Italian Bread – Making the Sponge

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 29,438
    Chef Amy Riolo demonstrates how to make the sponge for Italian whole wheat bread.

    Amy Riolo: Hi, I am Amy Riolo. Today we are making Italian wheat bread and we are going to prepare our pan as we get started by just placing a piece of parchment paper on top. If you don't have parchment paper you could grease the pan. It will be absolutely fine or you can use a silicone mat and then we are going to place a little bit of semolina on top of that. So we are just going to sprinkle some of the semolina down. This gives a nice texture to our crust. What semolina is actually, it's a wheat product and it comes during the milling process of making the wheat. As wheat is milled the first thing that are released from the outer layer of the wheat are the wheatgerm and the bran and once you get passed those two layers you get to the semolina which is this yellow color, it looks kind of like cornmeal and then you get to the middle of the actual wheat grain itself which becomes the flour and what we are used to. So this is kind of that second step before we get to flour and from the wheat bran and the germ.

    Now we are going to make our yeast and in order to proof the yeast all that we have to do is pour into one and three quarters cup of tepid water. Again, you want the water to be tepid so that the yeast will dissolve, but you don't want it to be too hot because that will stop the yeast from working and too cold will make it not dissolve at all. So we are just going to whisk those together and then we will set it aside and now we are going to start putting our flours and a pinch of sugar into the KitchenAid and this process is called making a sponge. This is our whole wheat pastry flour and this is our bread flour and then we are going to add just a pinch of sugar. The process of making a sponge is very typical in Italian baking and the reason why they make a sponge before they make the actual dough is because the sponge allows the yeast to start working with only a few ingredients.

    When you put all of the ingredients in together with the yeast in the beginning, the yeast has to fight and hold its own against a lot of different ingredients and a lot of bulk. But when you start the yeast working in with the water and just a very little bit of flour, the yeast can start working more actively and it gets to make a more unique texture in the dough. So you will find that very often, in French breads and in Italian breads.

    Now, we are going to add our liquid into our doughs and then we can mix those together. You can also whisk these with a wire whisk by hand, but since we have the KitchenAid we can go ahead and just do it this way and it's ready. At this stage, you just want it to look like a smooth batter. Once you have that smooth batter consistency you know that your sponge is ready. You can set it aside and you will need to cover it and let it rest for a minimum of four hours. If you don't have time to wait four hours to make your bread, you can set it up to a week in advance, just cover it, leave it in the refrigerator, whenever you are ready to make your bread you can come back to it and this is one of those times when it is actually good to procrastinate because the longer you leave the starter, the better it will be. When we come back we will show you what the starter looks once it's rested and we will make our dough for our wheat bread.