After my recent, pleasingly successful experiment with a biga, I made a couple of loaves that seemed wonderful, but one turned out to be under-baked (shame on me), and the second just went weird after a few days. I think, like me, it can’t really handle the heat, as the Roman summer inches towards the trials of August, with its high-30s (100 ish and more old money) temperatures, and thriving tiger mosquito population.
I made a multigrain seeded loaf that seemed great the first few slices, but didn’t like being taken to the park for a picnic in 35C temperatures (followed by a massive storm). The previously nice, firm crumb collapsed and went kind of fizzy. Again, it was as it if had been under-baked. And possibly even under-proved, though this is bizarre as it’d had a nice long prove, mostly in the fridge as the 25C kitchen was too warm.
To try and diagnose this mystery, I vowed I’d make a nice simple white loaf, just with strong white flour (or Manitoba as it’s known in Italy) and see how it coped with the heat.
Every time I open my flour bin, however, I see a pack of something that needs a bit of stock-rotation. In this case, I wanted to use up some of a bag of grano duro flour, that is durum wheat, (Triticum durum). It’s a type of flour that is more typically used for pasta, but I’ve baked with it before. I also had a bag of rice flour hanging around, so some of that went in too.
Also, following the biga experiment, I decided to do a sponge and dough method. Just to see if it coped better with the heat than the previous two loaves, that were made with the bulk fermentation method (BFM).
The BFM is your basic bread-making that involves creating a dough with all the flour, all the water, all the yeast, and processing that: first prove, shaping, second prove, bake. The sponge and dough method, on the other hand, involves using liquid (all or most of it) and part of the flour, with the yeast, then fermenting that more liquid mixture, called the sponge, before adding the rest of the flour and proceeding with a dough, proving, shaping and baking. Like a biga, a sponge is a type of pre-ferment.
A note on the yeast
I use fresh yeast. It’s known as lievito di birra in Italy, or cake yeast in North America.
If you’ve only got active dried yeast (ADY), use 4g. If you’ve only got instant/easyblend yeast, use 3g. Add the latter directly to the part of the flour you’re mixing with the liquid to make the sponge.
A basic rule of thumb for conversion is x3: that is, 3g ADY = 9g fresh yeast. You need less instant yeast than ADY. But I wouldn’t agonise: as long as your least is alive and well and happy, it’ll do what it needs to do even with a few gram’s variation. The time it takes the dough to ferment and prove will also vary depending on the temperature of water you use, the temperature of your kitchen, etc.
200g grano duro/durum wheat flour
50g rice flour
250g strong white/Manitoba flour (00 or 0 grade)
350g water (tepid)
10g fresh yeast
10g fine sea salt
1. Combine the water and yeast in a bowl. Whisk slightly to break up the yeast.
2. Combine all the flours in a bowl.
3. Put half of the flour mix in another bowl. Add the water/yeast mixture.
4. Stir together the flour and water/yeast to make a sponge.
5. Leave the sponge , covered, to ferment. I left mine for about 80 minutes in a warm kitchen. It should look nice and bubbly and active when it’s ready.
6. Add the salt to the remaining dry flour, mix it in, then add this to the sponge.
7. Bring the dough together in the bowl, turning it out when it’s mostly combined.
8. Knead the dough until smooth. You can do a longer knead once, or the Dan Lepard method of short kneads three times in half an hour.
9. Form a ball of dough and place it in a clean bowl. I add a drop of veg oil to the bowl for nonstickiness.
10. Cover and leave to prove until doubled in size. Again, depends on temps etc, so check every now and then. It’ll probably be around one and a half hours if it’s in a warm place.
15. Pre-heat oven to 220C.
16. When the baton is doubled in size and soft to the touch, turn out onto a baking sheet.
17. Bake for around 25 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200C and bake for another 20 minutes, or until the loaf is well-browned and feels fairly light and ‘hollow’ when picked up.
18. Cool on a wire rack.
Thus far, this bread has been behaving – and not giving me any insights into what went wrong with my previous loaf. If the crumb suddenly collapses and starts to ferment, I’ll report back.