Monday, August 24, 2009

italian bread - bread baker's apprentice challenge #15

French bread - Check, Italian bread - check. When I looked ahead and saw these two breads back to back, I started to wonder what actual difference there was between the two. As I mentioned in my French bread post, these two loaves were probably the first readily available artisan breads here, which may explain why grocery store versions seem so similar. Even asking around, I couldn't find one person who could pinpoint any thing, besides maybe the shape. A trip around the grocery stores did little to solve the problem, and even better was the Google results;

  1. Italian bread is heartier....French bread has no heart.
  2. The recipe for French and Italian bread is the same.
  3. The difference is the shape. French bread is long, with rounded ends. Italian bread tends to be more round in shape
Could this be? Only one way to find out my friends, bake off the recipe and see what insights Peter can let us bread baking challengers in on.

And the difference starts right at the beginning. While the French bread utilizes a pate fermentee as its pre-ferment, the Italian bread is created with a biga pre-ferment. Besides being a firm pre-ferment, the biga is put together without salt. Peter does mention that Italian bread has come to mean a very similar bread to French in America, mostly due to bakeries accelerating the fermentation process. This accelerating, which fails to develop both the colour trapped in the starches and potential flavour, in most bakeries seems to be why many can't taste the difference.

To really prove the 'same recipe' myth wrong, the Italian bread also includes sugar, diastatic barley malt powder, and olive oil. So take that French bread; you are different!!! The two loaves I baked off were fantastic. A good crumb and a deliciously soft interior. The homestead used this bread in all circumstances and it was a success in each one; sandwiches, toast, straight up, french toast.

And really, sometimes the best way to enjoy a fresh loaf of bread is to layer on the peanut butter and pour yourself a frosty mug of milk.

So without any grain of doubt, there is a distinct difference between the French and Italian breads. The texture and taste of this Italian bread really stuck out, even more so with my side-by-side taste comparisons. While I did bake off the French recipe a few more times than the Italian to date, I think I'll be coming back to the Italian far more often in the future.

Want to know more. Check out the wonderful Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge FAQ over at Pinch My Salt. Check out beautiful samples of bread, learn how to participate, or just discover what great breads can be discovered in Peter's book.

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