digital “fish soup” bread

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summary: “fish soup” bread based on a recipe in “The Italian Baker” by Carol Field; measuring ALL the ingredients with a digital scale; submission for YeastSpotting; (click on images to see larger views and more photos)

digital "fish soup" bread

Italian Country Bread is one of our standard breads – what we call “fish soup” bread…. I’ve made it so many times that I always feel certain I’ve blogged and photographed it ad nauseum.

-me, Catching up: Coccodrillo one more time (BBB March 2008), blog from OUR kitchen

At last, I have remembered to get the camera out after making this wonderful bread. And because I made the bread for our upcoming New Year’s Eve feast, I decorated it with stars.

The stars were made by putting cookie cutters on top of the shaped loaves, liberally flouring overtop and leaving the cutters in place as the bread rose. They were removed just before baking.

Ha. It wasn’t easy removing the biggest cookie cutter. The dough rose up inside and really wanted to stay stuck. But I MADE it release itself. :hohoho: :stomp: :hohoho: (Once I baked bread with the cookie cutter still attached. The resulting crown of star-shaped crust looked very weird.)

A week or so ago, when we talked about making Soupe de Poisson avec sa rouille for New Year’s Eve, I was reminded that it has been far too long since I’ve made what we call “Fish Soup” bread. It is based on a recipe in Carol Field’s brilliant cookbook, “The Italian Baker” that I was given for Christmas 2000. The book is in tatters now with the spine broken. It automatically opens to the biga recipe on page 100, the foccaccia/pizza recipe on page 289 and the “Fish Soup” bread (aka Pan Bigio Whole-Wheat Bread) on page 128.

Italian Baker I do love that book!! …in spite of the fact that it is so poorly bound. I mean really! Don’t the publishers understand that a cookbook will be opened and laid flat again and again? And it’s not that I’m particularly hard on books! (Don’t get me started on what happened with our copy of Joy of Cooking after only a few months.)

Scrawled in the margin of page 128 are 4 pencilled stars and “E & T 10/10 January 2001

Big-holed and chewy with a porous interior and a good firm crust, pan bigio is the classic bread of peasants. It is wonderful with everything […] and its good earthy smell and taste [comes] from the long, slow maturing of the dough. This wet dough is better left to the mixer but is not impossible to do by hand.

– Carol Field, Pan Bigio Whole-Wheat Bread, The Italian Baker, p.128

I remember being afraid the first time – because we don’t have an electric mixer. But it’s actually dead easy to knead by hand. It’s definitely not at all in the same league for looseness as the dreaded coccodrillo!

This was the first time I made the bread weighing all the ingredients. How thrilling it was to be able to weigh the yeast and salt!!

Here’s what I did (please note that I weighed all the ingredients and the volume measures are left over from when I didn’t have any decent scales):

“Fish Soup” Bread
based on “Pan Bigio” in The Italian Baker by Carol Field

makes 2 loaves

Starter Dough (Biga)

  • 0.4 gm (0.125 tsp) active dry yeast
  • 127.5 gm (127.5 ml) warm water ¹
  • 165 gm (1.25 c) unbleached all-purpose flour

Actual Dough

  • 3.9 gm (1.25 tsp) active dry yeast
  • 60 gm (0.25 c) warm water
  • all of Starter Dough
  • 360 gm (2.5 c) room temperature water
  • 150 gm (~1 c) whole wheat flour
  • 50 gm (~0.5 c) rye flour ²
  • 550 gm (~4.25 c) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 15gm (1 Tbsp) salt ³
  1. Starter On the night before you are going to make bread, in a medium-sized bowl large enough for the Starter Dough to triple, mix the yeast in the lukewarm water (do the baby’s bottle test on your wrist) until it looks like cream.
  2. Add flour and stir well with a wooden spoon. Knead a couple of times to make sure all the flour is encorporated.
  3. Cover with a plate allow the Starter Dough to rise in a no-draft cool area overnight.
  4. Actual Dough On the day you will be making the bread, in a small bowl, mix the yeast into the lukewarm water (do the baby’s bottle test on your wrist) until it looks like cream. Set aside out of drafts.
  5. Pour the rest of the water into a large mixing bowl (enough for the final dough to triple in volume). Add the Starter Dough (the starter should be bubbling madly) and squoosh it around a bit between your fingers. (Mmmm, mushy gushy!! Fun!!!)
  6. Add the flours and salt and stir well with a wooden spoon until there are no dry bits of flour left and you have created a rough dough. Cover with a plate and allow to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
  7. Kneading Turn the dough out onto an UNfloured board. The dough may be rather slack. (It should look a bit like porridge.) Don’t worry. And if it isn’t slack, squoosh in a little water.
  8. Wash and dry the bowl. (Please do not be tempted to skip this step.)
  9. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, using a dough scraper to keep the board clean. The dough should be quite moist. Keep kneading until the dough is smooth(ish) and pulls easily away from your hand and the board.
  10. Proofing Place dough in the clean dry mixing bowl. Cover with a plate and allow to rise in a no-draft spot on the counter for 20 minutes. Put a dusting of flour on the board and gently turn the dough out, trying not to disturb any bubbles. Fold the left side into the center, then the top, then the right side then the bottom. Turn the dough over and fold in half once more. Place it back in the bowl smooth side up. Cover with a plate. Let the dough ferment at room temperature for 20 minutes again. Repeat this step twice. (This step is done at 20 minutes, 40 minutes, 60 minutes after the first kneading.) After the final step, let the dough rise undisturbed out of drafts on the counter until doubled
  11. Shaping When dough has doubled, gently turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Divide the dough in two and gently fold each piece like a business letter. Then gently grabbing the side of one of the ends, make a false braid. Fold the top half over to the middle and gently make another false braid. The dough will want to roll in on itself. This is a good thing. Once it shapes itself into a quasi ball, put it seam-side down on the board and gently turn it round and round to smooth out any rough edges. Place the shaped loaves with plenty of space on a well-floured board OR on parchment paper.
  12. Place cookie cutters in various places on the shaped loaves and scatter flour liberally overtop. Cover with a clean tea towel followed by plastic grocery bag(s) and allow to rise until almost double. To test, flour your finger and press gently on the edge – it should very slowly spring back. For comparison, try pressing early on to see how it quickly springs back when the dough has not risen enough.
  13. Baking Half an hour before you will be baking the bread, place baking stone on the middle shelf of the oven and turn oven to 425F. Put water into a broiling pan and place it on the bottom rack of the oven.
  14. Gently remove the cookie cutters and place bread in oven (if you have rested the loaves on parchment paper, the parchment paper can go into the oven) and immediately turn oven down to 400F; bake the loaf for 40-50 minutes until the bread reaches an internal temperature of 205-210F. It’s a good idea to turn the bread after about 20 minutes of baking to allow for uneven heat in the oven (remove parchment paper and empty broiling pan at the same time).
  15. When the bread is done, turn off the oven. Put the finished bread back in the oven and leave with the door ajar for 5 or 10 minutes. Then remove it to cool on a footed rack. Wait until the bread is completely cool before cutting it (it’s still baking when it’s hot out of the oven). 4


1.) Water: Tap water is fine to use – just make sure that it has stood for at least 12 hours so that the chlorine has dissipated. Under no circumstances should you use water from the hot water tap. Of course, saying that it is unsafe to use water from the hot water tap might be an urban myth, but why tempt fate? Heat the water in a kettle or microwave and add cold water until it is the correct temperature, (use the baby bottle test on the back of your wrist – your fingers have no idea of temperature!) Or you can use a thermometer. The temperature should be BELOW 120F because yeast begins to die when the temperature is higher than 120F.

2.) Rye Flour Carol Field calls for only whole wheat and unbleached all-purpose flour in her recipe. I started to add rye flour after making “Pain de compagne sur poolish” in The Village Baker by Joe Ortiz. If you don’t have any rye flour, use either whole-wheat or unbleached all-purpose instead.

3.) Salt Because we use the larger grained Kosher salt, I’ve found it’s best to measure salt by weight rather than volume.

4.) But I want Warm Bread!! If you wish to serve warm bread, reheat it after the loaf has cooled completely. To reheat UNsliced bread, turn the oven to 500F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread in the hot oven for ten minutes.

I WAS going to say that I used all digital measuring devices. But I just remembered that the thermometer I use is a regular old spring-type meat thermometer. (Hmmm, is it too early to start making a wish-list for next Christmas?)

cookie cutters"fish soup" bread

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