Biga is betta

by | Nov 12, 2007 | Yeast Breads | 0 comments

I have been on a bread baking journey since March of this year. It has become a weekly ritual in which I bake sandwich bread for our lunches during the week. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail. Each time I learn something new.

I have had Peter Reinhart’s “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” in my Amazon Saved Items to Buy Later queue for months. Although it is highly rated, I was intimidated by the idea of pre-ferments and the commitment that true bread artisanship takes. However, I decided the time was right and purchased it two weeks ago.

It is a great book with several chapters about the art of making bread. Making bread is something you have to love or it is not worth the effort. You can buy bread inexpensively in any store. You may not want to eat store bought bread, but that’s another story. (Whole Food’s Organic Sandwich breads are awful.) Good bread can be purchased from local bakeries or even chains like Panera.

Hand crafting your own loaf is something that is worth the effort even if things don’t always go perfectly.

Today I tried Reinhart’s Potato Rosemary bread. I started yesterday by creating a biga which is a pre-ferment added to the bread to fully develop the flavor. It is a mix of water, flour and a small amount of yeast that is allowed a long, slow rise and a chill in the fridge overnight. The biga I made is enough for several loaves, so I froze the rest. He said you can refrigerate for 3 days or freeze for 3 months.

Today I removed my biga from the fridge and let it rest for one hour to come back to room temperature. I followed the recipe but found that my dough was a little slack. I’ve made potato sandwich bread before and have found that to be the case with bread made with potatoes. I’m afraid I didn’t quite get to the “window pane” test, which I will try harder for next time.

The bread dough came together nicely and rose well. I did run into problems with the doughs slackness when trying to form my boules. The dough stuck to my hands and I had a difficult time getting the tension on the top of the loaves. I believe this is the reason the loaves rose out instead of up. I did get some vertical lift, but not as much as I had hoped for. I’ll try to make sure I get the gluten formed well in the mix next time.

The one good thing about homemade bread is no matter what goes wrong, it’s always tasty. My loaves may not be as tall or pretty as I had hoped, but I’m happy with my first attempt at using a biga. The flavor is complex not only because of the rosemary and roasted garlic, but the full flavor of the wheat flour was developed creating a delicious bread.

Potato Rosemary Bread

Peter Reinhart, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

  • 1 1/2 cups (7 oz.) biga
  • 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 degrees to 81 degrees 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 degrees 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 degrees 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.

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Updated on
Mar 6, 2017

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