I really love visiting Malta and eating in the restaurants that served local food. I particularly like the bread (Ħobż Malti), and the snack called Ħobż-bi-żejt (bread and oil), which I found remarkably like a Tunisian Sandwich. Maltese bread is a solid sourdough bread. It has a crisp crust and a light crumb with irregular holes – and it is very tasty. It uses a dough-like starter (pre-ferment) called ħmira or tinsila in Maltese, but called biga in Italian.
My starting point for this recipe was Anne & Helen Caruana Galizia’s book The Food & Cookery of Malta, but the recipe has evolved somewhat through experimentation.
Hobz Malti (Maltese Bread)
Ingredients for Stage 1 - making your dough starter
- 3 grams active dry yeast (or 7 grams fresh yeast)
- 100 grams lukewarm water (body temperature, 37º C, or just cool enough to put your little finger in. I use 1/3 boiling to 2/3 tap water)
- 100 grams strong flour (unsifted)
Ingredients for Stage 2 - Refresh Tinsila (old dough)
- 200 grams Previously made starter or Tinsila (old dough)
- 100 grams lukewarm water
- 100 grams strong flour
Ingredients for Stage 3 - Make the Bread
- 200 grams Tinsila (old dough) (keep the other half from stage 2 in the fridge for next time)
- 3 grams active dry yeast (or 7 grams fresh yeast; you use less, or none, but leave the bread to rise longer)
- 250 ml lukewarm water
- 400 grams strong flour
- 10 grams salt
- [Optional] Sesame seeds or additional flour for dusting
Stage 1 - Make your the dough starter (only do once, if you don't have a starter)
- Place all Stage 1 ingredients in bowl
- Mix by hand until a smooth dough (add more water if necessary)
- Knead for a few minutes (may be tricky due to the small quantity).
- Cover and leave in a warm place (about 21-29º C) for at least 6 hours. Overnight if cooler.
Stage 2 - Refresh Tinsila (old dough)
- Mix all Stage 2 ingredients in a bowl
- Mix/knead to a ball
- Cover and leave in a warm place (about 21º C) for at least 6 hours. Overnight if cooler.
- Split Tinsila in two. Store half for future use; you can dry it, or store in the fridge or freezer. Use the other half for the bread
Stage 3 - Make the Bread
- Mix 200 grams Tinsila or old dough, yeast, and water in a bowl. Dissolve the dough starter by squeezing with your fingers.
- Add salt and flour to yeast mixture and mix.
- Add just enough flour to yeast mixture so it stops being a batter and holds together as a soft dough. The wetter it is the bigger the holes in the final bread, but don't make it too wet or the loaf will collapse. .
- Cover and rest the dough for 10 minutes.
- Knead the dough in the bowl until it is smooth and silky (about 10 min).
- Turn into an oiled bowl, cover and leave to rise in a warm place (21-29º C) 2-5 hours.
- Turn the dough over in the bowl every hour during that time.
- DO NOT KNEAD OR KNOCK BACK – we want the air bubbles intact.
- At this point you can store the dough in the fridge
- When ready to bake transfer to a floured work top.
- Lightly slash the top of the dough.
- [Optional Step] Dip dough in a pile of sesame seeds or sprinkle flour over the top of dough.
- Gently transfer to an oiled or floured baking tray
- Leave to rise in a warm place until doubled from its original size (about 45 min).
- Bake at 230º C (or as high as it will go) for 30-40 min; check after 25 min to turn the loaf around.
- Remove from oven and leave to cool uncovered on a wire rack.
- The final loaf is 70% hydration.
Sources and inspiration
Beth. Biga sponge/starter for Italian breads. http://countrylife.net/pages/recipes/684.html [broken link].
Anne & Helen Caruana Galizia. (2001). The Food & Cookery of Malta. Pax.
This book started a resurgence in interest in Maltese cooking, and was the basis for this recipe. Helen. one of the authors, emailed me and suggested I put contact details up should you wish to obtain a copy: Pax Books: 75 Quentin Road, London, SE13 5DG, England
Geri Guidetti. Italian Biga Bread. http://waltonfeed.com/grain/y-rec/biga.html.
Jack Lang. Sourdough Bread. http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=27634.