Home Bread-Bakers v104.n031.4

Multiple Primary Fementations

"Werner Gansz" <wwgansz@madriver.com>
Sat, 3 Jul 2004 14:36:31 -0400
The January-February 2003 edition of "Cook's Illustrated" had a recipe for 
a "Rustic Italian Loaf".   Most of the procedure is fairly standard for 
Italian bread including the use of a biga as a pre-ferment.  But there are 
several elements of the procedure that I haven't seen before and the 
resulting bread is different enough (and good enough) to suggest that these 
differences are important.  The resulting bread has a very soft, light and 
irregular, yet full crumb that I haven't been able to achieve with most 
other recipes for Italian bread.  The unusual parts of the procedure are;

1.  A 20 minute hydration (autolyse) period after initial mixing of the 
final dough ingredients but before adding the biga.

2. The biga (and salt) are added after the hydration period.

3. The primary fermentation (bulk rise) takes 3 hours and includes two 
interim "punch downs", one each hour.  The punchdowns are actually 
foldovers where the outside edge is dragged over the center from 4 
directions to create a squared off dough ball.

The hydration lets the flour soak and release its gluten prior to 
kneading.  It is only unusual in that it is longer than most I've 
seen.  More unusual is adding the biga in dough form to the already mixed 
final dough.  Most procedures call for dissolving the biga in the water 
before adding the flour for the final dough.  I was a bit skeptical that 
the biga would mix properly but is appeared to mix in quickly during the 
(machine) knead.  The article doesn't say to but I used sea salt to ensure 
that the salt dissolves in the already thick dough during kneading.  (Sea 
salt is lighter per unit volume than table salt so the quantity must be 

While the biga contributes mostly to flavor and the irregularity of the 
crumb, I think the light texture of the crumb comes primarily from the long 
and active primary fermentation.  Over the years I have learned the hard 
way that short-cutting the primary fermentation step results in a dense 
heavy loaf and trying to "fix" the problem by extending the "proofing" or 
final rise of the shaped loaf doesn't work.  I had not thought about the 
opposite effect, extending the bulk rise and working the dough periodically 
during the rise to lighten the loaf.  As the yeast consumes the starch in 
the dough it eventually runs out of accessible food.  Working the dough 
during fermentation makes more food accessible to the yeast.  Carrying the 
process to the extreme that this procedure does creates crumb filled with 
what appears to be a primary irregular structure and a secondary set of 
holes within the structure itself.  The resulting bread has a crisp crust 
and soft but full crumb that is ideal as a sandwich bread and for French 
toast.   For chewy crusted loaves, ripped into pieces and used for dipping 
in olive oil and slathering with roasted garlic I prefer the heavier but 
larger-hole crumb that comes from one primary rise with no punchdowns.

2 cups (11 oz) bread flour
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 cup (8 oz) water

Mix for 3 minutes, don't bother to knead, seal with plastic wrap, let rise 
for 3 hours, refrigerate overnight.

3 cups (16.5 oz) bread flour
1 tsp instant yeast
1 1/3 cups (10.7 oz) water
2 tsp (.46 oz) table salt (or 2 3/4 tsp sea salt)  (sea salts vary in 
density, weigh yours)

Remove biga from fridge.  Mix dough ingredients, cover bowl, let stand for 
20 minutes, add biga and salt, knead slowly to mix biga and salt into 
dough, then faster for 4 to 6 minutes (or 10 to 12 minutes if by 
hand).  Transfer to large bowl, let stand for 1 hour.  Dough should be 
puffy and have started to rise.  Fold outside over inside four times to 
form a square, let rise for another hour, fold again, let rise for another 
hour.  Each time the dough is folded it will end up larger than the prior 
time.  The final rise will result in a dough that is more than double the 
initial size.  Fold again and remove from bowl.

Preheat oven (and baking stone) to 500 F.  Shape into a single oval loaf, 
let rise until double (in a basket if you have one or free standing), slash 
lengthwise to within 1 1/2 inches of the ends.  This will result in wide 
loaf creating large oval slices for almost the full length of the 
loaf.  Spray with water (or use whatever steam method you normally 
use).  Slide bread on stone, turn oven down to 400 F and bake to an 
internal temperature of 210 F (about 35 - 40 minutes).