bread that you’re happy with
is a matter of both the
and your expectations.
-- William Rubel
This is my second bread post... ever. But that doesn't mean this is my second loaf. This is more my 22nd loaf. And, I'm pretty much in love with this quest I've embarked on to learn the ins and outs of bread making.
My first and second bread posts really shouldn't have been this far apart, but I've just changed jobs and I am on a pretty steep learning curve. As a type-A perfectionist (Samantha, you are not alone), I find it a challenge super motivating and any form of failure extremely deflating (for a moment, then it's on if you know what I mean). Well, it's really the same thing in the kitchen.
The one thing that I love-Love-LOVE about the kitchen is that I can experiment and try new things with near-instant results. Then I can keep what works, throw out what doesn't! I love to celebrate the successes and laugh at the failures (after I grieve, of course). I really enjoyed this blog post from An Artist's Journal that related homemade bread to the philosophy of art making. I'm really an artist at heart, after all.
Well anyway, the other day I came home for lunch to continue my bread odyssey with a ciabatta loaf and a rye loaf, simultaneously. Both were huge hits in my house. We always have our neighbors over when I've baked fresh bread, in part to keep us from having to eat the entire thing and the rest because we love them. My husband, however, ate almost the entire loaf of ciabatta before our neighbors arrived from next door. So, they each were left with but a sliver.
Now, I started with the recipe from the "Becoming Bread" post and then tweaked the application a bit to end up with a ciabatta loaf. In fact, I started with the full quantity, made the dough, then halved the dough for two separate bread attempts!
1/2 c. Starter (See the recipe in the Becoming Bread post)
1 1/2 c. Bread Flour*
1 tbsp. vital wheat gluten
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. dry active yeast
1/2 c. lukewarm water*
1 tbsp. olive oil
Up Front Tips:
1. To begin with in this ciabatta process, I used the starter ("my longest living pet" as I've coined it) that I've cultivated over the past couple of months.
2. This dough needs to be a bit less structured than the french country loaf, so you will absolutely need to let it rest multiple times between flour adds so that you keep the dough very stringy and elastic.
3. Because it's going to be sticky, rub your hands with a bit of olive oil before handling, this will keep you away from that ever present impulse to add more flour.
4. Start early, because the key to good bread according to William Rubel is not to bake your bread before it's ready to be baked.
5. It's not going to be perfect the first time, or the last. Adjust your expectations, my dear Reader. It will be delicious all the same.
6. Use your breadmaker/mixer to do the heavy lifting, but a bit of hand kneading is good for the soul.
Instructions (Long Version)
Bread baking seems to me like it is more about techniques and time and texture of individual steps and much less about the exact proportion of ingredients. At this point, I don't know whether this is true or if it is a logical fallacy that I've invented to justify the fact that I don't really like to follow anyone else's recipes.
That said, take everything with a tsp. of salt and make it your own.
Add the water, starter, yeast, sugar, and salt to the bowl. Then add most of the flour, but reserve some to avoid that over-formed bread we were talking of earlier.
Turn on the knead function (or just pick a random setting on your bread machine to get it going) or use your dough hook and a low setting on your stand mixer.
Knead the dough for about 10 minutes. It's going to look like a sticky mess and may not be "balling" at all at this point. This is fine, it's as it should be. If it's too dry and crumbly, add some more water (a tablespoon at a time).
At this point, let it rest. Go make yourself a cup of hot tea and come back in about 15 minutes. Often, I find there is an absolute transformation in the dough from soupy to sturdy...
As you begin to knead (with your mixer / bread maker) take a look at the dough, you want it to begin to ball but when you stop the mixer it should still be able to relax.
Now it is time for the first rise. Oil those fingers, grab the dough ball, give it a quick hand knead, then toss it into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap. Rise for 4 hours or until well doubled.
When the dough is ready for you to continue, gently shape it into a rectangle (traditional) or other shape (read: whatever the dough chooses to be) and let it rise. This can be either under oiled plastic wrap or a damp towel. It also works if you set up some cans around the loaf and place the damp towel on the cans to create a little bread shelter.
I've found that the longer I let this loaf rise, the better the holes I achieve. So, this loaf rose from 1PM to 7PM when it entered into the oven. Generally, the guidance is about a 2 hour rise. Just experiment and see what you come up with.
Bake at 415 degrees for 25 minutes or until your bread tester / bbq thermometer says it's done. If you are using the thermometer method, look for >205 degrees F. If you are using the bread (cake) tester method, make sure that the tester comes out clean.
Cut and Serve!