One of my greatest bread challenges in bread baking was achieving the wonderful open-holed crumb of artisan bread such as it appears on Maggie Glezer’s magnificent bread book “Artisan Baking Across America.” I tried everything until in desperation I decided to call Maggie herself. It was a ‘cold call’ as we had never met and I felt mighty shy about it, so when Maggie answered and said she’d call me right back I feared she was just being polite and didn’t have time to talk to me. Wrong! As wrong as I could paranoidically have been. The adorable Maggie called back in moments to tell me that she just had to tell her mother that I had called! I couldn’t stop giggling with relief and amusement. Essentially Maggie explained the importance of hydration (high water content), keeping the dough very sticky, and maintaining the bubbles through gentle handling when shaping. I went on to make many of Maggie’s wonderful recipes from the book and did succeed in achieving those elusive holes. Recently fellow blogger Beth Glixon reported making and enjoying the Ciabatta from Maggie’s book so I had to try it. When I cut into it I was astonished by the size and shape of the numerous holes which were coated with the slight shine indicative of well-fermented artisan bread. I ran right into the bedroom to show my husband. His hopeful response: “Oh! is that the no knead bread?” But these holes are even more magnificent and the crumb lacks that slight pastiness of the no knead bread.
Granted it’s a little more work but not much. Here are my testing notes: When making the biga for the pre-ferment, stir with the water/yeast mixture before measuring out the ½ teaspoon as most of the yeast settles to the bottom. After 14 hours of no activity in the biga I added another ½ teaspoon which I had saved from the bottom and it worked perfectly. Also, I found it had started to receded after increasing in volume by 2 ½ times rather than 3. In the spirit of full disclosure, I did use 100% Better for Bread flour instead of the mixture of Bread Flour/all purpose so it might have been slightly weaker (all the better for the holes though). When the shaped dough is rising on the couche the bottom of the floured cloth pulls moisture from it, causing a fine but brittle crust on the bottom. This makes it risky to pull when it is transferred to the parchment and before dimpling it. If this happens to you it is probably best to just allow it to take its own free form shape which is somewhat rectangular. When dimpling the dough, if you have fingernails that extend past your fingertips, be sure to use a blunt tool such as the rounded end of a wooden spoon handle instead of your fingers. I used my fingers and you’ll see the little dented designs in the top crust. We’re talking perfection here as it didn’t affect the crumb. If you’re dying to make this bread, I’ve already given Maggie’s Fillone recipe on this blog (with permission from Maggie of course) so you’re just going to have to buy the book. But you won’t regret it! By the way, the hard cover edition is very expensive but if you follow the link and scroll down to the bottom you'll see the paperback version which is highly affordable. Artisan Baking Across America: The Breads, The Bakers, The Best Recipes on Amazon.