18 January 2009

damn, that feels good

There is one tiny side-effect of cooking that I really, really love.

It makes you independent.

See, we have this truly awesome bakery here in town. Their sweet stuff is best ignored, in my humble opinion, but their bread is legendary. Whole grain, slow raised, locally procured, organic, artsisan's bread in the very best sense of the idea. They have several outlets in town, but still on saturday mornings people cue up in lines on the sidewalk to get their bread. They are really, really good.

And for several years, they were making the best ciabatta I have ever eaten. The absolute favorite bread of my wife. The best bread you could think of if you hadn't a french 'pain de campagne' around.

And then, one day this summer, they stopped making their ciabatta. Just like that. They offered another white bread, but not even remotely what we were looking for. No brittle crust, no chewy, tangy bread.

My wife was devastated, to say the least. Teary eyed, she looked at me, pleading me to bring her beloved bread back. Well, maybe a little less melodramatically so, but I think you get my point.

And guess what? I did. I searched for recipes, figured out what it actually was what we were looking for, and over sevaral weeks now have been working on the perfect bread to go with all that rillettes, the mussels and the countless other things I make.

You can't believe my joy and satisfaction when yesterday's batch didn't only turn out good, but perfect. Sure, the loaves are still a little too crooked for my taste, but that's merely technical. I'll learn that too. But the taste and the texture were pitch perfect. Not only as good as the ciabatta we were so direly missing, but better.

So, my dear bakery. You didn't only lose a faithful, year-long customer last summer. No, you also taught me how to make my own bread. I don't need you any longer, and damn, that feels good. Now kiss my *bleep*ing *bleep* and go cry in your corner.

Did I mention I really, really love being able to cook?

Rustic Ciabatta
(makes two medium loaves or a whole lotta ciabattini)
(aioli not included)

adapted & evolved from here

for the biga
a pinch of active dry yeast
200 ml warm water

300g high-gluten wheat flour (German type 550)
2 generous tablespoons whole-grain wheat flour
2 generous tablespoons whole-grain rye flour
180ml warm water [Edit: use a little more water if the biga feels too tough to handle, especially when using a machine]

for the dough
350g high-gluten wheat flour (German type 550)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
3 teaspoons salt
300 ml water

To prepare the biga, dissolve the yeast in the water.
This step is not meant to proof the yeast, but to measure a tiny little bit of yeast, see below. Probably using just a few grains would work just as fine, but so far I didn't see the reason to gamble.

Mix the different flours, add the second batch of warm water and a tiny tablespoon of the dissolved yeast. Discard the remaining yeasted water. Knead with the hook attachment for several minutes, until the dough gains elasticity.
Whatever you do, do not skip the rye flour. It is needed to bring in the necessary bacteria to get the fermentation started, else you'll end up with just another white bread.

Cover tightly and leave to ferment for two days(!).
I started yesterday's batch on thursday, and started with the proper dough on saturday morning. I think it wouldn't have hurt the dough to ferment even longer.

On the day of baking, add the remaining ingredients and knead with the hook attachment for several minutes again.
The dough is very soft and won't clear the sides of the bowl, but you should look out until you see that the dough gains elasticty.

Put the dough in a large bowl and leave to rest.

After about half an hour, take out the dough onto a well-floured surface. Do not knead but merely stretch the dough a little and fold the sides to centre. Put back into the bow and leave to rest. Repeat three more times after about half an hour each.
The dough will gain some stability by folding, while not noticeably losing air - a process that never fails to amaze me.

After the fourth time folding the dough, leave to reast another ninety minutes to two hours.

Take the dough out of its bowl (it should have at least doubled its volume by now) and cut into half, once again without kneading. Roughly push into desired form, put onto a well-floured tea towel and leave to raise a last time, about 30 to 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven as hot as you can get it, mine ends a 250°C. Put an old baking tray right onto the bottom of the oven and get a small glass of water ready.

Transfer the loaves onto a paper-lined baking sheed, turning them upside down. Pour the water onto the baking sheet on the bottom of the oven and immediately put in the bread. [Edit: Put the bread on the lowest rack possible.] Bake for about 15 minutes until the crust underneath all that flour is dark amber to walnut coloured.

Put on a rack to cool, and enjoy!

PS: Talking about great bread - have a look at Susan's tremendous WildYeast blog, where this recipe just might feature in the YeastSpotting section!


Spryte said...


foodbin said...

looks spongy!

Joie de vivre said...

Beautiful crumb. I find making my own bread so satisfying. I just made Italian Como bread today in fact!

Reuben Morningchilde said...

Thanks so much to all of you for dropping me a line!

@spryte - TY!

@foodbin - well, that was the point, though I think it's rather chewy than spongy^^

@joie - It is, absolutely. To have that kind of bread you want, anytime, is simply priceless.

Just Cook It said...

Looks fantastic

Anonymous said...

And my eternal gratitude for saving me from breadlessness! Really pretty pics btw, capture the essence of your creation beautifully.

Anonymous said...

Looks great! And amen to independence!

Anonymous said...

What wonderful bread ... such a great comfort food!


Reuben Morningchilde said...

@Alex - Thanks!

@Ash - why, thank you, darling! Everything I can do to make you happy.^^

@Camille - Amen indeed. Now I'll only have to learn how to make this hard-crusted rye bread I like so much, then I'll be at peace.

@Denise - Thanks! I never really thought of bread as comfort food, but you're absolutely right there.

Deeba PAB said...

Beautiful loaf...I can't wait to make it. It's moreish!

Reuben Morningchilde said...

@Deeba - Thanks so much, I am so happy it turned out so well. If you make it, come back here and drop me a line how it worked, will you? That'd make my day. ^^

Anonymous said...

Making good bread -- even better than the bakery -- is so satisfying. Really nice ciabatta, and thanks for joining in YeastSpotting!