James Carrier
Makes 2 loaves, 1 3/4 pounds each

Biga is a yeast-based starter for which a portion of the dough is mixed first and allowed to ferment, giving the finished loaf some of the characteristics of bread made with a sourdough starter. Mix biga 1 day before baking bread. To toast cumin seeds, shake in a frying pan over medium heat until aromatic, 2 to 3 minutes. Let cool, then coarsely grind in a mortar and pestle or coarsely chop with a knife.

How to Make It

Step 1

In the bowl of a standing mixer or another large bowl, sprinkle yeast over 1 cup warm (100° to 110°) water; let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

Step 2

Add 3/4 cup cold water, biga, zucchini, 3 cups bread flour, whole-wheat flour, and salt to yeast mixture. Beat with paddle attachment on low speed, or stir with a heavy spoon, until well blended. Gradually beat or stir in 1 1/2 more cups bread flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until mixture forms a soft dough.

Step 3

Switch to a dough hook and beat on medium speed until dough is smooth and elastic and pulls cleanly from sides of bowl but is still slightly sticky, 6 to 8 minutes; or scrape dough onto a lightly floured board and knead by hand until smooth and elastic but still slightly sticky, 7 to 10 minutes.

Step 4

Add parsley, bell pepper, pistachios, cumin, and chili flakes and beat in with dough hook or knead in by hand just until incorporated (after mixing in by hand, place dough in a bowl).

Step 5

Cover bowl with plastic wrap; let dough rise at room temperature until doubled, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Punch down with your hand to expel air.

Step 6

Re-cover dough with plastic wrap and let rise again until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Or for a slow rise, chill at least 8 and up to 12 hours; let come to room temperature, about 3 hours.

Step 7

Scrape dough onto a well-floured board and knead briefly to expel air. Divide in half. With lightly floured hands, gather each half into a ball, then stretch and tuck edges under to shape into a smooth oval with slightly tapered ends (about 8 in. long and 4 in. wide in the center). Place loaves on a well-floured surface, dust lightly with flour, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until they're slightly puffy and hold the imprint of a finger when lightly pressed, about 1 1/2 hours.

Step 8

Sprinkle a 13- by 17-inch baking sheet generously with cornmeal. Transfer loaves, one at a time, to sheet, spacing 2 to 3 inches apart. With a sharp knife, make three diagonal slashes 1 inch deep and 1 to 2 inches apart across loaf tops. Place sheet on rack in lower third of a 450° regular or convection oven.

Step 9

Or, if using a baking stone, gently slide edge of cornmeal-covered baking sheet under one loaf and lift it onto end of sheet. Slash as directed above, then gently slide loaf onto one side of stone in oven, leaving room for second loaf. Repeat to slash and transfer second loaf.

Step 10

Spray 3 to 4 squirts of water on floor or sides of oven, taking care not to spray near heating element or lightbulb, then quickly close door.

Step 11

Bake bread, spraying twice more at 5-minute intervals during the first 10 minutes of baking, until crust is well browned, 35 to 45 minutes total.

Step 12

Transfer loaves to a rack to cool for at least 1 hour. Store in paper bags at room temperature up to 2 days. To recrisp the crust, place loaves directly on a rack in a 400° oven and bake for about 5 minutes.

Step 13

Biga: In a bowl, sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast over 1/4 cup warm (100° to 110°) water. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup cold water. With a wood spoon, stir in 1 1/2 cups bread flour until mixture forms a soft dough. Cover with plastic wrap and chill 12 to 24 hours. Let come to room temperature before using, about 1 hour.

Step 14

Shortcut: Without the biga, our recipes still produce great loaves. In the basic recipe, just increase the yeast by 1 1/4 teaspoons, the bread flour by 1 1/2 cups, and the water by 3/4 cup.

Step 15

Nutritional analysis per ounce.

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Ratings & Reviews

portland's Review

September 06, 2012
tried to use up garden zucchini. i make a lot of bread, this recipe was a little involved, but worth it for the excellent crust and good texture, especially for whole wheat. the taste was spicy but couldn't taste the other ingredients for the cumin and the chili. i feel there is a little too much going on in this bread.

Teribaker's Review

July 24, 2010
My family loved it, a lot of work with multiple risings. I used sundried tomatoes instead of bell pepper and used half fresh basil and half parsley. It made 2 large impressive loaves,I had to use 2 baking stones. Next time I will put extra cumin and herbs on top before baking.

Rainy030's Review

June 05, 2009
Don't know if this allowed since it is not a review but a question. Does any one know if this can be made with a bread machine and how to make the changes? It sounds wonderful but I would like to use my machine.

BeckyInCA's Review

February 09, 2009
This was my first attempt ever at making bread, and it turned out incredible! I don't have a mixer of any sort, so I did it all by hand, which was challenging at times...I had to have my b/f help with the mixing! I used the starter, which was super easy to do. The texture of the bread and the crust is outstanding, like something from a high-end bakery. I put ice cubes in a pan and refreshed them during the 5-min. intervals b/c I didn't have a mister -- worked perfectly!