The last couple of weeks have not been this blog’s finest. First, I suffered a real setback when promising to do Ottolenghi’s crusty Italian bread, failing miserably and settling for a decidedly mediocre Turkish offering (that ended up in the bin, by the way). Secondly, I made successful muesli rolls, but the whole blog post smacked of a growing weariness. Perhaps, in signing myself up for this blog, I had bitten off more than I could chew (insert your own slight variation on this aphorism that breadifies it slightly).
This week, however, I am back with a vengeance. I’ve returned to my nemesis Italian bread and given it another crack, this time with the help of smitten kitchen. The results, while still missing my personal holy grail of delivering Maurizio levels of airiness and fabulosity, are undeniably delicious.
And they were an extremely satisfying component of this dinner offering, which includes Ottolenghi’s pork belly with rhubarb and plum relish, as well as Ottolenghi’s broccoli salad. Please take these two creations as a peace offering to a celebrity chef who couldn’t care less how I feel about him, after I completely butchered his Italian bread recipe and cursed his name (this is also foreshadowing, as I curse him a bit more below).
Even more exciting…I’m writing this in the midst of a day long project to create next week’s post: croissants. No spoilers (literally not possible, it’s far too early to tell), but I can reveal that there is about 8 hours of proving involved, so whatever happens the write-up will be melodramatic and exhausting.
So what can I tell you about Italian white bread? I think comparing and contrasting Ottolenghi’s recipe with Deb Perelman’s is informative. Or maybe it isn’t, but it’s what I’m about to do. Both recipes call for making a biga the day before. Both suggest using diastatic malt powder, which is a stupidly fancy sounding ingredient that is allegedly easy to source online, but that is so not my jam so I haughtily omitted it. Both produce loaves of bread. The differences are more significant. Ottolenghi wants you to use both bread flour and Tipo 00, which is a blow to my theory that I can use them interchangeably. Perelman sticks to bread flour, even including the option to downgrade to regular pleb flour in the biga. Ottolenghi also cautions that his dough is so wet you will question everything you know about bread making and is absolutely dependent on using a mixer. Perelman has much less alarming instructions that allow you to knead by mixer or by hand.
The most significant difference is that I managed to make a bread using the smitten kitchen recipe, as opposed to just making a mess which is all I got from my old mate Yotam.
Aside from the Tipo/strong bread flour revelation I also learned something else this week. Instant and active yeast? Also not exactly the same thing (should really have googled that back in the good old days). Smitten Kitchen explains more here, but basically you can substitute between them. If going from instant yeast to active then increase the quantity by a third. If going from active yeast to instant then you only need to put in three quarters of the amount. I expect I will forget this immediately and continue to use them interchangeably, but it’s nice to pretend otherwise.
The strongest praise I can offer is that I fully expected to be eating slices of this for breakfast during the week, but instead we polished off more than one of the loaves during dinner and the second one is already looking quite depleted. It also let us use up a whole lot of garlic butter that was somehow a part of our lives, and for that I am extremely thankful.
Crusty Italian Loaf
Rather than reproduce something verbatim, I suggest you check it out here.
My only comments/observations would be that:
I didn’t use the malt powder and it was all good. Ottolenghi does suggest brown sugar as a substitute which I probably would have done if I had realised it sooner.
Shaping the batard is a bit weird…mine turned out EXTREMELY rustic. I imagine you improve with time?
The whole rigmarole with opening and closing the oven door to spray it seems excessive. I think the Dean Brettschneider method of putting a bunch of ice cubes in the tray at the bottom (see: Muesli Rolls) is probably as effective as pouring water in AND then spraying the oven walls. Twice.