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All Purpose Rustic Bread Formulation Using a Biga Pre-Ferment

Every pastry chef would do well to have a rustic bread formulation that can be used in any number of artisan bread applications. From focaccia to sandwich loaves, you need something universal that can be used as the canvas for all the rest of your genius creations.
artisan bread in a basket_pe

We’ve been working here in the Panhandle Test Kitchen to provide such a rustic bread formula. In our efforts, we wanted to construct a formulation that would be both practical and flavorful. It would deliver all the depth of an excellent European-style hearth bread, with the production speed that would still allow for a low labor cost and food cost. We think this will do the trick. Using a Biga Pre-ferment is ideal for delivering the delightful tastes and textures one would expect in good artisan bread. It also allows for the long fermentation associated with that flavor while still allowing the fridge’s space for other essentials for your menu. The pre-ferment has a shelf life of up to two weeks and can be kept alive for several years if you treat it right. We’re sure you’re going to make a new friend…literally. Name your pre-ferment, “George.” Feed him. Make him your friend. George is a keeper.

 

Procedure:

  • Combine the pre-ferment ingredients in a glass or plastic container until a thick dough is formed. Cover and allow to ferment at room temperature 3-5 hours before using in the dough recipe.
  • After the initial 3-5 hours, you may transfer to refrigeration for up to 2 weeks for the most profound flavor.
  • Retain 1/2 cup of the pre-ferment and use it as part of the flavor base for your next batch of pre-ferment. This will ensure the ultimate flavor depth.

For Rustic Bread:

  • Break up the pre-ferment and combine it with loaf ingredients in a large mixer with a dough hook. Knead on medium speed for about 8 minutes. The dough will be thick. Allow raising in a bowl, covered, about 1 hour.
  • Turn sheet pans upside down (1 per every 2 loaves) and line with parchment that has been misted with oil or non-stick spray.
  • Scale the loaves (6 at 15.56 oz.).
  • Dust the dough with flour. With flour on your hands, tenderly stretch the pieces into a rectangular shape, 6 inches by 10 inches. Be sure not to squeeze; you don’t want to remove the gas. This will keep the characteristic look of the rustic dough.
  • Dip your hands gently into cold water and break up large air pockets to avoid them tunneling.
  • Avoid flattening the bread; press softly so the loaf retains shape. Mist the top of the loaf with oil and a fine dusting of flour. Cover with a large piece of plastic and rise at room temperature for about 2 hours.
  • Dock the top of the loaves with a razor or very sharp knife.
  • Preheat oven to 500°. Place a steam pan on the bottom of the oven. Put at least 2 cups of water in the steam pan. Place the inverted sheet pans in the oven and spray the loaves generously with water. Close the oven door. After 3 minutes, spray the loaves with water again. Reduce the heat to 425°
  • Bake about 30 minutes (210° internal temperature). The loaves should be golden brown and have a hard crust.
  • Turn off the oven and allow loaves to remain in the oven about 5 minutes longer and cool 1 hour before slicing.

For your convenience, we’re also including a home version of this fantastic bread!

Home Baker Multi-Purpose Rustic Bread
Yield 3 loaves

4 cups biga-style pre-ferment (recipe below)
3 ½ cups Panhandle Milling Bread Flour
2 Tbsp. Sugar
2 tsp. salt
½ tsp yeast
1 ½ cups water
2 Tbsp. oil

Biga-style Pre-Ferment

3 ½ cups Panhandle Milling Bread Flour
1 ¼ cup water
2 tsp yeast

Directions:

  • Combine the pre-ferment ingredients in a glass or plastic container until a thick dough is formed.
  • Cover and allow to ferment at room temperature 3-5 hours before using in the dough recipe.
  • After the initial 3-5 hours, you may transfer to a covered container in the refrigeration for up to 2 weeks for the most profound flavor.
  • Retain 1/2 cup of the pre-ferment and use it as part of the flavor base for your next batch of pre-ferment. This will ensure the ultimate flavor depth.

For Rustic Bread:

  • Break up the pre-ferment and combine it with loaf ingredients in a large mixer with a dough hook. Knead on medium speed for about 8 minutes. The dough will be thick. Allow rising in the bowl, covered, about 1 hour.
  • Turn full-sized sheet pans upside down (1 per every 2 loaves) and line with parchment that has been misted with oil or non-stick spray. OR oil 12-inch cast-iron Dutch oven with lid.
    Divide the dough into three even loaves (about 15.5 oz each) OR place in a well-oiled cast-iron Dutch Oven.
  • If forming loaves, dust the dough with flour. With flour on your hands, tenderly stretch the pieces into a rectangular shape, 6 inches by 10 inches. Be sure not to squeeze; you don’t want to remove the gas. This will keep the characteristic look of the rustic dough.
  • Dip your hands gently into cold water and break up large air pockets to avoid them tunneling.
  • Avoid flattening the bread; press softly so the loaf retains shape. Mist the top of the loaf with oil and a fine dusting of flour. Cover with a large piece of plastic and rise at room temperature for about 2 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 500°. Place a steam pan on the bottom of the oven. Put at least 2 cups of water in the steam pan. Place the inverted sheet pans in the oven and spray the loaves generously with water. Close the oven door. After 3 minutes, spray the loaves with water again. Reduce the heat to 425°
  • Bake about 30 minutes (210° internal temperature). The loaves should be golden brown and have a hard crust.
  • Turn off the oven and allow loaves to remain in the oven about 5 minutes longer and cool 1 hour before slicing.