This roughly shaped, floury crust bread comes from Northern Italy, around Lake Como. It is popular for its moist open texture and flavour of fruity olive oil. It is quite tricky to make at home and needs plenty of time and a lively soft dough, made from a mix of flours, to give the large air bubbles needed for its characteristic texture and appearance. The ‘biga’, an Italian aged-dough starter adds extra flavour.
To make the biga: put the flours and the teaspoon of easyblend yeast and the sugar in a mixing bowl and combine thoroughly. Make a well in the centre and add the lukewarm water. Using your hand, gradually work the flour into the water to make a fairly sticky dough. Turn out onto a work surface and knead it for 2 minutes then return the dough to the bowl and cover with cling film. Leave at normal room temperature for 8 to 12 hours (or overnight) – the dough will rise up enormously then fall back.
Next day finish the dough – it really helps to have a warm, steamy kitchen to keep the dough bubbly. Work the 300ml lukewarm warm water and the olive oil into the biga, using your hand, squeezing the mixture through your fingers and beating with your hand to make a smooth batter. Mix both flours together then combine half of the flour with the sachet of easy-blend yeast. Set the rest of the flour mixture aside for later on. Gradually work the flour and yeast mixture into the batter to make a thick, sticky batter-like dough. Beat this mixture with your hand for 5 minutes until the dough has been thoroughly stretched and has become very elastic. Cover the bowl as before and leave in a warm spot until the mixture is about 2 ½ times its original size – this will take about 2 hours.
Combine half of the rest of the flour with the salt and work into the mixture to make a soft, sticky dough. Work and knead the dough with your hand until it feels very smooth and elastic - for about 10 minutes. Although the dough should feel soft and sticky it should hold its own shape so if necessary work in a little of the remaining flour mixture. Cover the bowl once more and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size – this will take about 1 hour.
Meanwhile gently warm one large or 2 medium baking trays and dust your work surface with plenty of the remaining flour.
Gently tip the dough out on to the work surface - this is a dough that does not need to be punched down or deflated - then using a well-floured scraper or knife divide into 3 equal strips. Carefully transfer to the warmed, floured trays, spacing the loaves well apart, and use your fingers to gently shape the dough into the characteristic slipper-like shapes – try not to disturb the air bubbles. Dust well with the flour mixture then slip the baking trays into slightly inflated plastic bags and leave to rise in a warm place for 30 to 45 minutes until the loaves have almost doubled in size (don’t worry if they have slightly spread). Meanwhile heat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.
Uncover the loaves and bake for about 20 minutes until a good golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. These can be eaten warm from the oven or within 24 hours, or split and grilled.
Rising time: 16 hours in total
Baking time: 20 minutes
For the biga:
200g Marriages’s 100% Canadian Very Strong White Flour
50g Marriage’s Finest Plain Flour
1 teaspoon easy-blend dried yeast
1 teaspoon caster sugar
200ml lukewarm water
For the dough:
All the biga plus
300ml lukewarm water
4 tablespoons virgin olive oil
400g Marriage’s 100% Canadian Very Strong White Flour
100g Marriage’s Finest Plain Flour
1 x 7g sachet easy-blend dried yeast
2 teaspoons salt