Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Of Breads and Biga

I recently attended a series of classes on bread making conducted at Palate Sensation's by their Executive Chef Charlotte D'Isidiro. Needless to say, I learned HEAPS since I knew nothing about bread making in the past (except having made some brioche during Chef Francois' class). Not really a from-zero-to-hero affair but it was enough for me to know the basics about breads and start my own journey into artisan bread making.

Bread, simply put, is a mixture of flour, water and a bit of salt, leavened (raised) with the help an active agent called yeast, supported by sugar where necessary. Flour, water, salt, yeast and sugar - things that you can buy with spare pocket change but it has so many variations and can feed so many with so little. Well... you may need some help if you are going to emulate the task of feeding 5000 in a single sitting but making a batch now and then at home for your family and friends should be as simple as a flick of your fingers.

Breads are difficult to screw up and even when you do, it will not put a hole in your pockets. Here's something to set you off...


Biga (Italian Bread Starter)

The use of a starters in bread making is to to help achieve a really good crust. The Italian biga is akin to the French poolish. It is used as part of a bread recipe to give the final product a nice crunch when you break open the crust. If you are making rolls like the one I will talk about soon, you will need biga to enhance it.

Biga is really simple. A full read-up can be found here although all you need to do is remember the proportion.

100 parts bread flour : 50 parts water : 1 part yeast (or 2 parts if you are using active dry yeast)

So if the recipe calls for 200 grams of biga, you will use around 200 grams bread flour, 100 grams water and 4 grams of active dry yeast.

1. Mix the yeast with half cup of water and rest it at a warm place for 15 minutes.
2. Add the the remaining water and the yeast liquid to the flour and mix it up well for 4 minutes. You can use your hand but I recommend using a mixer as the resulting dough is SUPER STICKY.
3. Put the finished biga dough in a oiled container that can hold 3x the original bulk (the biga is going to explode), put a cling film over the top of the container and leave it in a cool place with a temperature of 12-14 degrees celsius (probably your fridge) for 18-24 hours.

The biga will go bad very fast after 24 hours. It is simply a super leavened piece of dough and will smell very funky (sour smell due to the yeast) when you remove the cling film. Do not be alarmed when it deflates almost immediately when you touch it - it will collapse into a rather tough dough. To use, measure the needed weight and tear off lumps to be kneaded into your bread dough a few lumps at a time.


Simple Olive Rolls 

I modified this from a basic recipe for bread rolls that had a high olive oil content and incorporated olives into it because we so loved the olive rolls served at Perle Noire. The final product is not exactly the same as the ones at the Perle but it is not disappointing either. Eat hot with butter, serve up with stews or just munch on its own.


200gm biga
600gm bread flour
300gm water
10gm yeast
16gm salt
40gm olive oil
2tsp sugar

- mix sugar, yeast and a bit of the water (half cup) and let it sit for 15 mins to get a yeast mixture
- stir the salt into the remaining water and add it to the flour
- add the oil and then the yeast mixture into the flour, mixing everything well together
- tear the biga into small lumps and knead it into the dough a few lumps at a time
- knead for about 10 mins or until the dough is springy to touch (when depressed with a finger, the dough springs back)
- chop a handful of black pitted olives and knead them into the dough briefly (just enough to spread them out inside the dough)
- cut up the dough into small balls and roll it into equal sized balls with your palm
- put all on a baking tray, brush the top with olive oil and throw salt flakes (NOT FINE SALT!) on top for a posh looking crystalized glaze (you can score the top with some creative knife work)
- cover with a tea tower and let it proof in a hot place for 30 mins or until the bulk doubles in size
- in a 265c pre-heat oven, add a tray of water and bake the dough for 10 mins before switching it down to 200c for another 20 mins (when opening oven, remember to let the steam out first as that can injure)
- try if you can -> WAIT FOR IT TO COOL BEFORE EATING! :)


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