I know what you’re thinking, it’s too soon for another bread recipe. I actually had another post already started but made this bread on a whim and was so blown away by it and the method, I felt compelled to shelve the other and instead post about Pan Bigio. This rustic, whole wheat peasant bread from Carol Field’s The Italian Baker is well worth the effort and time. I’m pretty sure this is going to be one style of bread which gets made a lot this winter.
One thing I’ve noticed in a lot of bread recipes is the use of a starter or “biga.” Up to this point I’ve only really tried breads which hadn’t required one, mostly because you’re supposed to let the starter sit overnight and I pretty much forget to make it the day before every single time. Not this week though! I dutifully followed the directions for the biga and refrigerated it overnight. The biga recipe makes more than enough for these loaves and you can freeze the rest of it for another time. According to the book it will take about 3 hours to thaw at room temperature and become active again. Will report back in the future on this. Biga gives bread flavor through a secondary fermentation, helps strengthen the dough, and helps bread last longer. Like more of a sourdough? Let your biga sit for a few days before using it.
Along with the biga, Pan Bigio is made from a very sticky and wet dough and takes a long time to go through the first rise (3 hours). This is one bread where having a mixer with a dough hook really helps because you really don’t want to mess around with hand kneading. The other trick I’ve discovered with sticky wet dough recipes is to use parchment paper for the shaping and second rise. In a lot of Carol Field’s recipes the instructions are to shape the dough and put it good side down on a floured peel or parchment paper so when you go to put the bread into the oven you can flip them over onto the baking stone. Trust me, with wet doughs this is much easier said than done. I have found that putting the dough good side up on some parchment paper and then sliding the parchment paper and dough into the oven is much, much cleaner and easier. The first time I tried it her way with some ciabatta I went to flip the loaves onto the stone and they just stuck like glue to the parchment paper, so I left the paper on top of the loaves. Bread came out fine but looked like two bottoms. With this pan bigio I remembered this lesson and experimented with shaping and baking on parchment paper. Worked perfectly and I highly recommend doing it this way!
The bread comes out of the oven with nice dark, near burnt, chewy but not hard crust and the inside is quite moist with the big pores you associate with a good rustic loaf of bread. It has a bit of sour taste to it, like good bread does. This bread is going to pair great with any sauced food like pasta, braises, stews, or even soups. If using a biga is the difference between good bread and great bread I am a total convert and will make sure I’ve always got some handy!
Pan Bigio (from Carol Field’s The Italian Baker)
Biga (makes 2 ⅓ C, 585 gr)
- ¼ tsp dry yeast
- ¼ C warm water
- 1 ¼ C + 2 Tbs water
- 3 ¾ C (330 gr) all purpose flour
Stir the yeast into the ¼ C warm water and let sit until creamy, 10 mins.
Stir in the remaining water and then the flour. Mix with your electric mixer for 2 minuntes (or 4 by hand).
Place starter in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 6+ hours. It will triple in size and be very wet and sticky. Put in refrigerator until you’re ready to use. The longer you let it sit the more sour your bread will be. Biga can be frozen for later use, according to the book it will take about 3 hours to thaw at room temperature and become active again.
Pan Bigio (makes two loaves)
- 1 ¼ tsp dry yeast
- ¼ C warm water
- 2 ½ C water, room temp
- 1 C (250 grams) Biga
- Scant 2 C (250 gr) whole wheat flour
- 3 ¾ C (500 grams) unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 Tbs salt
Mix the yeast with the ¼ C of warm water and let stand for 10 minutes until creamy.
Add the rest of the water and the Biga. With the paddle attachment mix until the starter is broken up. Add the flour and salt and mix well until the dough comes together. This dough is sticky and so will never pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl. Using the dough hook, knead on medium speed for 5 minutes. [The recipe calls for you to finish kneading by hand on a well floured surface. Trust me, just keep the dough hook going for a few minutes more.]
Place dough in a large oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 3 hours. Use a BIG bowl. The dough will get all bubbly and triple in size.
Remove from bowl onto a well floured (and I mean well floured!) surface and cut dough in half. Shape into rounds and place each on a piece of parchment paper. Cover with towels (or not if you don’t want the towels to stick to the dough and ruin your shape) and allow to rise until you see bubbles under the surface, around 60 mins.
Pre-heat your oven to 450°F. Dimple the loaves with your fingers/knuckle and let rest for 10-15 minutes. If you are using a baking stone, dust the stone with some cornmeal then slide the entire parchment paper and dough onto the stone. Bake for 45-50 minutes. At about the 35-40 minute mark you’re going to get worried since the bread is getting very dark. Resist the urge to pull them out! Cool the freshly baked bread on racks.