We have two basic fresh breads (pan is Spanish for bread) in Puerto Rico: Pan de Agua and Pan Sobao. Pan de Agua is a basic bread, similar to Italian or French bread, but with a softer crust, and a tight, soft crumb. Pan Sobao is richer, with shortening and sugar. Again, soft texture.
While these are both fabulous breads, I am Italian-American, and I miss the crusty bread I grew up with. I decided to make my own.
I've made bread many times before, but two things are different here: you can't get unbleached flour, and you can't get instant yeast. Instant yeast is fool-proof: you mix it with the flour and salt, add the water, and you're done. Here, I can only get active dry yeast, which is more temperamental. You need to proof it in warm water for 10 minutes before adding additional ingredients. If you don't get bubbles, the yeast is dead. Start over. As to the flour, I can only get bleached, enriched flour here. The nearest Whole Foods in 1,400 miles away.
I found several recipes for bread on the Internet and settled on this:
I made a biga, with 1/2 teaspoon of yeast proofed in one cup of warm water, and one and 1 1/2 cups of flour. I let this sit at room temperature for five hours, then put it in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day:
- Proof one package of active dry yeast in two cups of warm water.
- Add five cups of flour, a little at a time, along with two teaspoons of salt.
- Add the biga, knead for 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.
- Let rise in a slightly oiled bowl for one and 1/2 hours, or until doubled in volume.
- Punch down, and fold on itself several times to redistribute the yeast.
- Let rise another hour, or until doubled in volume again.
- Shape into a loaf, and transfer to a lightly-oiled sheet pan that's dusted with corn meal.
- Preheat the oven to 375F with a oven-proof pan of water in the oven. Bake for an hour. The internal temperature should be 200F.
- Let rest for at least 20 minutes. Slice and eat. This bread freezes very well.