You Gonna Eat All That?

A fork in one hand, a pen in the other.

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Location: Virginia, United States

(Biscuit Girl)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Ciabatta Bread

At some point in our lives, we all think about that perfect job. You know the one. It's the one where you pack it all in, quit your day job and follow your dream. Yea.....that one.

Mine would be a baker.....specifically a bread baker. I've said many times before that I find baking bread to be somewhat theraputic and relaxing. There's also the science part of it that fascinates me. The way you can take the same ingredients in varying quantities and various processing methods to come up with so many different sytles and types of bread. Which for me is funny in a way since I was never good at science school. In fact, my chemistry teacher in high school passed me with a D because he knew I really tried (and I never blew anything up).

I checked out a new bread book last week called Local breads : sourdough and whole-grain recipes from Europe's best artisan bakers by Daniel Leader. It's a great book on artisan style breads with an entire section just on the nitty gritty of baking. Sections on types of flours, yeast, fermentation, and more fill the front of the book. I found this to be as interesting as the recipes themselves and I learned quite a bit to boot.

My choice of bread to try from this book was the ciabatta which is Italian for slipper. It's a bread that Jim and I both like and buy whenever we go to Costco. After carefully studying the recipe and planning ahead I got to work on making some tasty bread.

As with most artisan or european bread recipes I've read, the first step is to make a biga, or starter. This recipe called for one that would take 9-17 hours to make and ferment. Making the biga takes only a few minutes. The rest of the time it sits and ferments.

Once the biga is ready, you add water, flour and yeast and mix it to form a dough. And being a very wet dough, using a mixer to knead it is a must. The recipe said to beat it on #8 on my Kitchen Aid mixer for 13-15 minutes, scrapping down the sides and kneading hook a few times along the way. During the first 8 or 9 minutes, I was really worried that this glop would never come together, it never cleared the sides of the mixer and was still very loose. But I stuck with it and resisted the temptation to add more flour. Around 10 minutes of kneading I began to see a change in the mixture. It was starting to come together and when I stopped the mixer to scrape the sides you could see it had become stringy but still very wet. A few more minutes of beating on #10 and it was no longer sticking to the sides of the bowl and was now forming a ball of dough. Cool! It worked!

The dough at this point reminded me of silly putty, it was soft, glossy and looked nothing like the doughs I've made before. But I still had faith that the recipe would not let me down and I proceeded to the next step, another fermentation. I put the dough into a container with a lid and according to the recipe, would let it sit for 3-4 hours to triple in size and ferment. About 30 minutes into this step I heard a "poof" from the kitchen. The lid to the container had popped off! Looks like the fermentation process was working......and quicker than the recipe called for. In just over an hour, the dough was more than triple in size and had popped the lid several more times.

At this point it was time to take the dough out, cut it in half and place it on some parchment paper for a final rise. I also lit the oven and placed a small iron skillet on the bottom rack. When it was time for the bread to go in the oven, I placed several ice cubes in the skillet to create steam which would help form that nice crust you get with artisan breads. The bread was placed in the oven and 30 minutes later was done. It looked like ciabatta.......but would it taste like ciabatta?
It did! Jim and I shared a couple of slices with some butter and gave it two thumbs up. Even Sophie gave it two paws up.

(Recipe to be added shortly)