I made a whole stack of bread the other day with my friend Abby in an attempt to stock up for the wild weekend of festivities, grad parties, block parties, and then last night’s Life of Pi movie party. I also wanted to repay the neighbors who 1) mow my lawn on the sly 2) pay high school kids to flock my front yard with flamingoes 3) say the most hilarious things and offer to read my thesis manuscript, Janelle.
Of the stack, this one was definitely the weirdest. It had the quality I’m recognizing to be something of a hallmark in Italian bread recipes—soupy dough. The wetness of the dough precludes much shaping and structure. Once the “baguettes” were laid out to rest, they looked like very long tongues of the cartoon varietal. A tongue that got caught in the door perhaps, and then rolled up like a window blind.
Pane Francese Con Biga
Sponge-Method Italian-Style French Bread
Adapted from The Village Baker
1 tsp active dry yeast (I cup of sourdough starter)
1 1/8 cups warm water
2 cups unbleached white all-purpose or bread flour
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose or bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup very cold water
Proof the yeast in 1/8 cup of warm water and a bit of the flour until the mixture is creamy. Add this to the rest of the warm water in a large bowl and start adding the flour, a handful at a time, while mixing with a plastic dough scraper or wooden spoon. When the ingredients have been thoroughly combined, the sponge will be very soupy. It can be left in the same bowl in which it was mixed, as long as it is large enough to accommodate the risen sponge, which will triple in bulk. Let the sponge rise, covered in a warm spot for 8 to 10 hours. To make the dough, place the biga and the salt into a food processor which has been fitted with the plastic blade. Pulse to combine them. Add the 1/4 cup of cold water and process about 30 seconds. Add the remaining 1 1/4 cups of flour, 1/4 cup at a time, pulsing 3 or 4 times with each addition. The dough will come away from the bowl but will be quite sticky. Scrape down the sides and pulse 2 or 3 more times. Dust the dough with a small handful of extra flour and scrape out onto a floured work surface. The extra flour will make it possible to handle the wet dough. Knead the dough for a minute or so to work out any lumps and form into a tight ball. Do not be afraid to use up to 1/2 cup of additional flour. Cover the dough with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. When doubled, turn out on a floured surface and divide in half. Form into 2 8-inch baguettes or batards. For baguettes, cover and let rest covered for 30 minutes. Carefully pick up each baguette and stretch until it is 12 to 14 inches long and fits neatly into a greased baguette pan (may be baked on a greased or parchment paper lined cookie sheet). Preheat oven to 450 F. Slash tops before putting into oven. After putting loaves in the oven, immediately reduce the heat to 425 F. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. If the loaves are not stretched , they will resemble what folks from the northeast think of as Italian bread. Makes 2 11-oz loaves or 1 1 1/4-oz loaf.
I don’t know, this wasn’t too hot. Stretching just made the loaf look like a very long prehistoric humerus bone. Or, the world’s largest breadstick. I probably wouldn’t make again. If you want a French baguette, make them the French way. Leave the pizza to the Italians.