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for 4 to 6 minutes (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook for 4 minutes), or until the dough is soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky. The internal temperature should be 77 to 81°F.

Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 2 to 4 hours, or until it nearly doubles in size.

Remove the dough from the bowl, knead it lightly to degas, and return it to the bowl, covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight. You can keep this in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze it in an airtight plastic bag for up to 3 months.

Italian Bread
The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Peter Reinhart

From Reinhart: The use of diastatic barley malt powder produces better color because it will accelerate the enzyme activity and thus promote sugar breakout from the starch. You can also use nondiastatic barley malt syrup, which will contribute flavor more than color, or make this bread without any malt, since there some malt already added to most brands of bread flour (the pre-ferment will contribute some enzymes of its own). Both powder and syrup can be purchased through King Arthur Flour.

Makes two 1-pound loaves

3 1/2 cups biga
2 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
1 2/3 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon diastatic barley malt powder (optional)
1 tablespoon olive oil, vegetable oil, or shortening
3/4 cup to 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, lukewarm (90 to 100°F)
Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting

Remove the biga from the refrigerator 1 hour before making the dough. Cut it into about 10 small pieces with a pastry scraper or serrated knife. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour to take off the chill.

Stir together the flour, salt, sugar, yeast, and malt powder in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Add the biga pieces, olive oil, and 3/4 cup water and stir together (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) until a ball forms, adjusting the water or flour according to need. The dough should be slightly sticky and soft, but not batterlike or very sticky. If the dough feels tough and stiff, add more water to soften (it is better to have the dough too soft than too stiff at this point).

Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mixing on medium speed with the dough hook). Knead (or mix) for about 10 minutes, adding flour as needed, until the dough is tacky, but not sticky, and supple. The dough should register 77 to 81 degrees F. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

Gently divide the dough into 2 equal pieces of about 18 ounces each. Carefully form the pieces into batards, instructions below, degassing the dough as little as possible. Lightly dust with a sprinkle of flour, cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and let rest for 5 minutes. Then complete the shaping, extending the loaves to about 12 inches in length. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment and dust with semolina flour or cornmeal. Place the loaves on the pan and lightly mist with spray oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap.

Proof at room temperature for about 1 hour, or until the loaves have grown to about 1½ times their original size.

Preheat the oven to 500°F, having an empty heavy duty sheet pan or cast-iron fying pan on the top shelf or oven floor. Score the breads with 2 parallel, diagonal slashes or 1 long slash.

For loaves, generously dust a peel or the back of a sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal and very gently transfer the loaves to the peel or pan. Transfer the dough to the baking stone (or bake on the sheet pan). Pour 1 cup hot water into the steam pan and close the door. After 30 seconds, spray the walls of the oven with water the close the door. Repeat once more after another 30 seconds. After the final spray, lower the oven setting to 450°F (or 400°F*) and bake until done, rotating 180 degrees, if necessary, for even baking. It should take about 20 minutes for loaves. The loaves should be golden brown and register at least 200°F at the center.

Transfer the loaves to a cooling rack and cool for at least 1 hour before slicing or serving.

* If you prefer a crustier loaf, lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees F after the steaming and increase the baking time. This will thicken the crust and give it more crunch.

To Form a Bâtard (Torpedo)
The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Peter Reinhart

A bâtard (literally, “bastard”) is a torpedo-shaped loaf 6 to 12 inches in length.

Gently pat the dough into a rough rectangle. Without degassing the piece of dough, fold the bottom third of dough, letter style, up to the center and press to seal, creasing surface tension on the outer edge. Fold the remaining dough over the top and use the edge of your hand to seal the seam closed and to increase the surface tension all over. Set the bâtards aside either for proofing or to rest for further shaping.

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67 comments on italian bread

  1. ann

    ’twas quite the bready weekend, which is odd since it was so nice out!
    I’ll have to think about getting one of those books, this bread-thing is getting out of hand, I’m becoming quite obsessed!

  2. I love it when you write about bread. *Sigh* I wish I could have been a nose on the wall smelling the final product. That’s something that I miss being on WW, is the fresh bread because it’s hard for me to determine points. I was going to one of the markets and systematically going through their bread offerings, trying out stuff I’ve only read about and never eaten. That’s been halted as the direction of food offerings at my house has been sent on a whole new path.

  3. LyB

    Wow, such a beautiful bread and inspiring post! I too am a wuss when it comes to starters and such. I’ve been wanting to try a sourdough bread for ages but I just panic at the thought of having that starter on my kitchen counter staring at me! So I just make a loaf of no-knead bread instead (I made an incredible multi-grain last week). I guess it must not be so different to make a starter than the no-knead dough, hmmm… I might wait for you to post that Italian Bread recipe before giving it a go!

  4. Blair

    Deb, I really love your site! I found it only recently, during the Food Blog Awards nominations, but you’re a great read. I was inspired to start my own cooking blog, which isn’t nearly as snazzy as yours, but you made it look like so much fun. Keep up the good work!

  5. Jessica and Ashley Simpson……c’mon ! u can do better than that :-) (kidding).I guess its alright to sometimes watch non sensical stuff that doesnt make a difference to your life in any way.But see the bright side…it got u up and baking.I have still had no success in baking bread and i keep blaming the damn oven for it.Cuz i always follow the recipe exactly the way it says but once it enters the oven i have no control over it and the results are not satisfying.Your italian bread looks amazing.Would’ve tasted wonderful hot fresh out of the oven.I think u’ve inspired me to give it one more try.Wish me luck.

  6. deb

    Ann — I saw that bread, and briefly wondered if this one tastes like the version you didn’t love. I’m so used to breads with more salt than sugar, but this was the other way around. Hm, we must taste test! I was actually channeling you big time this weekend, I finished The Namesake (which I remember you mentioning) and literally miss it already and I pickled things! In jars! And sealed them! Tune back in 2 weeks; I hope they’re successful otherwise I’m coming crying to you for advice. ;)

    Jenifer — When I did WW, I found myself resenting the unintentional bent against freshly-made things since there was no nutritional label on them, and instead just figured each slice was a point. Better to enjoy the calories more, I figured, rather than worry if I’d miscounted by half or a quarter of a point. There are also, I believe, some sites (or maybe WW online) where you can plug in ingredients and it will give you total calories.

    LyB — They make their own bread at this place I sometimes go for lunch, and the guy told me that he has a 2-year old starter! And that I could have some, if I ever wanted. Now THAT terrifies me. This biga actually sits in the fridge, and really doesn’t get sketch at all. I’ll get that recipe up later — it’s LONG!

    Blair — Thank you and good luck!

  7. deb,

    I think you’ll love Reinhart’s book. Try the pain a l’ancienne for some fantastic flavor for minimal effort. His pizza dough and brioche are also excellent. And his bagels, which I made again this weekend, are great too (not that you need to go to all that trouble to get a good bagel in New York…). Have fun with the book, your first effort from it looks great.

  8. It has been too long since I baked bread. I think the last time it was naan for my Indian Movie Matinee (some girls + some Indian food + some hopelessly romantic Indian movies = a very good time). I haven’t worked with a starter in a long time either. But I do adore the part where you just leave it in the fridge for a few days. I’ll have to do this again.

  9. that is one beautiful loaf of bread. I don’t bake bread as often as I’d like to, but it’s enormously satisfying when I do. I like to do all of the kneading by hand, and to get into the rhythm of kneading. And somehow it always tastes great, even if it’s not perfectly formed or with a perfect crumb. Peter Reinhart’s book is the best.

  10. There is a recipe calculator on WW and I’ve been using it with the rest of the recipes I’ve been making. The Indian cauliflower and potato dish was 4 points a serving. I think I was having a blonde moment, because I totally forgot about it when I was writing about the bread. Hello, I know the grey matter is up there but is it turned ON?! Once you post the bread recipe, I’ll pop it in. Just let me know how many slices you think a loaf makes. Also, I’m going to take your advice on the fresh baked breads because, honey, life is just too short to not enjoy the good stuff. Also, Saturday is my “let’s see if I can use all my flex points in 24 hour” day. ;)

  11. Beautiful! I’ve been eyeing those bread books as well for sometime. Good to know what I’m about to get into!

    Ever play around with any sourdough?

  12. rob

    Deb, that bread looks wonderful — I’m a fan of loaves with a dense crumb, and yours seems to fit the category. I just want to clarify something: did you make a starter using a packet of yeast, or did you actually create one using yeast from the environment? I have to admit I’d love to try the latter myself one day. Any idea whether the airborne yeast in New York tastes good? I’ve heard it’s no coincidence that San Francisco sourdough has its reputation, apparently the strain of yeast there is superb.

  13. Don’y know what you were worrying about! They look great. I’ve been a chef for 10 years and making breads has always been a passion, i still get amazed at what i’ve created out of flour/water/yeast and how good it tastes straight out of the oven! I get frustrated by people thinking it is hard to make so made a video tutorial on my site. It shows how to make it step by step and takes all the worry out of it! A total beginner could make the foccacia! I still want to learn great french baguettes something i haven’t perfected yet but i guess i’m not the only one, must be something in the water in France!!

  14. Sara

    Beautiful bread! And, congratulations for settling on a book! By the way, if you’re a fan of raisin walnut bread, try the recipe from BBA. It’s delicious–one of my favorite breads.

  15. You’re so dedicated. I remember the time I made baguettes from the NYTimes years ago and the things ruled my life for 3 days.They were delicious, and then I never made them again.
    These days, most of my forays into yeast include stuff I can’t buy readily, like Limpa Bread or Portuguese Sweet Bread. I leave baguettes and such to the pros.

  16. deb

    mary — I can’t wait, and his pizza dough that I have now seen written up on two food blogs was among the reasons I knew he’d be fabulous, if not intimidating with all of those steps. Bagels, maybe one day, but you’re right, they’re so good a block away, I have to question why I’d bother. Ah, right. Because I’m nuts. Like the 2,000 word recipe above hasn’t proved that.

    Benadette — I love the Indian Movie Matinee idea! And, I’d like to try naan again soon. I only wish I could remember which recipe I used first time, since I found it a wee bit dull, so I don’t repeat it. Bittman? Jaffrey? Much to consider…

    Lydia — I’m not sure if it’s the gym or that kneading, but my shoulders are TIRED today. How great would that be if my bread-making got me toned arms in a way that no free weights ever do? The bread-maker’s workout. I love it. And, I seem to be off on a tangent again, but yes, the rhythm of kneading is wonderful.

    Jenifer from Houston — I have no idea how many slices a loaf makes, sadly, but if it were truly 12″ long and you did one-inch slices, er, 12 per loaf? Just a guess. I think we had much more though.

    Jocelyn — Off bread! That’s a terrible way to live. I forgot about Chile. Very jealous, though I think we’ll be in Mexico when you’re there. You know, because our lives are so hard.

    Jenn — No sourdough yet, but I will get there. Later. It’s one of my absolute favorites, though!

    rob — It’s a yeast starter, not the environmental one though I agree it would be super-fun one day. Have you read The Man Who Ate Everything? G’damn, that’s one funny book, and he has many, many experiments with no-yeast starter. It’s hilarious, but in the end, he does have some success.

    Niall Harbison — French baguettes are high on my list, but I want more practice first. I just read about Julia Child spending over a year studying the baguette and translating ways that it could be made in an American oven. She said that she thinks it was the recipe she worked the hardest on, that ironically the fewest people try. It made me sad, so I promise to try hers first.

    Sara — Oooh, raisin walnut bread sounds awesome. I can’t wait. I’ll need something truly different next.

    Mercedes — About the three days, I hear you. But I’ve realized something lately, which is that the first time I make a recipe is always the most stressful. I worry about everything, I’m constantly checking my work. The second time, I get overconfident and skip steps. The third time, however, is the charm when I am neither stressed nor sloppy. Usually. I bet your second time will be just like my third.

  17. rob

    Hi, Deb. Have I read The Man Who Ate Everything? It enjoys pride of place on my shelf, and his piece on trying to create his own starter is precisely what I was thinking of when I read this post. Oddly enough, I happen to be rereading the follow-up, It Must’ve Been Something I Ate, these days. As far as I’m concerned, no two people write about food with more wit than Steingarten and Calvin Trillin. There must be something in the air in New York, I’m thinking, because your prose also has a certain comic flair.

  18. This looks delicious, Deb, and seems to have been worth all those steps. You should try savory breads with filling, they can be quite the treat and be made quickly. Yesterday I made some olive-pesto-sun dried tomatoes buns after reading this entry and feeling the absolute need to make some bread (even though it was very hot outside) and they turned out awesome and no biga was required, the whole thing was done in 2 hours.
    Your idea of making a new bread a week does seem a bit ambitious, and your freezer would probably collapse, but maybe you can do it if you do some faster breads and then some like this Italian bread which are more labor-intensive.
    I´ll be reading and thanks for the inspiration :)

  19. Hi! I´ll try that in the future, because I am in peirod of teasting different kind of bread. I´m from Slovenia and I translate your recipes in my blog. Thx for inspirations.

  20. The first chapter of Shirley Corriher’s book _Cookwise_ is one of the best “understanding yeast breads” explanations I’ve found. I also put the King Arthur Flour Company’s _Whole Wheat Baking_ chapter on yeast breads as a close second. Both books have recipes that are unbelievable and big hits with my family. Also, although it doesn’t have recipes in it, I have found the chapter on bread in Harold McGee’s _On Food and Cooking_ to be mind blowing. These books can be pricey, but thanks to I was able to afford them on a writer’s salary :) And, since I make all of our family’s bread without a bread machine, I’ve found that they have everything that I need to keep things creative in our home! (I make usually two sandwich loaves and a loaf or two of “exotic” bread a week.)

  21. hi there. if there is one bread book you MUST have it is – apart from the bread bible – richard bertinets DOUGH – simple contemporary bread, published by kyle books. no biga starters, no fuss – but wonderful, wonderful bread! i have got a spare one (i was raving about it so much, that everybody ended up bying it for me). give me a shout if you want one. happy to send it over to you (makes space for new books…;-). i am very jealous about your E! true hollywood story. i mean how much better can a weekend get with such a wonderful, cheesy dokumentary on TV and a wonderful smelling bread in the oven? mh? best wishes from switzerland!

  22. Robin Schick

    What do these two statement mean? I am new to bread baking.
    “knead it lightly to degas” and “Without degassing the piece of dough”
    Thanks so much. I really enjoy your site.

  23. kinda of funny how watching mindless E! can turn your mind to bread so quickly. were you thinking ‘oh man, that ashlee girl really needs to eat some bread’ and then, bam, there you were in the kitchen making something totally wonderful.

  24. DianeF

    Have you atempted ciabatta yet, Deb? I made some a couple of years ago and bit the bullet on making a sponge (flour, yeast, water) that would sit for a couple of days (like the biga, but not refrigerated to the best of my memory) and then used in the recipe. Such flavor and then then that wonderful chewy crust! I learned the ice cube trick when making bread….putting the loaves into the pre-heated oven and throwing a handful of ice cubes on the oven floor, closing the oven door quickly (to somewhat simulate a steam injection oven)…works great at making great crusty loaves of bread!

  25. lovehate

    I DID IT. I made this bread yesterday and, miracle of miracles, it worked (this was my second shot at bread making so it must speak to the quality of the instructions that I didn’t ruin it). I did not have any malt powder so my loaves looked decidedly less pretty, and I think the dough was a bit too wet as well…will try to fix this on the next round. I also made two loaves and completely deflated / ruined the first one upon transfer to the bread stone. I left the second one directly on the parchment paper and just slid it over onto the stone which turned out to be a huge improvement. Both actually tasted just fine, however.

    Thanks again for the great recipes!

  26. deb

    Lovehate — Congratulations! I did not have malt powder, either (I swear, if I buy ONE MORE THING of limited use for this apartment, Alex and I will be forced to sleep in the hall). I’m glad it worked out so well.

  27. JULIE

    I can’t wait to try this recipe. I tried making italian bread yesterday but it didn’t come out right. It was to dense and dry. The crust was thin and hard.

    I have a question though The recipe for the biga says it makes 18 oz. does that equal 3 1/2 cups? If not how do you measure it? I have never seen biga so it sounds like it looks like a smaller version of bread dough. I guessing you just measure by measuring cup by pushing it in and try to level it out. I know I sound stupid but I really want to make this correct the first time. (in the directions it says to take the biga out and cut it in 10 pieces) does that mean all of it is used?? Sorry for being so lame. thank you for your time

  28. HI Deb,
    Today is my first try at making bread & I’m using this recipe.I just finished kneading my biga and am so excited that I’ve been checking it constantly for growth. This waiting is the hardest part!!!
    I just have a couple of questions:
    Is there a difference between active dry yeast and instant yeast or is it the same? I had active dry in my cupboard and used it hoping that it was the same.
    Also, how do I measure out the 3 1/2 cups of biga? do I just scoop it out with my measuring cup or does it need to be more precise?
    Thanks so much!!!!

  29. deb

    Instant yeast and active dry yeast are different. There is an exchange you can use (it escapes me now) but it’s best to just get the right stuff. You can measure the big with measuring cups. It’s okay if it is not perfectly exact.

  30. I’m so scared of bread. The whole yeast business just makes me nervous. But I was having friends over this weekend for a little Italian meal and thought it would be fun to give this a whirl. It came out SO great!! Just wanted to say thanks for posting and getting me over my bread fear. I should also mention that I had the wrong kind of yeast (dry active) and didn’t measure the biga … just used it all. And it still came out wonderfully. Also… your site makes me drool at work at LEAST once a week :)

  31. Sarah

    Hey Deb,
    I am new to bread baking (I made my first loaf yesterday!) and I absolutely loved it. I was wondering which bread baking book you prefer, because I am also finding myself stuck between The Bread Bible and The Bread Bakers Apprentice.


  32. GT

    Just made this. Best white bread I’ve ever made.

    I didn’t want to make two loaves, so I froze half the biga (pre-cut) and roughly halved the remaining ingredients. Also, I started the biga yesterday morning and threw it in the fridge instead of letting it ferment at room temperature. I think that kept the loaf from getting as airy as it could have been, but that was really the only aspect that wasn’t quite what I expected. The flavor is excellent, the texture is chewy, the crust is nice and firm.

  33. Bryan

    Just wondering if anyone has tried Reinhart’s suggestion (mentioned in the book) to substitute milk for water when the dough is intended for (I believe he says nine) smaller torpedo rolls instead of two one pound loaves …and if so, how did it compare to the large loaf?

    1. AbigaiI+Krueger

      Have made a few times. Love the texture of this bread. Most recent time I shaped into Torpedo rolls, which I sent in a baguette baking device (end to end) – that took care of six of them, I had three more which I put on a pizza screen. Brushed with egg wash and sprinkled half with sesame seeds and half with “Everything” spice. They make great sandwich rolls – try with meatballs and sauce!

  34. Call me vee

    I’m a bit confused – I’m new to baking and all, but seem to have a good feel for it. How exactly is this bread any different from my usual recipe of 6 + 2 + 2 (6 cups K.A. flour, 2 cups hot water and 2 packages instant yeast + a bit o sugar for the yeast)…. I just threw a coupla loaves today, used one cup whole flour for one cup of regular bread flour….. not sure I get the difference here. Please to explain?

  35. deb

    It may not be different. Most bread recipes follow similar formulas (hard to make a bread dough with too little or too much water, or too little or too much yeast), but use different techniques to achieve their effects. The preferment step here, especially, leads to a richer dough.

  36. CL

    I did it! I did it! I did it! And it’s beautiful!

    Oh, so, so, so beautiful. Take the time and do it! Soooo beautiful. Soooooo good. So good. So. Good. So. Good.

    I’m not scared anymore! I’m not scared!

  37. JamieF

    I made the biga on Monday night and made the bread today (Wednesday). It made 2 beautiful, delicious loaves of bread! I am so impressed with myself! :) Oh, except…

    I tried to measure the biga, but ended up just using the whole thing. I also forgot to add the vital wheat gluten to the flour I used in the dough (remembered it for the biga, though). I used all the water the recipe called for and still thought the dough was dry. I added a little more, but was afraid to go too far off recipe – I am still pretty new to yeast breads. I read the part about forming the loaves that said “degassing the dough as little as possible” and just had to laugh. “How in the hell do I do that?” I asked myself, “Magic?”. Patting it out and rolling it up without flattening it? I am just not that skilled!

    It still came out really good despite all my efforts to destroy it. We had the bread for dinner with a salad dressed with your roasted red pepper vinaigrette and your roasted garlic mushrooms. It was a lovely, delicious, all Smitten Kitchen summer meal and I thank you for it!

  38. Emily

    Brilliant!! My loaves turned out wonderfully, I’m so excited!! I always have trouble with yeast recipes, but I think I’ve finally mastered the ingredient. Yay, yay, yay, yayyayayayayayayayay. Taking my bread to a club meeting with grapes, cheese, balsamic vinegar, and butter so all my friends can admire my handy work. I’m so modest, huh? :) Anyway, thanks for posting this recipe! You give me such courage to try things I never would have thought of doing.

  39. Heidi

    OMG!! These were soooo good. Looked and smelled divine. Prefect crusty exterior and amazing taste. Deb, the only thing that concerns me is its interior, was a bit on the heavier side instead of the light airy awesomeness that this is. Did i do something wrong, maybe missed something?

  40. Juliet

    I’m in the middle of making these but have two questions about the actual baking part:

    1. Should I put the baking stone in the oven while the oven is preheating and then carefully transfer the loaves from the peel to the HOT stone? Or do I transfer the loaves to a cold stone and then put the stone in the oven? I haven’t used my baking stone much so I don’t know what the usual procedure is.

    2. Where should the oven rack go? Middle, top, or bottom?

    Otherwise, everything is working out well so far — can’t wait to eat the finished loaves!


    1. deb

      Juliet — Usually the stone is heated and then you slide or drop the loaf (carefully, of course) onto it. You can start with the middle rack, or whichever one bakes the most evenly in your oven. I know ovens can vary, so there isn’t one set rule (that I use) for bread. Good luck!

    1. Madeleine

      Hi John, did you find an answer to your question? I’m encountering the same thing! I made the biga yesterday and am planning the bake today.

  41. I’m finding the instructions about how to get the loaves into the oven confusing. “Preheat the oven to 500°F, having an empty heavy duty sheet pan or cast-iron fying pan on the top shelf or oven floor.”

    A pan or a cast-iron pan? On the top or the bottom? These seem so different, I’m confused about why one might be preferable to the other or how they may change the results.

    “For loaves, generously dust a peel or the back of a sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal and very gently transfer the loaves to the peel or pan. Transfer the dough to the baking stone (or bake on the sheet pan).”

    When did the baking stone come in? Why am I dusting a pan with cornmeal and then (which I thought I already did before the loaves proofed?) and then transferring them to a different surface? Is the baking stone already in the heated oven? Why might it be better to bake on the sheet pan? And why the back of a sheet pan?

    Sorry for all the questions! I’m new to bread.

    1. Shante

      The empty heavy duty sheet pan or cast-iron frying pan is the “steam pan” mentioned later. This is what you pour the water into, to get the oven to fill with steam. It doesn’t matter which of the options you use, so long as its something that won’t break when you shock it going from very hot to very cold (so definitely don’t use glass or Pyrex).

      The baking stone or back of the sheet pan are options for what your bread actually sits on. I’m not sure why the back of a sheet pan- I often see this mentioned as an alternative to baking stones, maybe because it’s easier to get the bread off of?

  42. Jack Tomlin

    Bread recipes & the like would be so much easier to make if ingredients were also given in grams. If the measures were more precise would there not be a need to adjust to what someone might determine is too sticky nor too stiff?

    I am just learning to use biga in recipes. I only started making bread 2 years ago, age 84. I also started taking piano lessons. Am I crazy. I am still working on both & having satisfaction of having new adventures. Now I want to get into more difficult types of bread—the same with the piano pieces I am learning, 2 hands on experiences.

    I can understand some of those questions from the last 2 posts. I went through some of those same growing pains while making simple breads—like the hot or cold stone question. The answer should be the stone is preheated & it takes time to get the stone up to oven temperature.

  43. Susan

    Wow..It’s been a long time since I made this..and it was good. I was terrified and kept returning to the scene to look for progress as it fermented while I poked and sniffed and fussed over it. Well, I’ve grown since (both in girth and confidence) and in judgement from an odd source; My brother-in-law. He is a horticulturist and one day, watching him water his gorgeous, hardy plants, he tossed a few aside unceremoniously, I asked him why his tossed them. He said, Plants should grow with sun and water so don’t be intimidated by the process. If you’ve done your job and given them sun and water and some aren’t working, toss them bitches aside and start new ones. Whoa! Hard hearted!
    Well, after being intimidated by anything yeast risen, I applied his philosophy with plants (yeast is a plant, right?) to bread making. I make sure the yeast isn’t outdated, and everything else is fresh then I put it together simply; no fear, no fuss, no worrying, I go in with expectation that those things should perform and become bread. Son of a gun.. it worked! I’m as nonplused by bread as my BIL was with plants. I throw ingredients together without a recipe now and it becomes bread! Wow!
    Now I can move on to conquer my failure at whipping egg whites..

  44. Abbiemirand

    Deb, I just made this bread and my husband from Turin was totally impressed. Thanks for the delicious recipe, my new bragging rights ;) and helpful instructions. Love your food, and voice!

  45. Abby Krueger

    This was great – the texture utterly perfect. Because I had a spare egg white and I remembered my mom doing egg washes on bread I did so, and it had a shiny crust. Superb!
    Only made one loaf, so there is biga in the freezer!

  46. denise

    Hi Deb, thanks for plugging into this bread baking process!
    Any thoughts on the “stretch and fold” during fermenting phase? does it enhance flavor?