I was most excited about making this bread because the recipe says you can use it to make bread sticks, which is one of those things I’d kind of always wanted to know how to make, but had never bothered to look for a recipe for. I have no idea why I didn’t, because now I know just how darn easy it is to make bread sticks. This is one of the wonderful benefits of this whole BBA Challenge process: getting to try things I’d ordinarily not even consider making myself (English Muffins are a prime example).
Like the French Bread, this recipe incorporated a pre-ferment (made at least the day before), which helps develop flavor. In this case, the pre-ferment is a biga, which is very similar to the pâte fermentée, except that it omits salt. In both cases, the pre-ferment is made one to three days before the bread, and is allowed to develop slowly in the refrigerator.
Before making the dough, remove the biga from the refrigerator, and let it come to room temperature by cutting it into pieces and allow it to sit on a floured counter for an hour. Make the dough by combining flour, salt, sugar, yeast, diastatic barley malt powder (which adds color and boosts the enzyme activity in the dough), olive oil, water, and the biga. Knead for about 10 minutes, round up into a bowl, and ferment for two hours.
Once the dough has doubled in size, remove it from the bowl, and divide it and shape it. Since I wanted to try both the loaf and the bread sticks, I divided the dough into two, shaped a batard out of one piece, and rolled out the other piece and used my pizza wheel to cut it into thin strips. I sprinkled sea salt and poppy seeds on the bread sticks. Let the loaves proof for an hour, and then bake.
You can see the step-by-step pictures for this bread here.
The resulting loaf was tender, soft, easy to like. Like the French Bread, it lacked a deeply developed flavor, but it was far better than any Italian loaf I’d bought at local bakeries and was quite simple to make. The bread sticks were fine, but not the bread sticks of my dreams because they weren’t crunchy enough. Next time, I think I just need to roll them thinner. The loaf, however, made wonderful sandwiches and toast, and was one of the few loaves that everyone in the household was happy to devour.
The Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge is a group of home bakers, scattered across the planet, focused on one goal: completing every recipe in Peter Reinhart’s book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, in order, and writing about our experience. Want to join us? Buy or borrow a copy of the book, open a big bag of flour, and plunge in!