In one of my rare TV-viewing moments, I caught an episode of Modern Marvels on the History Channel.  It was all about bread making.  It showed Wonder Bread being made (the first sliced bread – who knew?!?) as well as every conceivable bread, from cornbread to pitas to tortillas to Ethiopian injera, bagels, San Francisco sourdough, braided challah, and artisan breads of every stripe.  It made me want to bake bread.  But, it was 8pm when the show ended.  It was a bit too late to start baking – but not too late to make a biga – an Italian starter.

So… into the kitchen I headed and pulled out my trusty copy of The Italian Baker.   I picked up this book sometime in the 1980’s and have carted it around forever – mostly for one recipe of Pane Pugliese.  It’s a great rustic bread made with flour, water, and salt.  It’s amazing the amount of flavor that can come from such simple ingredients.  The secret, of course, is the Biga!

Biga is classic starter that produces a natural flavor and fantastic aroma.  Once upon a time, I always had a starter in my refrigerator.  I even had a sourdough starter I got from my mom who had had hers for years.  I’d love to have THAT right now…  Unfortunately (stupidly!) I got rid of it for one reason or another, figuring I could always get more from Mom.  When I finally decided I wanted it, again, she no longer had hers. But I digress…

The classic Biga recipe:

  • 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 1/4 cup water (room temperature)
  • 3 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Stir the yeast into the warm water and let stand until creamy – about 10 minutes.  Stir in the remaining water and then the flour, one cup at a time.

Mix with the paddle attachment on the mixer at the lowest speed about 2 minutes.

Remove to a slightly oiled bowl, cover, and let rise at cool room temperature for 6 to 24 hours.  The starter will triple in volume and still be wet and sticky when ready.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Tomorrow after work, I’m making the Pane Pugliese.  It should be ready by this time tomorrow!

Italian Bread – Part Two >>>