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This crusty bread is made with a combination of semolina and unbleached all-purpose flour to yield a chewy but not too dense loaf.
The hard durum wheat semolina gives the bread its toothsome bite while the all-purpose flour lightens the dough. Made by using a biga starter, the bread effectively has two fermentation's of yeast. (Biga is a type of starter used to make traditional Italian breads.) This extra step gives the finished product a richer, deeper flavor. Make the biga at least a day before you want to make bread, and it will keep for up to five days.
Simply store it in your refrigerator until you are ready to make bread again.
You will want to make this bread again, over and over. Although excellent for toast, pressed sandwiches or bruschetta (Italian bread toasted and rubbed with garlic and olive oil), you'll have a hard time resisting eating the semolina bread warm from the oven, slathered with sweet butter or drizzled with olive oil.
2 1/2 cups warm water (about 100-105 degrees)
1 tablespoon dry yeast
2/3 cups biga starter (see recipe below)
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups unbleached flour
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups semolina
1 tablespoon salt
1. Put yeast and warm water into the bowl of electric stand mixer fitted with dough hook and let sit until yeast has softened and begins to foam. Add the biga and stir on a low speed using the dough hook for about 30 seconds. Add salt and both flours to the yeast mixture, using the smaller amounts of flour at first. (Up to a quarter-cup of each flour may be added if the dough appears too sticky during kneading.)
2. Knead in the stand mixer for 6 minutes, using the manufacturer's recommended speed setting.
3. While dough is kneading, oil a large mixing bowl and one side of a piece of plastic wrap. Transfer dough to bowl, turning it to coat it in the oil. Cover the bowl with the plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk. Depending on the temperature, this may take between 1 and 2 hours.
4. When dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured surface. Deflate dough and cut it into 2 or 3 equal pieces. Shape each piece by flattening and rolling into a long oval or torpedo-like shape, pinching the ends into points. Make a few shallow slashes across the tops with a sharp knife if desired. Place each loaf on an inverted baking sheet or a rimless cookie sheet lined with parchment. Cover loosely with more oiled plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes to an hour.
5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. If you use a baking stone in your oven, it should be put into the middle of the cold oven at this time and heated at least a half-hour before baking the bread.
6. When the oven has properly heated, carefully slide the parchment holding the loaves onto the baking stone. (Alternately, you may bake the bread on the bottom side of the baking sheet or on the rimless cookie sheet.) Bake for about 40 minutes (slightly less for smaller loaves), or until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when you tap the bottom crust.
Remove bread to wire racks to cool.
For the Biga:
1/4 cup warm water (about 100 degrees)
1/4 teaspoon dry yeast
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon warm water
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1. Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water and let sit until slightly foamy. Add in the rest of the warm water and stir to combine. Gradually stir in the flour and mix well. You will have a starter that looks like a sticky dough.
2. Oil a medium bowl or 8 cup plastic storage container and transfer the biga to it. Cover with a sheet of lightly oiled plastic wrap and let rise for 24 hours on your counter top.
3. After 24 hours, the starter is ready to be used in the recipe above. It can also be transferred to the refrigerator, covered, for use over the next 5 days. Bring refrigerated biga up to room temperature before using in any recipe.
Recipe courtesy of Jane Ward, Food & Fiction (Blog), 2010.
Jane Ward is the author of HUNGER (Forge, 2001) and THE MOSAIC ARTIST (2011). Jane graduated from Simmons College with a degree in English Literature, the desire to write novels, and an aptitude fo