My plan for this loaf of bread was to have it and the rest of dinner ready before Dave got home from work on a Friday evening. The kitchen would be clean, a bottle of wine would be open, garlic would be roasted. We’d sit down together, drink the wine, spread roasted garlic on fresh bread while the rest of dinner was on hold until we were good and ready. Doesn’t that sound nice?
It didn’t work out that way. I was still rolling out pasta for the lasagna and because I was behind on cooking, I was way behind on cleaning. It was almost an hour after Dave got home before the lasagna was built and I could take a break to enjoy this bread and drink some wine. We spread roasted garlic on it (the bread, not the wine – ew), and when we ran out of garlic, we dipped it in green extra virgin olive oil.
Eventually I got the lasagna in the oven, but ignored the mess in the kitchen. When the lasagna was done baking, it was apparent that something had gone very wrong with it. In my hurry to finish cooking, I had taken some shortcuts. I skipped a step that Marcella Hazan specifically calls “something of a nuisance, but necessary.” All too true. The lasagna was sort of a disaster actually, but that was fine, because I was happy to fill up on bread.
The bread is based on two recipes – the method comes from Peter Reinhart’s recipe for Italian Bread in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. This is a great book if you’re pretty serious about baking bread at home. Reinhart is all about forcing the maximum flavor out of each ingredient, which I love. The addition of olive oil stems from a recipe for Mantovana Olive Oil Bread in Ultimate Bread, by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno. This book is great for the less-serious home bread baker. The pictures throughout the book are wonderful and the recipes are varied and interesting, but I think you’ll have more consistent results following Reinhart’s methods.
The olive oil bread was delicious, although I would have preferred an even stronger olive oil flavor. I admit that I got a little scared by the amount of olive oil Treuille and Ferrigno call for and went easy on it. Also, I used regular olive oil, when I meant to use extra virgin. In short, it was really good – but there’s a potential for it could be even better. That just gives me an excuse to try it again soon.
Mantovana Olive Oil Bread (adapted from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno’s Ultimate Bread)
Makes one 1-pound loaf
1 recipe biga (recipe follows)
4½ ounces (1 cup) unbleached bread flour
1¼ ounce (¼ cup) whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon instant yeast
½ teaspoon barley malt syrup (optional)
¼ cup water
¼ cup olive oil
1. Remove the biga from the refrigerator 1 hour before making the dough. Cut it into about 10 small pieces with a pastry scraper or serrated knife. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour to take off the chill.
2. Stir together the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Add the biga pieces, olive oil, barley malt, and water, and stir together (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) until a ball forms, adjusting the water or flour according to need. The dough should be slightly sticky and soft, but not batterlike or very sticky. If the dough feels tough and stiff, add more water to soften (it is better to have the dough too soft than too stiff at this point).
3. Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mixing on medium speed with the dough hook). Knead (or mix) for about 10 minutes, adding flour as needed, until the dough is tacky, but not sticky, and supple. The dough should pass the windowpane test (see below) and register 77 to 81 degrees. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
To perform the windowpane test, cut off a small piece of dough from the larger batch and gently stretch, pull, and turn it to see if it will hold a paper-thin, translucent membrane. If it falls apart before it makes this windowpane, continue mixing for another minute or two and test again.
4. Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.
5. Gently pat the dough into a rough rectangle. Without degassing the piece of dough, fold the bottom third of dough, letter style, up to the center and press to seal, creasing surface tension on the outer edge. Fold the remaining dough over the top and use the edge of your hand to seal the seam closed and to increase the surface tension all over. Lightly dust with a sprinkle of flour, cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and let rest for 5 minutes. Then complete the shaping, extending the loaves to about 12 inches in length. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment and dust with semolina flour or cornmeal. Place the loaves on the pan and lightly mist with spray oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap.
6. Proof at room temperature for about 1 hour, or until the loaves have grown to about 1½ times their original size.
7. Place an empty heavy-duty sheet pan or cast-iron frying pan on either the top shelf of the oven or the oven flour. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Have hot water standing by. Score the bread with 2 parallel, diagonal slashes or 1 long slash.
8. Transfer the dough on the parchment paper to a peel or the back of a sheet pan. Transfer the dough to the baking stone (or bake on the sheet pan). Pour 1 cup hot water into the steam pan and close the door. After 30 seconds, spray the walls of the oven with water and close the door. Repeat once more after another 30 seconds. After the final spray, lower the oven setting to 450 degrees and bake until done, rotating 180 degrees, if necessary, for even baking. It should take about 20 minutes. The loaf should be golden brown and register at least 200 degrees at the center.
9. Transfer the loaves to a cooling rack and cool for at least 1 hour before slicing or serving.
Biga will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for about 3 months. You can use it as soon as it ferments, but I prefer to give it an overnight retarding to bring out more flavor.
5½ ounces (1¼ cups) unbleached bread flour
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
7 tablespoons to ½ cup water, at room temperature
1. Stir together the flour and yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Add 7 tablespoons of the water, stirring until everything comes together and makes a coarse ball (or mix on low speed for 1 minute with the paddle attachment). Adjust the flour or water, according to need, so that the dough is neither too sticky nor too stiff. (It is better to err on the sticky side, as you can adjust easier during kneading. It is harder to add water once the dough firms up.)
2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for 4 to 6 minutes (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook for 4 minutes), or until the dough is soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky. The internal temperature should be 77 to 81 degrees.
3. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 2 to 4 hours, or until it nearly doubles in size.
4. Remove the dough from the bowl, knead it lightly to degas, and return it to the bowl, covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight. You can keep this in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze it in an airtight plastic bag for up to 3 months.