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The night before, make the biga (see tip, below). Stir yeast with 50ml warm water, stand for 10 mins, then add another 80ml warm water. Gradually add the flour in a stand mixer on its lowest setting. Once it’s a wet dough, transfer to a well-oiled bowl, cover and leave for 12 hours or overnight at room temperature.
In the morning, combine the yeast and milk and leave to stand for 10 mins. Tip into a freestanding mixer fitted with a dough hook, add 160ml water, the biga and the olive oil. Then add the flour and 1 heaped tsp salt. Use the dough hook of a stand mixer to combine the dough. Knead for 10 mins until smooth and elastic. Don’t worry if it looks very wet, it should to be a very wet dough! Pour into a well-oiled bowl and cover with cling film. Leave to prove for an hour and a half or until doubled in size.
Once rested, begin to do a series of folds – lift the dough from the edge, pull up, over, then release it. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and do the same again. Repeat so you do a full turn of the bowl twice, or 8 folds. Rest for 30 mins, then repeat the whole folding process once more.
Heat the oven to 220C/200C fan/gas mark 6. Tip the dough onto a really well-floured surface and cut in half. The dough will feel like a batter and spread across the surface a bit, but don’t panic, just work on a well-floured surface, using the flour and a pastry scraper to help move the dough. Shape the dough into 2 large squares (about 20cm x 20cm). Dealing with each loaf at a time, fold the dough in from each side, as if folding a booklet. Flip over, then pick up the roll and place each onto separate well-floured sheets of baking paper. The roll will be very soft, so oil or flour your hands well. Allow to rest for another 30 mins, covered with a floured tea towel. Don’t worry if it spreads a little.
While the dough rests, heat a baking sheet in the oven. Once the dough has rested, slide each of the loaves, along with the baking paper beneath them, onto the hot baking sheet. Bake for 35-40 mins, until the crust is golden and the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the base. Move to a wire rack and cool for an hour before slicing and serving with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
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