Oh, the puns, the puns. I was telling Carlo yesterday, I don’t know if my pun-brain is a blessing or a curse. Probably both– a blessing for me, because it always makes me feel clever, and a curse for everyone who is subjected to it, because, really, they have to hear the pun and then smile politely through gritted teeth.
As if monthly Daring Bakers creations weren’t enough, I’ve recently set myself a new personal challenge. For the last few months, the DB challenges have focused on one of my most-beloved and most-neglected cookbooks– Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Bakers Apprentice. It was a reminder and a great jump-start for an idea I’ve been kneading around for a while (see what I did there? Kneading develops the dough, I’m developing an idea. I’m clearly a brilliant wordsmith).
See, I love baking. There’s something about being wrist-deep in dough, and the careful steps along the way that’s so satisfying. There’s very little in the world that I enjoy more than sawing into a loaf of bread that I. Made. Myself. I love the patience it requires, and the skill, and I love the way that every time I bake a loaf of bread I learn something new. I love kneading dough until it comes together into a silky mass, I love the smooth belly of risen dough before I punch it down for shaping. I love bread.
I’m a decent, but not superb, bread baker, and I know that I’ve got a lot to learn about the chemistry and formulas and proportions of bread if I want to improve. I’ve long been fascinated and intimidated by Reinhart’s book. What I love is how informational the text is, how much I’ve learned already just by paging through the book. But now I’ve decided it’s time to get a little more serious. So I’ve decided to bake my way through the book. This is not a side-project, I’m not starting a new blog, it’ll just be a bit of reporting now and again on my attempts and (I hope) successes. Obviously since I’m cooking through the whole book I won’t be posting recipes (feel free to search for them elsewhere online. I know some are out there. The book is a great investment though), but I hope to talk about what worked for me, what didn’t work, and what I learned about bread-baking technique.
I suppose that technically I’ve already started this project with my Daring Bakers pizza, so I won’t call this an inaugural post. Over the weekend, I made ciabatta. I suppose I should have chosen cinnamon rolls, or remade lavash crackers (which I MADE but then didn’t post for the DB challenge date… oops), but I recently had some incredible ciabatta from a great local bakery, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. Plus, we were having a dinner party and I wanted to make something so impressive, so beautiful and tasty, that Carlo’s family (our guests) would tell Carlo he should marry me all over again. So, ciabatta.
This bread required a pre-ferment, and I had the choice between a biga and a poolish. I chose the poolish, for no really good reason, except that it came first in the book. It’s a really easy-to-make sponge of just flour, yeast, and water, that I left out on the countertop for 4 hours to develop (it got all bubbly–see the photo below) before I popped it into the fridge overnight.
The next day I combined my poolish with flour, water and more yeast before the kneading process, which is one I’ve never used before. Because the dough was so wet, I couldn’t turn it out onto the counter to work with it. Instead, I left it in the bowl and used my hand like a dough hook, rotating the bowl with my other hand.
Yes, I could have used my stand mixer, and maybe it would even have turned out better. Hands-off work requires less flour addition, after all. And from what I understand, the reason I didn’t have nice big holes in my finished bread is because the dough wasn’t wet enough. But, like I said above, I love being wrist-deep in dough, so I went the hands-on route. I will try the stand mixer next time*.
The ciabatta baked into lovely loaves, helped along a bit by a super-preheated oven (baking stone in, oven preheated at 500 F for 45 minutes), and a little bit of spritzing in the early stages: put bread in, close oven door. Open oven door and spray walls of oven (I followed Reinhart’s suggestion and covered the glass of the door with a towel, just in case of errant sprays). Close oven door for 30 seconds, then spray again. Repeat once more.
As you can see by the picture at the top of the page, the bread baked up beautiful and golden. It had fantastic flavour, and while Carlo’s family didn’t start planning our second wedding, they all loved it, and two and a half loaves (they were small, granted) disappeared into 6 peoples mouths.
*ahem… I’ve got loaves in the oven as I write, made with the stand mixer. I’ll post an update if they work out differently from the ones I’ve already made.