Know your classics. We hear it all the time in cooking. Obviously this also includes baking. Let’s start in Italy with a Dutch oven baked delight that takes almost 24 hours to make.
In 1985 Carol Field wrote a book that is often referred to as a classic within baking, and Italian bread in particular. In The Italian Baker she shares authentic recipes collected from and baked with Italian bakers. I’ve had it in my bookcase for a few years, and have realised that I haven’t baked (m)any of the breads true to the recipe. Now it’s time to do exactly what the recipe says, or almost, because I can’t help tweaking the processes slightly. This is the first of several loaves I will be baking from the book.
Pan Bigio is a lovely country cob that uses a biga as pre-ferment. A long, cold rise in the fridge draws a deep, nutty flavour from the whole meal flour. The only place I divert from the original recipe is when I delay adding salt. This recipe yields two loaves. I baked one in a cast iron pot, the other under a cast iron pot with a baking stone underneath, as you can see on the pictures below.
Both baking methods fall within the Dutch oven category. I think the holes should have been bigger. The book says the holes should be large. Perhaps I was a touch too rough when shaping? All things said and done, they are easier to butter when the holes are like this, so I’m not too disappointed.
2 g fresh yeast (1/4 tsp. instant)
250 g water
330 g all-purpose flour
Stir water and yeast together, and then the flour until thoroughly mixed. It’s going to feel like a sticky dough.
Cover and let rise at room temperature for 6-24 hours. Refrigerate until use.
660 g water
5 g fresh yeast (2g instant)
250 g biga*
250 g whole grain flour
500 g all purpose flour
15 g salt
- 19:00 Mix biga, water, yeast, and flour and leave to ferment for 30 mins-2 hours.
- 21:00 Add salt and knead it thoroughly into the dough. Place in fridge for an hour.
- 22:00 Knead the dough directly in the bowl for 10-15 seconds and refrigerate for an hour.
- 23:00 Repeat above and leave the dough in the fridge for the night.
- 07:00 Next morning pull the dough carefully at one side and fold it in over itself in the bowl. Do this carefully 6-8 times. We don’t want to loose the air pockets in the dough. Back in the fridge it goes.
- 14:30 Sprinkle a little flour onto the table and pour out the dough. It’s a bit sticky, but that’s okay. Take one half and fold it over the other. Divide in two and let rest on the table for 10-15 minutes so the gluten relaxes.
- 14:45 Shape the loaves, making sure the outer surface is tight, so it keeps its shape. Allow to rise about 70% in size.
- 15:30 Heat oven to 250°C with the cast iron pot inside.
- 16:00 Carefully place the dough in the pot, cover with lid and bake for 25 minutes. Take of lid, lower temperature to 220°C and continue for about 20-25 minutes until the crust is dark and golden.
- Reheat oven and pot to 230°C and repeat.
Tip: Fridge fermentation doesn’t need to take more time that you have available. If it’s more practical to bake in the morning, take out the cold dough when you wake up and enjoy beautiful bread for lunch. For a speedier result, use 9 g of yeast instead of 5 g, and let it raise at room temperature for about three hours. Knead it thee times the first hour and once an hour until the three hours are up.