I killed a biga. I didn’t really want to get into it at the time, as I’m not exactly proud of my actions. It’s not like I didn’t know how not to destroy a pre-ferment, it’s not like I don’t like, no love ciabatta bread, yet I made it at the start of one of those weeks that seem easy-peasy from the outset but when the pace picked up, I let it linger, carelessly convinced it would wait patiently for me. It was my neglect that took its life. And yet in hindsight, now that I’m ready to own up to it, it may have also been some passive-aggressiveness on my part.
You see, we were watching Everyday Italian on the Food Network a few Sundays ago, and upon eyeing Giada slicing into large ciabatta loaf in a low-cut blouse, Alex said, “You know what you should make next time? Ciabatta bread.” Except he said in sort of a lingering, elongated fashion, like the tone I might use to say “Baileys on the rocks” or “salted butter caramel.” I know that tone, and I didn’t like it but of course, I didn’t say this. I actually said, “Great idea! I’ll start the dough!” And four days later, the biga had been left for dead. Curious, eh?
I know it’s the not bread’s fault that it got between a low-cut blouse and my narrowed eyes, but I’ve made up for it, paying my debt to the yeast-raised faeries with something entirely different, although still Italian. Panmarino is potato rosemary bread, but if you’re fancy you can also include roasted garlic. I followed Reinhart’s instructions, let my new, great love do all of the work and was rewarded with the most tender, moist and flavorful Italian bread I’ve made in a while. The potatoes keep everything soft and pliable–this is not a boule for those of you who fiend for an assertive crust. The rosemary, something I find inedibly pine needle-like in anything but bread, works somehow, grounding the other flavors and the garlic, well, it’s something for your love to remember you by as you kiss him goodnight.
Oddly, every reference to panmarino that I’ve found online describes the rosemary but never the mashed potatoes and I’ve yet to figure out why Reinhart alone includes them. Other recipes also suggest a coarse sea salt-sprinkled crust, something I think would be a delicious addition, keeping in mind the moisture-depleting qualities of salt-topped breads. But, I see no reason to otherwise change a recipe that works perfectly and may go a long way toward addressing your petty karma and biga-butchering past.
This bread is delicious when dipped in olive oil, or served aside spicy soprasetta, almond-stuffed olives, a bright white wine and the season premiere of the Sopranos. Low-cut blouses are, of course, optional but you might want to keep your admiration limited to those which are on your side of the television screen, if you’d ever like to see that ciabatta. I’ll get to that, though, I promise, one of these days when I am a better and less bitter person. But seeing as I wouldn’t hold my breath on that, I urge to revel in some rosemary bread instead.
Potato Rosemary Bread
Peter Reinhart, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
1 1/2 cups (7 oz.) biga (this recipe makes a 16 ounce biga; I halved it and deemed it close enough)
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons (14 oz.) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons (.38 oz) salt
1/4 teaspoon (.03 oz) black pepper, coarsely ground (optional)
1 1/4 teaspoons (.14 oz) instant yeast
1 cup (6 oz.) mashed potatoes
1 tablespoon (.5 oz.) olive oil
2 tablespoons (.25 oz.) coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons to 1 cup (7 to 8 oz.) water, at room temperature (or warm if the potatoes are cold)
4 tablespoons (1 oz.) coarsely chopped roasted garlic (optional)
Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting
Olive oil for brushing on top
- Remove the biga from the refrigerator 1 hour before you plan to make the bread. 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, black pepper, and yeast into a 4-quart mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Add the biga pieces, mashed potatoes, oil, rosemary, and 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water. Stir with a large spoon (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) for 1 minute, or until the ingredients form a ball. Add more water, if necessary, or more flour, if the dough is too sticky.
- Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin to knead (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook). Knead for approximately 10 minutes (or 6 minutes by machine), adding more flour if needed, until the dough is soft and supple, tacky but not sticky. It should pass the windowpane test and register 77° to 81°F. Flatten the dough and spread the roasted garlic over the top. Gather the dough into a ball and knead it by hand for 1 minute (you will probably have to dust it with flour first to absorb the moisture from the garlic.) Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
- Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.
- Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it into 2 equal pieces for loaves, or 18 equal pieces (about 2 oz. each) for dinner rolls. Shape each of the larger pieces into a boule, or shape the smaller pieces into rolls. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment (use 2 pans for rolls) and dust lightly with semolina flour or cornmeal. Place the dough on the parchment, separating the pieces so that they will not touch, even after they rise. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap.
- Proof at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours (depending on the size of the pieces), or until the dough doubles in size.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Remove the plastic from the dough and lightly brush the breads or rolls with olive oil you do not need to score these breads, but you can if you prefer.
- Place the pan(s) in the oven. Bake the loaves for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan 180° for even baking. The loaves will take 35 to 45 minutes total to bake. Bake the rolls for 10 minutes, rotate the pans, and then bake for 10 minutes longer. The loaves and rolls will be a rich golden brown all around, and the internal temperature should register at least 195°F. The loaves should make a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom. if the loaves or rolls are fully colored but seem to soft, turn off the oven and let them bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes to firm up.
- Remove the finished loaves or rolls from the oven and cool on a rack for at least 1 hour for loaves and 20 minutes for rolls before serving.
Reinhart’s commentary: You can attractively garnish this bread by embossing a sprig of fresh rosemary in the top of the loaf. Mist the dough just after the final shaping with water and lay the spring flat so that it adheres fully. Don’t leave any of the needles hanging in the air, as they will burn during the baking stage without the protection of the dough.