Bake Some Bread, Dammit!

January 18, 2011

Photo courtesy of Carri Thurman by way of Michael Ruhlman

Michael Ruhlman is running a series on bread baking over on his blog, trying to get folks to bake bread.  Of course, I’m a sucker for bread, having baked for nearly 20 years (including my mad scientist days when I was in law school and had multiple types of sourdough starter sitting in my kitchen).  When I saw one guest blogger post a story and recipe about ciabatta, I knew I had to make it.  First, I love ciabatta, with its rustic shape and straight-forward flavors.  Second, this recipe  comes from a bakery — Two Sisters —  in one of my favorite places in the world, Homer, Alaska (also home to the best pizza in Alaska, Finn’s).  This recipe is of the “no knead” variety, which I typically like because of its simplicity, but which I usually don’t love, because the full flavors you desire aren’t usually completely developed.  This recipe was a bit different — it was a two-stage process, where a dense starter with a minimal amount of yeast sits on the counter for at least 12 hours.  Then warm water is added, and you break up the starter into small clumps before adding more flour and yeast.  It’s a very wet dough, but it’s perfect for the rectangular “slipper” shape of a ciabatta.

And, quite frankly, it was the best bread I’ve ever made.  I’m already craving this bread and hope to make it again very soon.  Thanks to Carri Thurman of Two Sisters Bakery and to Michael Ruhlman for publishing her recipe (and allowing me to reprint it).  I’ve made a couple of minor changes, based on what I had in the house on Saturday.

CIABATTA
Recipe by Carri Thurman

To make the starter:

  • 1 tablespoon whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon rye flour
  • 3 cups/14 ounces/400 grams bread flour (I used King Arthur, but unbleached all purpose flour is OK)
  • 1 cup/8 ounces/240 grams tepid water
  • ¼ teaspoon/1 gram active dry yeast dissolved in 1 cup warm water (set aside)
  1. Combine the flours and tepid water in a medium sized mixing bowl.
  2. Add 1 teaspoon of the yeasted water (that’s correct, just 1 teaspoon — discard the rest)
  3. Mix it into a firm ball, kneading it  just a bit.
  4. Cover the bowl and let it rest at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours

To make the dough:

  • 1 teaspoon/4 grams active dry yeast
  • 3 1/4 cups/15.5 ounces/430 bread flour (or unbleached all purpose flour)
  • 1 tablespoon/.4 ounces/11 grams salt
  1. Cut the dense starter dough into 6 or 8 pieces and put them in a large mixing bowl. Pour 2 cups/450 grams warm water over it and let sit a few minutes to soften. Break it up more with your hands.  Don’t worry about small-sized chunks.
  2. Add the additional flour, salt and yeast,  and using a wooden spoon, beat the mixture together well. It will resemble a stiff pancake batter and appear quite rough, but still don’t worry about those chunks of  starter dough. Let the dough sit, covered lightly, in a warm spot.
  3. Come back to it every 20 minutes or so and pull the dough away from the sides of the bowl and into the center using a rubber spatula or dough scraper. Do this four times. After the last turn you will be able to see that the dough has become smoother and more uniform, now cover and let it finish rising for another hour and a half. Total rising time for this period should be 2 ½ to 3 hours.
  4. Scrape the dough out onto a well floured surface and fold together lightly. It will be fairly wet. Divide into two equal loaves and either pull apart into a flat focaccia style or fold the two ends into the center, like folding a letter, to form rectangular mound.
  5. Place loaves on parchment paper lined sheet pan side by side for final rise, 30 to 45 minutes.
  6. Prep your oven by preheating to 450 degrees F/230 degree C and putting a baking stone or a cast iron griddle on the middle rack.  If no stones/griddles, just back on the sheet pan.
  7. When ready to bake, lightly flour the tips of your fingers and deflate some of the bubbles; don’t worry, it’ll bounce back in the oven.
  8. Cut the parchment paper between the loaves to separate, and slide each loaf right onto to the stone or griddle. Or keep it on the pan.  Whatever.  Spray the loaves and oven with some water from a spray bottle to create some steam.  Bake until dark-ish golden brown and internal temp reaches 200 degrees F, approximately 25 minutes.

Makes two 1-3/4 pound ciabattas


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My Morning With an Artisanal Baker

February 18, 2008

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My watch’s alarm chirped at me at 4:15. It was time for me to get my sorry butt out of bed, shower, and make the 15 minute drive to Cary’s La Farm Bakery. I kept asking myself why the hell I had asked to spend a few hours in this award-winning artisanal bakery. Of course, by the time I arrived at 4:50, Philippe Comte had been there for nearly five hours. That’s the life of an apprentice baker, who has come to the US from his home in Paris to learn from a baking master such as Lionel Vatinet. For me, I was just some “journalist” who wanted to spend a few hours with my hands in the dough.

It was February 14 — Valentine’s Day — but I had totally forgotten about that until I arrived to see Philippe pull a dozen loaves of heart-shaped baguettes out of the oven. That would be the theme of my visit with La Farm, as heart-shaped objects ruled the day. Cookies, tarts, bread and more were being made for the lovers of the world — OK, maybe just the lovers of Cary.

Lionel Vatinet has traveled the world, first to learn to make bread, and then to teach others the secrets of the craft, and then, nearly 10 years ago, to open his own bakery with his then girlfriend and now wife, Missy. There was nothing magical about Cary, as Lionel wanted to set up shop in California, but Missy had some family in North Carolina and wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle. So due to the lack of any firm roots, we here in the Triangle ended up being the beneficiaries of their new home. Read the rest of this entry »


Easier No Knead Bread

December 3, 2007

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Anyone who is even remotely interested in food is aware of Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread recipe that became mainstream 13 months ago when Mark Bittman of the NY Times wrote about it. Food websites were agog about this new way to make bread, which required a really wet dough, a long, overnight rise, and baking in a large covered pot. Nearly every newspaper in the country covered the phenomenon of being able to have a crusty loaf of bread without any kneading, with many trying to tweak the recipe to enhance the depth of flavor. Me? I never made it. I even broke down and bought a nice enameled cast iron pot in which to bake a loaf, but for some reason, I just never got around to making this bread.

Last week, however, I read about a new type of no-knead bread. A bread so simple, even a 7 year old could make it. This process also relies on a very wet dough, but you only let the dough sit for a couple of hours. Each batch makes three or four loaves of crusty bread, but you don’t need to bake it all at once. The unused dough can sit in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, and you pull off a portion and bake it when you want.

I gave the recipe to my 7 year old daughter, who has been cooking a lot with our sitter, and I came home on Friday with a bull full of dough waiting for me. I pinched off a couple of grapefruit sized pieces of dough, lightly dusted them with flour, and let them sit on a pizza peel for 40 minutes or so. I popped the orbs into a hot oven with a baking stone, and you know what, my daughter and I ended up with some most excellent bread. And I baked the rest of it tonight, resulting in an even more flavorful loaf.

So, give this recipe a try. If you time it right, you can have fresh bread all the time. And if a 7 year old can do it, I’m sure you can, too.

Recipe after the break.

Read the rest of this entry »