I’m baking a lot this week. Early on, the baking is entirely penitential (in sort of an decadent way): Just lots of ciabatta and rye loaves. Holy wee is a time I like to up the Fast a bit, removing oil and alcohol entirely, and simplifying my meals to the extreme. This week I’m keeping it to grapefruit, oatmeal, bread, and soup..maybe some sunflower butter if I’m feeling a need for protein. Because Yarrow is still nursing, I can’t really go on a hardcore Holy Week fast, I need calories, but not too many, I want to really rejoice in the Easter season! Seth and Yarrow are bread-fiends.. They can never get enough. I love bread, but more the baking end than the eating..still, I want some leftover for my own meals, so today I’m baking a double batch (four largish loaves) of ciabatta and one recipe of rye (two sandwich loaves) to dip in my soup at lunch and dinner.
My favorite Ciabatta recipe is one I gleaned from Peter Reinhart’s The Breadbaker’s Apprentice. I don’t always follow the recipe now, but the basic idea is easy to grasp. It requires bread flour..the gluten, or proteins, or some aspect of the flour are essential to this bread being all open and beautiful. It also requires a long rising time - the sponge (or poolish as he calls it) sits out for 4 hours and then chills for an additional 8 hours..if you let it sit longer, you get a nice sourdoughy flavor, I’ve let mine sit out all day and then not chilled it, which works just fine, so don’t worry if you forget all about it overnight.
About 3 1/2 cups Bread flour
About 1/2 teaspoon yeast
About 2 cups water (neither hot nor cold - the kind Jesus spits out)
Mix it all together, cover (I usually use a clean, cloth napkin) and set to rise. After about 3-5 hours, chill in the fridge (or anywhere cold but not freezing) overnight..if you remember.
The next morning, let the sponge warm up for about an hour, then add
About 1 1/2 teaspoons yeast
About 2 - 3 teaspoons salt
About 3 cups Bread flour
Enough water to make a soft, sticky dough - not unmanageable, but very sticky and ‘loose’ feeling..this totally depends on your humidity, your flour, and your sponge’s consistency, but usually ends up being between 3/4 a cup and 1 1/2 cups.
Kneed the dough for about 5-8 minutes, until it’s all smooth and all the flour has been incorporated. Turn it out onto a floured board (or your table) and let it rest for about 10 minutes, then stretch and fold the dough (fold is pretty self-explanatory). Let it rise for about 2 hours, fold again and let it rise again for another 1 1/2..Then sprinkle cornmeal on a baking sheet, and gently shape the dough into large (or small) loaves. Let them rise again for 30-45 minutes. Bake with the stove starting at 500, but turn it down (or dump on some wood to force it down, if you’re baking in a wood oven) and bake around 425-450 until the loaves are all golden on top and sound hollow when tapped - about 10 minutes in my stove. Let them cool to just warm before eating. They are amazing slathered in honey and butter.. But this is Holy Week, so don’t even think about it.