Have you ever tasted bread made without salt? No? Well, I can tell you that you’re not missing very much. Especially when that loaf lacks a sufficiently parched and crumbly crust because the baker was just an nth of a second too late in creating steam for those crucial milliseconds after the loaves enter the oven. Ah well. That is what you get for baking bread without giving it your fullest attention.
Still chugging away at the BBA Challenge, this Italian Bread is the 15th in Peter Reinhart’s book and follows the same process used for his French Bread. A pre-ferment (called biga in this case) consisting of water, yeast and flour all mixed together, is left to rise, then refrigerated overnight. Following the pale loaves from the last round, I made it a point to use the biga the very next day in the pursuit of golden loaves. According to Reinhart, the color of your loaf comes from the caramelization of sugar in the dough, which is all well and good, except that sugar is also what the yeast feeds on, meaning that the longer the pre-ferment sits in the fridge, the paler your loaves are going to be.
Without missing a beat, I worked the biga into another mixture of flour, sugar and yeast, and added diastatic malt powder to accelerate enzyme activity. This promotes sugar release from the starches in the dough, and as we all learned from those pale French Bread loaves, more sugar = more color, so I certainly wasn’t going to say no to this ingredient! Into the mix it went, together with some vegetable oil and water to bind everything together. The only thing I left out, which I was to discover when it was too late, was the salt. One bite into the soft, airy loaves and it was pretty clear that I missed an ingredient. They were still delicious, if a bit bland, but it’s nothing that a pat of salted butter and good jam can’t fix.
On the upside, I ended up with what is possibly the best-looking dough I’ve made in this entire challenge. It had a perfectly smooth surface, despite the webs of gluten that accompanied the creases and folds of the ball of dough. It was also truly supple and firm, with a good weight in the hand, reminding me of a bowling ball.
Salt or no salt, these loaves are great for dipping in soup or as bookends to a sandwich, especially those chubby torpedo ones – I imagine they’d be the perfect swaddle for a home-made sausage topped with some relish, mustard and tomato sauce, or just a good chicken mayo for a quick meal. I’m off to find out, but you can read more about how other BBA bakers got along with this bread:
- Nicole at Pinch My Salt
- Family & Food
- Two Skinny Jenkins
- Donna at Way More Homemade
- Amanda at Fake Ginger