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BBA Italian Bread

Italian Bread

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.

Italian Bread

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.

Italian Bread

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:

This Italian Bread is going to YeastSpotting, a weekly round-up of all things good and yeasty by Susan at Wild Yeast.

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Janice - Your crumb is beautiful! You just made Tuscan Bread, early, that’s all. :)

El - There’s nothing like a big chewy loaf of fresh bread. Yum!

Frieda - Great job! This is one of my all time favorite breads ~ I have made it several times.

sallybr - Exactly what Janice said…. take it as a warm-up for the Tuscan… now THAT’s a loaf I want to erase from my gastronomic memory….

your loaves are beautiful, too bad about the salt, but… we’ve all done that, sometimes more than once…. ;-)

ap269 - Too bad you forgot the salt. You have to re-do this, because the BBA Italian Bread is just awesome, especially when you leave the biga in the fridge for 2 or 3 days!!!! It’s one of my favorite breads. Yours looks great, btw.

Danielle - I like the way you think Janice!

Danielle - Thanks Sally, it seems like this loaf has polarized the BBA group – there are a good number of bakers who love it and an equal number of them who dislike it! I’m not too hot about it either, but I do think I should at least give it another try….with salt, this time.

YeastSpotting April 23, 2010 | Wild Yeast - [...] Italian Bread [...]

Wizzythestick - This looks great even without the salt!

Kathy - Bread without salt is so typical from Toscana, it is fantastic to eat plain with a pinch of salt and olive oil extra virgin from Toscana. :) My mom in law comes from this region :)
Hi, nice to know you! Very nice blog! :)

Danielle - Thanks Kathy, after yours and ap269′s feedback, it seems like I do have to make this bread again to do it any justice ;) Hope to see you around here more often.

Marc @ NoRecipes - I just realized I follow you on Twitter but I’ve never been to your site. Your photos are stunning. Do you use natural light?

Danielle - Thanks! Yes, I only use natural light for all of my pictures – currently spoilt by the abundance of sunshine in California and the big windows in our home :)

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