Thursday, September 17, 2009

Splatgirl vs. Ciabatta Bread, Round 1

Now that I've got my wood-fired oven up and running and have started to get a handle on the whole pizza making thing, I'm working on dipping a toe into bread baking. Being a "bread baker" is something I've always aspired to do but never really fully embraced mostly because I've had limited success with so many of my previous attempts. This time, however, I think I'm well and truly committed and willing to work through whatever failures I encounter just because playing with fire and smoke and hot bricks is so darn fun and it's a way to make the most of a nice hot oven in the aftermath of a pizza cooking event. And because what I really love are those crusty artisan breads and a WFO is absolutely perfect for that type of baking.

I decided I'd start with trying to master my most favorite kinds of breads, and toward that end I've been cultivating a wild-yeast sourdough starter. As those of you who are bread bakers know, starting a sourdough culture from scratch takes time and patience. I've tried before and failed, but this time it actually seems to be working which is just the kind of early encouragement I needed! I've only just barely gotten it to a point where it's ready for an actual attempt at sourdough bread (tomorrow, with full report to follow) but while waiting around for my little yeasties to grow and thrive and sour, I've been reading and researching like crazy, trying to really understand all the howto's and whatfors of bread baking instead of just blindly following recipes as I've tended to do in the past.
Anyway, in the course of that adventure I came across a recipe for ciabatta that sounded so foolproof and simple that I knew I just HAD to try it. Because really, it's my favorite bread for just about anything and to say that my previous attempts at home-making ciabatta were limited succeses would be drastically overstating things. In fact, those loaves have been some of my most miserable failures. But as of today, my ciabatta world has shifted, and I'm exceedingly proud and happy to report ciabatta success!

The recipe comes from The Fresh Loaf website, which is a new-to-me and completely awesome resource on all things bread baking. It's basically a very, very wet, batter-like dough that, by beating the daylights out of in the Kitchen Aid, turns into a wobbly gluten-y wonder that requires nothing more than a couple of hours worth of rising and proofing. I thought the recipe seemed pretty amazing, and now that I've made it, I'll say that it IS pretty amazing. I'm certainly no expert, but it seems like the effort to results ratio is well into the realm of fabulous with this one. You can find the recipe here.

I neglected to take a picture of the various states of the dough, but as I said it starts off more like cake batter and is transformed by A LOT of whapping about in the mixer to a jiggly blob that holds together quite strongly but is still very, very sticky and wet. Here's my proofing loaves:
proofing ciabatta
All I did to get to this point was mix and then do a bulk ferment in a container on the counter until the dough had tripled. Then I dumped it out of the container onto floured parchment and cut and nudged it into three portions with my dough scraper, being careful to degas it as little as possible. These sat to raise for about 45 minutes before being flipped onto another piece of floured parchment on my peel and then shoved off into a hot oven:

finished loaves of ciabatta

For the sake of time and R&D, I baked these off in my indoor oven on a preheated baking stone with the temperature at 500. As you can see, I think I went a bit overboard with the flour, but that's an easy fix. And my crumb didn't come out quite as open and loose as I think it should have, which I'm taking to mean that I should have let the dough whap about in the Kitchen Aid a bit longer. I mixed this batch on speed 6 for about 15 minutes, so I guess next time I'll go for 20 or 25 and see if that gets me bigger holes. And yea, there DEFINITLEY WILL be a next time, as in probably tonight or tomorrow, because the end result is ridiculously tasty for what little time and effort it required, and this is by far the most successful I've ever been with a ciabatta. I can't wait to try it in the WFO!

Check out the best part of the whole endeavour...a delicious tomato/arugula/cheddar sandwich for lunch:
tomato, cheddar and arugula on fresh baked ciabatta

I'm darn pleased with myself and I can't wait for Boy to get home so I can show off my mad skillz. Good thing the recipe made three loaves or he might have missed it!


Ahhh you have a wood fired oven?!?
I'm so jealous!
holy moly! that ciabatta bread looks perfect, absolutely perfect. wow. wish i had some right noww!
I made a half batch of bread yesterday and it turned out almost perfect. The dough is the sloppiest mess you can imagine but it sure came out light and airy. I'll be making more. Only difficulty is keeping the dough warm enough to rise. Usually keep the house at about 65 this time of year.
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