Rustic Wholegrain Italian-Style © ejmorris 2003

based on a recipe entitled "Pan Bigio" in The Italian Baker by Carol Field, published by Harper Collins

Ingredients Starter Dough (Biga): Actual Dough:

Sometimes when we want a slightly more refined loaf, I use 1 cup whole wheat flour and 4¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour in the actual dough.

  1. Starter Dough (biga) On the night before you are going to make bread, in a small bowl, mix the yeast in the lukewarm water (do the baby's bottle test on your wrist) and leave til creamy.

  2. In a medium sized bowl large enough for the Starter Dough to triple, stir together the yeasted water, water and flour with a wooden spoon. Knead a couple of times to make sure all the flour is encorporated.

  3. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let the Starter Dough rise in a no-draught cool room for 6 to 8 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

  4. Actual Dough On the day you will be making the bread, in a small bowl, mix the yeast in ¼ c lukewarm water (do the baby's bottle test on your wrist) and make sure that it bubbles (about 10 minutes).

  5. Add the rest of the water to the Starter Dough bowl (if the Starter Dough has been refrigerated, allow to sit at room temperature for about an hour before starting) and mix well. Let your hands be your friends by squeezing the dough between your fingers.

  6. Put all the whole wheat flour and all but ½ c of the all purpose flour into a large mixing bowl (enough for the final dough to triple in volume. Add the starter dough and water. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until there are no dry bits of flour left and you have created a rough dough. Cover with plastic and allow to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

  7. Scatter some of the remaining flour on a flat surface (wooden board) for kneading. Turn the dough out onto the board. Sprinkle the salt over the dough which will be rather slack. (It should look a bit like porridge.)

  8. Wash and dry the bowl. (Please do not be tempted to skip this step.)

  9. Knead the dough for about 15 minutes, using a dough scraper (spatula if you don't have one). Add a little flour but don't be afraid to get one hand covered in dough. (The clean hand is manipulating the dough scraper.) The dough should be quite moist. Keep kneading until the dough is smooth and pulls easily away from your hand and the board.

  10. Place dough in the clean dry mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a no-draught spot on the counter for 20 minutes. Lightly sprinkle the board with flour (there might still be some remaining from that half cup; otherwise use a little more) 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 plastic. Let it 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 in the no-draught spot on the counter til doubled - about 1 to 2 hours depending on the room temperature.

  11. When dough has doubled, gently turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Flatten it gently (try not to disturb the bubbles); fold the outer edges to the middle. Repeat by folding dough 4 or 5 times until you have formed a round. Place on a parchment covered baking tray - or peel if you have one. Sprinkle flour liberally over the loaf. Cover with plastic and allow to rise for about 1 hour til 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.

  12. Half an hour before you will be baking the bread, place baking stone on the second shelf from the bottom of the oven and turn oven to 500F. Put water into a broiling pan and place it on the bottom rack of the oven. If you don't have a baking stone, it's still a good idea to preheat the oven for a substantial amount of time.

  13. Just before baking, spray the top of the loaf with water.

  14. Place bread in oven and immediately turn oven down to 450F; bake the loaf for 45-50 minutes until hollow sounding on the bottom. 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 at the same time if you are using a stone.

  15. Turn off the oven. Put the finished bread back in the oven and leave with the door ajar for 5 or 10 minutes. Remove to cool on cooling rack. Wait til the bread is cool before cutting it. If you wish to serve warm bread, reheat it after it has cooled completely.

Uneaten bread should be stored at room temperature rather than refrigerated. (the refrigerator causes the bread to go stale faster) Bread can also be stored in the freezer - double bagged airtight plastic. Take it out of the freezer and leave it in the bag until the bread has thawed. To reheat the bread, turn the oven to 500F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread in the oven for ten minutes.