Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Filone // On Learning to Love Bread (Week 8)

The funniest part about this whole business of ours -- you know, the one where we specialize in selling creative, artisan sandwiches and all -- is that until I was about nineteen years old, I despised sandwiches. Like, truly loathed them.  My poor mother (God bless her kind soul) probably can attest to this better than anyone. In grade school, while the other kids at my lunch table tore open their brown paper bags to find cellophane wrapped bologna and cheese sandwiches, my lunchbox contained a plastic thermos filled with homemade lentil or chicken and orzo soup, accompanied by a small plastic bag filled with shredded parmesan for sprinkling on top, and a proper metal spoon taken from our kitchen drawer (none of that plastic stuff). Before we go any further, lets get one thing clear: I was in no way a snob. My mother was not a member of our local "Finer Things Club" (we were about as middle class as they came). However, she knew better than to give her little girl (the weird one who literally snarled her lip at cold cuts) two slices of white bread and expect her to eat it like any other kid on our block. Truly, I blame her for feeding into this food fixation that has come to rule my life.

I'm not sure what it was exactly that turned me off to sandwiches so much when I was a kid. However, a child of the eighties (and all the horrible prepackaged preservative filled foods that came with that decade), I suspect it had something to do with the bread. As strange as it sounds, I can vividly remember the look of those soggy sandwiches spread across the lunch table and the way kids would roll the bread up into gooey little balls before shoving them in their mouths all in one bite. Nothing about that bread or, as a result, those sandwiches, looked appetizing to me, even back then.

I like to think my relationship with sandwiches changed one autumn afternoon when I was a freshman studying at the University of Vermont (this was the same year I began to learn more about organic agriculture, joined a local co-op, and signed up for my first CSA...thank God for that year in my life).  My roommates and I ventured into downtown Burlington in search of peasant blouses to wear to house parties and a few cool study spots where we could grab coffee and food.

It was on that afternoon that we stumbled into Red Onion, a cozy little sandwich shop tucked among the shops at a quiet end of Church Street. When we walked in, nothing about the place reminded me of the cold, glass encased cold cut counters of my youth. The space was warm and inviting, its walls splashed with vibrant fuchsia and adorned with local artwork, the scent of freshly baking bread and desserts filling the air from the instant we walked through the doorway. Near the register were woven baskets literally overflowing with individually wrapped blondies and snicker doodle cookies, their shape and minor imperfections suggesting they were very recently baked in the back (as opposed to in a factory halfway across the country). Their chalkboard menu listed sandwich combinations that were so foreign to me I couldn't help but become intrigued. One sandwich combo included thick cuts of house roasted turkey, slabs of applewood smoked bacon, Vermont cheddar, and slices of locally grown apples, all served on the bread of my choice. As strange as it may sound, it was at that exact moment, as my gaze shifted toward a long wooden shelf, piled high with freshly baked loaves, that I realized food could be beautiful. There were pyramids of golden honey oat bread, flecked with oatmeal and flaxseed. Beside them sat rounds of peasant loaves, deep molasses-colored pumpernickel, and hearty looking rectangles of real, authentic (i.e.: not dyed) whole wheat bread.  I loved seeing the breads all exposed there outside of plastic packaging, their colors like a rainbow of earth tones decorated with tiny seeds and knife markings.

The moment I bit through the thick slices of honey oat bread, everything I previously believed about sandwiches changed. When they contained meats and add-ons that were good enough to serve as a meal all on their own (I'm not so sure a single slab of bologna would look so hot on a plate), and were served between pieces of artisan made bread, the sandwich, it turned out, had the potential to be the perfect meal.

This lightly fermented Italian yeast bread bakes up into a beautifully light and airy loaf that is ideal for dipping, and has the potential to elevate even the most basic sandwich. Do not be intimidated by the rather longwinded recipe; like all good breads, this filone is worth the wait. Although there are many steps, each one is very simple to tackle. In order to make the whole process easier, I suggest making your starter, or biga, the night before you plan to bake the loaves (the biga can stay in the fridge for anywhere between 8-24 hours prior to baking). In short, this filone is a real game changer. I hope you'll fall in love with it too.

taken from Saveur

1 2/3 cups tap water, heated to 115 degrees
1 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
3 1/4 cups, plus 2/3 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for greasing bowls
2 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2-1 cup ice cubes

In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup water and1/2 tsp. yeast; let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add 2/3 cup flour, and mix until a smooth dough forms. Transfer to a lightly floured surface, and knead until fairly smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer the ball of dough to a greased bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Place bowl in a cold oven, and let sit for 1 hour; transfer bowl to refrigerator, and let sit for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours to ferment. This ball of dough is the biga, a quick and simple starter that imparts large bubbles and a lightly fermented flavor to the dough. Remove biga from refrigerator, and let sit to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

Transfer biga to a large bowl and add remaining 1 1/3 cups water and 1 teaspoon yeast; stir until biga breaks up and is partly dissolved in water. Add remaining 3 1/4 cups flour, along with oil and salt, and stir until dough forms. Let the dough sit to allow flour to hydrate, about 20 minutes (the term for this process is called autolysis).

Knead dough, which will be very wet and sticky, in the bowl until it begins to tighten and becomes smooth, about 4 minutes. (The dough for this bread must be very wet to achieve its light and airy texture.) Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, and continue kneading, using a bench scraper to help if necessary, until smooth and elastic, about 6 minutes more. At this point, the dough will be sticky to the touch but will release from your hands fairly easily. It will also have formed a tight skin on the outside that can hold its shape when stretched lightly.

Transfer the dough ball to a lightly greased bowl, and cover it with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in a cold oven, and let the dough rest until it doubles in size, about 2 hours. (When you press your finger into the dough, the fingerprint should spring back slowly. Lightly dust a sheet of parchment paper with flour, and set it on a rimless baking sheet.)

Lightly dust a work surface with flour, and transfer dough to work surface. Using a bench scraper or a chef's knife, cut dough into two equal–sized pieces, and flatten slightly. Fold the top and bottom edges of one piece toward the middle, and flatten dough at the seam with the palm of your hand; turn dough over, seam side down, and shape into a 12 inch log. Transfer log to the prepared, floured parchment paper, and repeat this folding and shaping procedure with remaining dough piece. Lift the parchment paper between the loaves slightly. Loosely cover dough logs on baking sheet with plastic wrap, and transfer to a cold oven; let sit until dough logs double in size, about 90 minutes. (Because the temperature in kitchens can vary, thus speeding up or slowing down a dough's rise, placing the dough in a cold oven keeps the temperature more constant.)

Remove proofed loaves on baking sheet from oven, and place a cast–iron skillet on the bottom rack of oven; position another rack above skillet, and place a baking stone on top of it. Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Uncover dough logs, and sprinkle with flour; this looks aesthetically pleasing and adds another dimension of flavor from the toasted flour. Using the corner of the parchment paper as a guide, slide the loaves, still on the paper, onto the baking stone; and position evenly on the stone. Place ice cubes in skillet (this produces steam that allows the loaves to rise fully before a crust forms on the exterior). Bake loaves until dark golden brown and crisp, about 50 minutes; let cool before serving.


  1. Wow, you have inspired me greatly!! I can't wait to try this and taste it :) Thank you...

  2. Thanks Elizabeth! I'm so glad you found this post inspiring! Although the recipe looks quite long winded, it's actually very simple. All you need is a bit of time. I brought my filone to a dinner party over the weekend, and it was a big hit! Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions. Thanks again for dropping by! :)
    (P.S. - I just checked out your site...beautiful stuff :)

  3. So what did you do with the ice cubes?

  4. Hello, and thanks for stopping by. When the dough is placed on the baking stone, the ice cubes are poured into a skillet (placed at the bottom of the oven) to produce steam while the bread bakes. The steam helps to create a good crust on the bread (while preventing it from burning). Feel free to let me know if you have any other questions! I hope you'll enjoy this recipe :)