I got this recipe from FornoBravo.com, but their recipe is for a wood-fired oven. This is my domestic version, with proper metric measurements. Their version has some how-to videos (e.g. for the wet dough folding method). It’s a slow way of making bread, but the results are worth it as you can see in my Hipstamatic shot above. Waitrose charge £1.80 for about 5 slices of this stuff.
Day One, Biga (makes double)
- 320g unbleached bread flour
- ½ tsp. instant yeast
- 227ml filtered water at room temperature
Day Two, Dough
- 300g biga
- 140g durum flour
- 140g bread flour
- 1 ½ tsp. sea salt
- 1 tsp. instant yeast
- 255 ml filtered water at 32-38° C
For the “bread flour” you could use the strong white you can get in the supermarket, or Caputo 00 pizzeria flour, which is available in the blue or (softer) red varieties. I’ve been using the blue for a couple of years now, and it’s great, but I just bought my first bag of red, just to try.
This is the sponge starter. You’re basically using a very small amount of yeast and leaving it to work for a long time, so it’s a little like a sourdough.
Combine the biga ingredients and mix to a dough ball. Put into an oiled bowl, spray with oil and leave to rise for 4 hours, then knock back and leave in a cold place overnight. My conservatory is ridiculously cold at this time of year, or you can use the fridge.
Take the biga out of the fridge, cut it into 8 pieces, cover it with plastic wrap & let it warm up for 1 hour before making the dough. I always use my plastic lettuce knife for dough-cutting duties. You can get one in Lakeland or John Lewis.
Add the water & the biga to the bowl, then put in the flours & yeast. Mix on low speed until a sticky, wet ball forms.
This is where you must use your judgement. If you’re like me, you’ll only have approximately 300g of biga in the bowl, so you need to adjust the levels of flour and water accordingly.
Sprinkle the salt over the ball. Switch to speed 2 & knead for about 4 minutes. The smooth, sticky dough should not stick to the sides of the bowl, but should stick to the bottom.
This is a wet dough, so don’t add so much flour that it clumps around your dough hook. As it says above, coming away from the sides of the bowl is okay, but it should still be wet enough to be sticking to the bottom of the bowl, so that you need to scrape it out.
Sprinkle the work surface with flour to make a 20 cm square. Transfer the dough using a plastic spatula (or your fingers) & proceed with the folding method*, then mist the dough with spray oil, sprinkle with flour & cover with plastic wrap. Let it rest for half an hour, then fold it again, mist, flour, cover & let rest for another half hour.
Mist a large bowl with spray oil. Fold the dough for a 3rd time, transfer it to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, & let it ferment for 2 hours.
*The folding method video on the Forno Bravo site shows you what to do. In short: you grab the dough from the bottom on one side, stretch it out and fold over on top of itself, then do the same on the other three sides. It’s a way of gently working a wet dough without covering yourself in sticky mess and flour. You rest it between and by the time you’ve done it three times, it’s a lot less sticky.
Coat your hands & your bowl scraper with flour & gently transfer the dough to a well dusted work surface. Divide the dough into two roughly equal pieces. Gently form the pieces into two rounds. Let them rest on the work surface, seam side down, covered, for about 10 minutes.
Transfer to baking tray lined with non-stick parchment and prove for 60 to 90 minutes. Before baking, they should have increased to 1 ½ times their original size. Alternatively, use a pizza peel and prepare to slide it off onto a pizza stone in your oven. But this is a sticky dough and it might stick to the peel, so I just cut to the chase and put it on parchment on a heavy tray, so it will just go straight into the oven.
(The Forno Bravo recipe, which is for a wood burning pizza/bread oven, uses a proving bowl. I’ve got one, but I really, really, hate it, and no matter how much flour I line it with, I find my doughs stick to it and won’t come out. So I’d rather just put it on a baking tray or peel, and cook on the tray or on a pizza stone in the oven, if you have one.)
How hot is the oven? The original recipe specifies somewhere between 280° and 290° C in a wood burning oven. Domestic ovens aren’t really designed to go that hot, but whack it up as high as you dare. If you’re using a stone, have the stone in the oven as it warms up. Steam the hot oven for 10 seconds, 10 minutes before baking. I do this by having a metal roasting tin in the bottom of the oven, which I splash boiling water into. Slash the tops of the loaves quickly, then load into the oven. Steam again for 10 seconds. These breads should take no longer than 15 to 20 minutes to bake to an internal temperature of 100°C, & they should be deep golden brown colour. They will take longer in domestic oven. Release the steam by cracking the door open after about 10 minutes of baking time. I also reduce the oven temperature after 10 minutes. Cool on a rack for at least half an hour before slicing.
Note: if you use fresh yeast rather than the dried instant kind, the dough will rise much more quickly. During the waiting and folding process, you might find yourself fighting back the dough, like Woody Allen with the pudding in Sleeper. Quicker proving saves you time but leaves the flavour less time to develop.