Today was another bread-making day.  Howling winds, pouring rain…  No way was I stepping outside for anything.  This was the perfect excuse to stay indoors.

Actually, I knew last night that I was baking bread today.  There were 5 pounds of whole wheat flour sitting on the shelf telling me to get it together.  I started going through Beard on Bread.  Nothing was catching my eye.  Nothing was screaming “Bake Me!  Bake Me!”  So I closed Mr Beard and grabbed my tattered copy of  The Italian Baker by Carol Field to check out something Italian and whole wheat.   For all of the great recipes in that book, I have to admit that I continually make the same few.  I needed to get out of my rut.

I found a bread that sounded intriguing – Pan Bigio.  Whole wheat, uses a biga – or starter – and makes two or three loaves.  It sounded a lot like my absolute favorite Pane Pugliese except it’s whole wheat.  Sold.

I made my biga and let it sit out overnight.

Because there’s about 4 hours of rising time with this dough, I started off bright and early this morning.  As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t going anywhere…

The biga makes about 2 1/2 cups or so and I only needed one for the bread, so I took what I needed and the rest went into the fridge for another day.  It actually will only get better the older it gets – it’s what gives sourdough its flavor.

Time to make the dough.

Pane Bigio

From The Italian Baker by Carol Field

Makes 2 large or 3 smaller round loaves

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 1/2 cups water, room temperature
  • 1 cup (250 grams) Biga
  • Scant 2 cups (250 grams) whole-wheat flour, stone ground if possible
  • 3 3/4 cups (500 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon salt (1 teaspoon more, optional)

To make Biga:

  • 5 1/2 ounces / 150 grams all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/2 ounces / 100 grams water
  • 1/4 tsp active dry yeast

Mix together, cover and let sit on the counter for 6 to 24 hours to develop.


Stir yeast into the warm water in a mixer bowl and let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Add 2 1/2 cups water and the biga and mix with the paddle until the water is chalky white and the biga is broken up. Add the flours and salt and mix until the dough comes together. You may need to add a bit more flour, up to 2 tablespoons, but the dough will never pull clean away from the side and bottom of the bowl. Change to the dough hook and knead 5 minutes at medium speed. Finish kneading the sticky, wet dough by hand on a well-floured surface, sprinkling the top with about 3 or 4 more tablespoons of flour.

First Rise: Place the dough in a lightly oiled large bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until tripled and full of large holes, about 3 hours. Do not punch down.

Shaping and Second Rise: Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and gently shape into 2 big flat rounds or 3 smaller ones, pulling tight on the surface of the dough with your cupped hands to make a taut loaf. Place the loaves, rough side up, on well-floured baking sheets, peels or parchment paper set on baking sheets. Cover with a towel and let rise until there are lots of aid bubbles under the surface, about 1 hour.

Baking: Thirty minutes before baking, heat the oven with baking stones in it to 450°F. You can also use a cast-iron or aluminuim griddle that is a least 3/8 inch thick or preheated heavy baking sheets. Dimple the tops of the loaves all over with your fingertips or knuckles and let rest for 10 to 15 mintues. Just before baking, sprinkle the stones or griddle with cornmeal. Gently invert the loaves onto the stones. The bread will look deflated when you initially put it in, but it will puff up like a big pillow in no time. Bake for 25 miutes, then shift the loaves to equalize baking. Bake for a total of 45 to 55 minutes, until the loaves are a deep golden brown. Cool on racks.

Mix, knead, and into the bowl it went.

This really is a wet and sticky dough.  I had to resist adding more flour.  Had I not read that it was supposed to be a wet and sticky dough, I’m sure I would have added way too much more.

But after mixing and kneading –  even wet and sticky – it felt right. I knew this one was going to come out!

Three hours later we achieved a most fantastic dough.

It was loose, but it had body.

I made three loaves and let them rise right on the peel.

Into that 450° oven and 40 minutes later…

Three puffy pillows of bread.

There’s a chicken and rice casserole in the oven and butter softening on the counter.

C’mon, dinnertime!