Videos and essays about food, the people that make it, and the stories behind it. Created in Cincinnati, Ohio.

White Bread with 80% Biga

Hello, dear reader. It's been a while. Boy, let me tell ya, this here life is one hell of a ride. But like the best friend you grew up with and haven't spoken to in years, we can pick up right where we left off like no time has passed at all, by getting back to the basics.

Like breaking bread. And making bread. Because bread is life.

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Today I'm going to share one of my favorite bread techniques from Ken Forkish's Flour Water Salt Yeast - the recipe itself is a plain white boule whose bulk weight is made up of 80% pre-ferment. It's not as time-consuming to make as a fully-levained dough, but it produces similar results with less effort. The great thing about the way Ken writes his recipes is his focus on the little things and details learned after making who-knows-how-many loaves. Really gives you a leg up when learning how to do it yourself.


Overview

This recipe can be made with all-purpose white flour, whole wheat flour, or any combination of the two. It also calls for instant yeast, not active dry, for more consistent results. It is a very loose dough, with no kneading involved, relying on a folding method during bulk fermentation to build structure. It also doesn’t require any difficult rolling, shaping, or scoring – instead, you form the dough into a ball by folding it over onto itself to create tension, proofing seam-side down, and then baking seam-side up. As it bakes, the seams create natural fissures much like scoring, while retaining its shape and gasses.

The temperature of the ingredients, proofing environment, and oven are very important in order to get the best results. Use an instant read meat thermometer to measure the temperature of the water when mixing. For proofing, this recipe assumes a room temperature of around 70F. If your kitchen or the weather is a little cooler than this, a suitable environment for proofing is in a turned-off oven with the oven light turned on. It’s also important when baking to properly preheat your oven and dutch oven well in advance – at least 30 mins. A cheap oven thermometer will help you ensure your baking temperature is truly accurate.

You can also use a thermometer to make sure you have baked your bread enough – the proper internal temperature you’re looking for is at least 203F. Underbaking will result in an overly-chewy crumb and a dull crust.

And lastly – the most difficult step – after baking, allow it to rest completely to room temperature before cutting into it! Freshly-baked bread cools in several stages. When it comes out of the oven, it will be crusty and hard. After just a minute or two out of the hot oven, it will begin to shrink slightly causing the surface to audibly crackle as it cools (a wonderful sound). After several minutes it will actually soften, and remain that way for nearly a half hour. At this point you may think it’s ready to cut into, but don’t! After about an hour, as it comes completely to room temperature, the surface will harden again and become crunchy and the interior will have released all its moisture, and the entire loaf will be easier to cut into. If you like to serve your bread warm, reheat in a moderately hot oven at this point.

When cutting, use a serrated blade. Cut the loaf directly in half, and then place one half cut-side down on the board and cut into slices. Let the knife do the work for cleaner cuts – don’t push the blade down, but actually saw into the bread with long strokes.

Store the bread on a cutting board, cut-side down, covered with a towel at room temperature for up to a day. For long-term storage, tightly wrap in several layers of plastic wrap and freeze for up to 2 months. Defrost, still wrapped, at room temperature.

I like to eat this bread grilled with a little olive oil, toasted with a good salted butter, or just plain by the piece while standing in the kitchen deciding what to make for dinner. It is also the end-all be-all bread for grilled cheese.

This recipe makes two loaves.

TOOLS NEEDED: A 4.5qt or 5qt dutch oven with lid, two bowels and lint-free towels (preferably linen) or bamboo proofing baskets, a wire rack for cooling.

BIGA FERMENTATION: 12 to 14 hours

BULK FERMENTATION: 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours

PROOF TIME: About 1 hour

SAMPLE SCHEDULE: Mix the biga at 6pm, mix the final dough at 8am the next morning, shape into loaves at 11am, and bake at about noon.


Biga

Final Dough

INGREDIENT QUANTITY
White Flour 800g 6 1/4 cups
Water (80F) 544g 2 1/3 cups
Instant Dried Yeast .64g 3/16 tsp

 

1. Mix the biga. Put the flour into a large tub or bowl. Add a small amount of the warm water to the yeast in a small bowl and stir it together with your finger. Let the mixture rest for a few minutes, then stir with your finger. The yeast may not be completely dissolved, that's okay.

Pour the yeast mixture into the tub with the flour. Pour a few more tablespoons of water into the yeast container, swirl it around, and dump it into the dough tub, along with the remaining water.

Mix by hand – wetting your hand a few times to keep it from sticking too much – alternating with folding the dough over itself and “pincering” the dough several times between your thumb and forefinger, until all the ingredients are incorporated. Cover and leave out overnight at room temperature 12 to 14 hours. At this point, it should be slightly domed, about triple in volume, and have a strong, ripe smell of alcohol.

2. Mix the final dough. To the biga, add the flour, salt, yeast, and water, mixing by hand – wetting your working hand before mixing the dough so the dough doesn't stick to you – using the pincer method alternating with folding the dough to fully integrate the ingredients.

3. Fold. This dough needs two or three folds at this point to build structure, which are best applied during the first hour and a half of fermentation. Fold when the dough has settled and relaxed back down into the bowl. The dough will take longer to relax after each fold.

To fold: wetting your hand to keep it from sticking, pick up one corner of the dough and gently stretch it and fold it over onto the top of the dough towards the opposite corner. Give the bowl a quarter turn, 90 degrees and repeat the process. Repeat two more times until you have made your way full circle around the bowl, then gently pick up the entire mass of dough and flip it over onto the seam. Cover and set aside until the next fold.

The total fermentation time is 2 1/2 to 3 hours, so a good schedule is:

First fold – 10mins after mixing
Second fold – 30mins after mixing
Third fold – 50 minutes after mixing
Fourth fold – 90 minutes after mixing

4. Divide. After it has fully fermented, flour your hand and a work surface. Gently ease the dough out of the tub and onto your work surface. Use a bit of flour to dust the area in the middle where you'll cut the dough, then cut it into 2 equal sized pieces with a dough knife or metal bench scraper.

5. Shape. Dust two proofing baskets (or your bowl) with flour. Shape each piece of dough by folding it, flip it upside down, then cup your hand around the back of the dough ball. Pull the entire dough ball 6 to 8 inches towards you on a dry, unfloured surface, leading with your pinky fingers and apply enough pressure so the dough ball grips your work surface and doesn't just slide across it. This will tighten up the ball and add tension to it. Give the loaf a quarter turn and repeat this tighten step. Repeat again until you've gone all the way around the dough ball two or three times. Repeat with the second loaf of dough. Place the loaves seam-side down in the proofing basket.

6. Proof. Lightly flour the tops of the loaves, and especially around the perimeter. Set them side by side (in the bowls) and cover with a kitchen towel. The proofing time for this bread is about 1 hour. They will be fully proofed when you poke the loaf gently with your finger and an indent mostly remains – if it springs back almost immediately, allow it to proof more.

7. Preheat. Preheat the oven to 475 F and place your dutch oven on the middle rack with the lid on. If you only have one Dutch oven, place one of the loaves, covered, in the fridge 20 minutes before the first loaf goes into the oven.

8. Bake. Be very careful with the extremely hot dutch oven in this next step. Invert the proofed loaf onto a lightly floured countertop, keeping in mind that the top of the loaf will the side that was facing down while it was rising - the seam side. Remove the preheated Dutch oven from the oven, remove the lid, and carefully place the loaf in the Dutch oven seam side up. Cover and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and continue to bake for a further 20 to 30 minutes, until at least medium dark brown around all the loaf. Check after 15 minutes of baking uncovered in case your oven runs hot. You can use an oven safe thermometer to check the internal temperature of the bread, shooting for at least 200 internal temperature.

Remove the dutch oven and carefully tilt it to turn the loaf out. Place on a wire rack to let it cool. Put the Dutch oven back in the oven for 5 minutes to preheat it, then bake the second loaf in the same way.

 

 

 

Headcheese (Coppa di Testa)

INGREDIENT FINAL DOUGH MIX QUANTITY
White Flour 200g 1 1/2 cups + 1 tbsp
Water (105F) 206g 7/8 cup
Salt 22g 1 tbsp + 1 tsp
Instant Dried Yeast 2g 1/2 tsp
Biga All from recipe above