I’ve been spending a lot of time lately looking for new recipes to try this year, focusing mostly on chocolate and bread recipes as those are my favorite. It’s really amazing how fast you can go from having just a handful, to having enough recipes to fill the year without repeating one.
Well among those was one for bread that called for a biga. Now pretty much everything I know about homemade bread I have taught myself so upon seeing that word I knew I had to google it. It’s actually rather simple, so I decided that, or something similar had to be one of the challenges I set for myself.
After doing more research I found a very simple recipe on The Fresh Loaf for great looking white bread using a polish, and that was what I attempted last night.
This recipe not only called for a polish, but it is almost ridiculously wet (I checked the comments below the recipe to make sure it wasn’t just me); but it also called for using the autolyse method, and making it a free-form loaf (as opposed to the loaf pan I normally use), giving me additional challenges.
The recipe itself wasn’t quite as detailed on the instructions as I tend to prefer, so I wasn’t sure I was doing any of it right, but it came out great so I am quite happy. I’ve added more details in the instructions so hopefully it will help anyone that wants to try it themselves.
White Bread with Poolish
1 cup flour
1 cup water
¼ teaspoon instant yeast*
1 lb flour
12 ounces water
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast*
* If you have active-dry yeast instead of instant, use about 20% more. I used rounded measurements and it worked fine.
The Night Before:
Combine the ingredients for the polish in a small bowl and cover with saran wrap. Leave the bowl covered over night. It will rise with a lot of bubbles then fall again.
The Next Day:
Mix the flour and water in a large bowl using the autolyse method, blending with your hands just until it is all absorbed. It will make a tough dough. Leave it in the bowl covered with saran wrap for 20-30 minutes.
Add the poolish and the rest of the ingredients to the dough and mix with your hands just until well blended. It will make a very wet dough. (I mixed with my fingers just until I couldn’t discern the difference between the autolyse dough and the almost slimy poolish.) Cover with saran wrap and let rise for an hour.
Dump the dough out onto a work surface covered generously with flour and divide into to pieces. Fold one in thirds like a letter, then in thirds again in the opposite direction, gently stretching and degassing as you go. Place it in a bowl, dust off the extra flour, cover with saran wrap and let it rise an hour. Repeat with other half of dough and place in a second bowl.
After an hour fold the dough again as above and let rise once again. Each time you rise and fold it will pick up the flour from your work surface and strengthen and get easier to work with. Grease cookie sheet and preheat oven as hot as it can go placing a pan on the bottom of the stove for steaming. **
Once the dough has risen again shape the loaves, folding as above to create surface tension but try not to degas too much. Place on cookie sheet and allow to rise for about 90 minutes.
Boil two cups of water then cut two or three diagonal slashes in each loaf. Pour the water into the pan on the bottom of the oven then place the loaves on a low rack. Allow to cook for five minutes, then turn oven down to 450. Cook for five more minutes, rotate loaves then cook for an additional ten.
Remove from oven, allow to cool then cut and enjoy.
I was kinda surprised that this thing didn’t even call for butter or sugar, which I had always assumed was in every bread recipe, but this came out great without it. Even as beautiful and tasty as it turned out, I don’t know how often I would use this recipe. It’s just not quite as satisfying when you don’t knead it and put in that extra work. Though it would be fun to practice shaping loaves (and of course next time I’ll cook them one at a time so they don’t morph together.) 🙂
** If you happen to own a baking stone you can skip the cookie sheet. Simply cook on that as you normally do.