Italian Bread, the BBA Way

My current BBA Challenge bread is Italian bread. I’ve made lots of Italian bread (mind you, not as many as some of my Italian friends, but for an Irish-Cherokee boy from the Midwest, quite a few), so I was interested to see how Peter Reinhart‘s recipe would stack up to the rest. I needn’t have wondered. As always, the recipe in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice is excellent. Perhaps the best Italian bread I’ve ever eaten, let alone baked.

Peter’s recipe starts with a biga, which is a form of prefermented dough. In this case, it consists of flour, water, and yeast at about 67% hydration.

Biga for Italian Bread

After mixing up and kneading the biga, I let it ferment on the counter for about three hours, at which point it looked like this:

Biga - After Fermenting

A second quick knead,

Biga - Second Knead

then I covered it with plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, it had risen several times in size.

Biga in the Morning

I took the biga out and cut it into pieces, then let it sit for several hours to come to room temperature. PR recommends an hour, but I have found that it takes several hours to really get the chill off refrigerated dough. I also tend to increase the temperature of my liquid to make up for the chilled dough.

Biga Pieces for Italian Bread Dough

After letting the biga pieces warm up for a few hours, I proceeded to mix up and knead the dough in my Kitchen Aid mixer. This was a really nice dough, supple and just barely tacky. It rose faster than the recipe said it would.

After about and hour-and-a-half of fermenting, I weighed out the dough into 4-ounce pieces, and preshaped them into rolls.

Italian bread - preshaped

After a five minute rest, I shaped the dough into torpedoes.

Italian bread - torpedos

The final proofing also went faster than the recipe said it might. I baked the rolls with steam in a reducing oven, and they came out beautifully.

Italian bread

As I mentioned above, this may be the best Italian bread I have ever tasted. We had sandwiches on them for dinner tonight, and my family all agreed: another winning recipe from Peter Reinhart.


  1. george said,

    February 20, 2010 at 2:50 am

    I’m confused. I thought starting with a biga meant you do a smaller portion of water, flour, yeast which you then let rise and ferment and then add additional ingredients to.
    What’s described above seems to simply make a dough, let it rise, knead, let it rise and bake. that’s seem like normal bread making.
    I’m just asking because I want to learn about the benefits of a biga

    • gaaarp said,

      February 20, 2010 at 7:22 pm

      Hi, I can see why you might be confused. In the blog, I said: “After letting the biga pieces warm up for a few hours, I proceeded to mix up and knead the dough in my Kitchen Aid mixer. ” Although I didn’t go into detail, it was at that point that I mixed the biga (about 18 onces) with flour, water, salt, yeast, barley malt, sugar and olive oil (about 20 ounces of additional ingredients in total).

      A lot of the people reading my blog own “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice”, so I don’t always go into great detail about the ingredients. Sorry if it was confusing to you.

      The advantage to a biga, or indeed any prefermented dough, is that the added time lends additional flavor to the finished bread that you just can’t acheive any other way.

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  5. Di said,

    August 31, 2009 at 10:45 am

    I love the rolls! I’ve made this Italian bread a number of times, but always as loaves. I’m going to have to try it as rolls when I make it again.

    • gaaarp said,

      August 31, 2009 at 10:47 am

      Thanks. It was my first time making rolls instead of loaves. I was really pleased with the results.

  6. Daniel said,

    August 28, 2009 at 5:10 am

    Wow! Love the dark browning. I made these a while ago, and didn’t like the way they looked, even though they are delicious, but am doing them again. Your bread looks great, so I’m definitely going to re-do this one.

  7. August 25, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    Well, it will take several months until I get to that bread (just finished cinnamon rolls) but you’ve really got me looking forward to a treat! Beautiful bread!!

  8. Kelly said,

    August 25, 2009 at 9:38 am

    Those rolls are gorgeous! Love the color on the crust and the crumb looks perfect. I agree that this is a winner.

  9. AnneMarie said,

    August 24, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    I am anxious to get started on this one. Great pics.

  10. Paul said,

    August 23, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    Ooo! Nice batch! I agree, this really extremely good bread.

    I think, as we’re working on loaf #2 a couple of days after the bake, this is probably the best bread of the BBA Challenge yet. There’s been good, interesting ones, like the Anadama, but many are “special” breads, not an every day loaf. This is and it’s very, very good.

    Mind you, we’re not into the sourdough section yet and there’s a pumpernickel I’m holding very high expectations for…

  11. Rebecca said,

    August 23, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    Oh yum! Those rolls look wonderful. I can’t wait to get to this one! Nice job.

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