I am not going to beat around the bush, this is an advanced recipe. You will need some special equipment and the dough is very tricky to perfect. That said this bread is so good that if you are not careful the whole thing will be gone before it even cools.
I got this recipe from The Bread Bible and have found through trial and error the best way to get the most air in the dough. You will need a pizza stone and a good stand mixer. The dough can be done entirely by hand but it will murder the arm muscles. Always use unbleached white flour and for this recipe King Arthur’s brand works the best. Although any unbleached brand will give good results. I find active dry yeast works the best as well. The recipe follows.
- ½ cup + ½ tbsp flour
- 1/16 tsp yeast
- ¼ cup warm water
Add yeast to flour in small bowl. Add water and mix with a wooden spoon constantly for about 3 to 5 minutes. At first the dough will seem too dry, then it will seem too wet. Continue stirring until it pulls away from the sides of the bowl and is very smooth. It will be slightly sticky to the touch. (Your arm will be tired after a minute, stir through the pain. I find holding the spoon near the base helps.) Cover the biga with plastic wrap and let sit until it triples in size and then falls a bit, about 6-10 hours. The biga can then be refrigerated for up to three days. I have always had better luck using it immediately and not letting it get cold.
- 1 cup flour + more for dusting
- ¼ tsp yeast
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup biga (usually all of it)
In a stand mixer add flour and yeast. Mix thoroughly then add salt. With the paddle attachment on add water and biga. Mix on low (2) for a few seconds to bring dough together then turn up to medium high (6) and beat for three minutes. The dough will start off like thick batter but should begin to form threads and pull away from the bowl. Turn speed down to medium (4) and beat two more minutes. If the dough does not pull away after the first three minutes scrape it down and beat for another three minutes at medium high speed. If it still does not form a ball add a little flour and repeat. When done the dough will be very smooth and completely wrapped around the paddle. In a large oiled bowl, scrape dough from paddle. The dough will want to cling together even though it will be very sticky. Cover and allow to rise until tripled in size, about 1 ½-2 hours.
Grease a baking sheet. Sift flour on the counter. Gently turn dough out on it. Sprinkle more flour on top. Be very gentle with the dough at all times to keep as much air in it as possible. With the palms of your hand push the dough together to form a rectangle. Using your fingertips make large dimples about 1 inch apart down the dough. This will stretch it out and create the ridges along the top when flipped over. Press it back together with the palms of your hand. Repeat dimpling and scrunching until the dough is roughly 10-12 inches long, 4-5 inches wide and about an inch high. Carefully invert the dough on the baking sheet without stretching it and keeping as much air inside. Cover and let rise until doubled about 2 hours.
An hour before baking, set a baking rack on the second lowest spot in the oven and place the pizza stone on it. On the bottom rack place an old metal pan. Preheat to 475 degrees. Remove cover on dough and quickly set baking pan on stone. Place a handful of ice in the pan beneath and close the oven. After five minutes turn heat down to 450 degrees. Ten minutes later remove bread from baking sheet, rotate and place directly on stone. Cook until golden brown, about 10 more minutes. Turn off oven, prop door open with wooden spoon handle and let sit five minutes. Then place on wire rack to cool. Slice slightly diagonal and serve with olive oil and balsamic.