I have a confession to make. I cheated on Peter Reinhart. Last week’s bread in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge was the ultimate French Bread, baguettes. My results were mediocre and truthfully I was a little disappointed. I really struggled with shaping and scoring the baguettes. This week’s bread is Italian Bread and the shaping and scoring of the loaves is somewhat similar to French Bread.
I thought that if I could actually watch someone do it, rather than just read instructions in a book, I may have a better chance of success this week. I surfed the web and came upon a video of Chef Danielle Forrester on Julia Child’s PBS series, making baguettes. As I watched the video, I have to admit I was somewhat shocked to see how roughly she handled the dough. She slapped it with her palm and really pressed hard on the seams as she formed her loaf.
This was surprising to me because Peter Reinhart emphasizes handling the dough gently, lest we accidentally degas the dough. But Chef Danielle just exuded power and confidence, and frankly, I was seduced. I wanted to try slapping my dough around too. So while I used Peter Reinhart’s recipe, I followed Chef Danielle’s method for shaping my Italian bread. The shape for an Italian bread, incidentally is called a Batard, (literally “Bastard”) which is a torpedo shaped loaf, measuring 6-12 inches in length
This is a two day bread, where we make a starter on Day 1 and let it rest overnight in the fridge. On day 2 the starter is incorporated into the new dough and the loaves are formed . This recipe made either 2 large torpedo shaped loaves (batards) or 9 smaller hoagie sized rolls. I opted for the 2 large loaves. After the dough fermented at room temperature I began forming my loaves.
Dividing the dough into 2 pieces I formed each into a batard. First the dough is flattened into a rough rectangle and then it is folded into thirds, letter style. The flattening and folding is repeated 2 more times for a total of 3 times in Chef Danielle’s method, whereas PR only does this once. Then a groove is formed down the center of the dough, using the side of your hand. The top edge of dough is folded two thirds of the way down and the seam is sealed with the heel of your hand. The folding and seaming is repeated two more times for a total of 3 seals. Peter Reinhart’s method only calls for 2 seals. I must admit the surface tension of my Italian loaves seemed greater using Chef Danielle’s method.
After forming the batards, the dough proofed for about one hour while I preheated the baking stone and oven to 500 degrees.
After an hour the loaves had grown to almost 1 1/2 times their original size. They were ready to be scored. After watching Chef Danielle’s sure and steady scoring method one more time, I slashed swiftly and with purpose.
I decided to transfer my loaves into the oven one at a time rather than both at the same time. Loaf one went onto the peel and slid easily onto the baking stone, retaining its shape. I felt like a pro.
The second loaf slid in alongside the first and I added boiling water to the steam pan and quickly shut the oven door and turned down the temperature to 450 degrees. The loaves were golden brown and crusty after about 15 minutes. The slashes opened up beautifully and I was so impressed with my artistry!
While the outside was crusty and golden, the inside crumb was tender and soft. After the loaves had cooled we sliced them up and toasted them on the BBQ and devoured them with diced tomatoes from the farmer’s market, garlic, olive oil, basil and salt.