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Friday, July 11, 2014

Bread - Day Four: Pre-Fermented Breads

Breads - Day Four

Pre-Fermented Breads

Baked 07.10.14

Fermentation = flavor. That's Day 4 in a nutshell!

Each of these breads starts with a sponge - a wet mixture of yeast, flour and water that ferments for up to several days (although typically just overnight) before it is added to the dough. It may sound a little off-putting, but fermentation adds an unmistakable depth of flavor that cannot be achieved in a "one-step" bread. The longer the fermentation, the stronger the flavor (although there are limits - a sponge will get moldy).

Pre-Ferments Resting Overnight

Pre-Fermented Breads:
  • Ciabatta
  • Tuscan Olive Bread
  • Challah
  • Zopf (Swiss Braided Bread)

Challah and Zopf, both of which are sweeter, enriched breads, start from sponges made about an hour before they are added to a dough. Ciabatta and Tuscan Olive Bread begin with a pre-ferment known as "poolish", which ferments overnight. 

Pre-Fermented Breads


Coming from the Italian word for "slipper", this flatter, rectangular bread is commonly used for making panini.

The dough, which starts from an overnight-fermented poolish, is extremely liquid. As a result, it is very difficult to handle (dough oozing everywhere). But as the high water content in the wet dough evaporates during baking, large pockets develop throughout the interior of the loaves, contributing to Ciabatta's distinctive crumb.

To develop the thicker crust, the bread is baked in a steam-filled oven (achieved using special equipment or by putting ice on a baking sheet at the bottom of the oven). The steam technique is used to produce a thicker crust on many breads, including baguettes.

Tuscan Olive Loaf

This is a salt free bread, and it is as bland as you would expect (a sad reality of many Italian breads).

Why not "fix" the recipe by adding a little (or a lot) of salt to the dough?

It is believed that this bread emerged during a period in Tuscan history when there was an extreme salt shortage. The salt-free bread was more of a fact of life than it was a cardiologist's heart-healthy directive. The recipe endured because the bread was commonly served with (and saved by) salty, cured meats or flavorful salads and sauces.

Tuscan Olive Bread


Challah is the traditional bread of the Jewish Sabbath. The visually impressive braided form symbolizes the bond between man and god.

The sponge used for Challah sits for less than an hour before it is added to the dough, so the sour flavor from fermentation is almost imperceptible. But the dough also includes some brown sugar, which brings a subtle sweetness to the final product.

Challah is an enriched bread, which means fat is included in the dough, making for a rich interior crumb. In Challah, oil and eggs are the fat in question.

Another unmistakable feature of Challah is the soft, shiny, deep-amber crust. This is achieved by brushing the loaves with an egg wash before baking.

Zopf (Swiss Braided Bread)

Zopf is nearly identical to Challah, except that milk and butter are used to enrich the dough rather than oil. The dairy products bring more flavor to the final bread than the neutral oil used in Challah.

Bread Week in Review:

  • Day One - Flatbreads and Crisp Breads
    • Ligurian Focaccia 
    • Habini Pita
    • Middle Eastern Flatbread
    • Grissini Breadsticks
  • Day Two - "One Step" Breads
    • White & Whole Wheat Bread
    • Golden Sandwich Bread
    • Old-Fashioned Raisin Bread
    • Pain de Mie (French Sandwich Bread / Pullman Loaf)
  • Day Three - Rolls and Individual Breads
    • Bagels
    • Sicilian Sesame Rolls (Muffuletta Rolls)
    • Pretzel Rolls
    • English Muffins
  • Day Four - Pre-Fermented Breads
    • Ciabatta
    • Tuscan Olive Bread
    • Challah
    • Zopf (Swiss Braided Bread)
  • Day Five - Whole Grain Breads:
    • Deli Rye
    • American Pumpernickel
    • Semolina
    • Spelt & Caraway

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