I love Bread, and bake daily. Whereas baking cakes and biscuits are mere chemistry, get the formula right and the end result is good – and predictable, bread is different. It is a living thing; there are so many variables even though it is just flour, water, salt and yeast. The type and age of the yeast, the flour you use, the temperature and humidity on the day you bake all have an influence on the outcome.
Whether it is a simple flatbread or something altogether more complex like Brioche, baking is an amazing process and good bread cannot be beaten.
Italian breads are amongst my favourites, the lovely Olive Oil flavoured fluffy pillows of a Focaccia, sometimes with Sundried Tomatoes, or Olives often just as it comes with a little fresh Sea Salt scattered over the surface before baking or some sprigs of Rosemary poking through the crust. Ciabatta is my other must have Italian bread, a crisp crust containing a crumb closely related to a sourdough but softer.
Raspberrybush Supper Club, run by Julie of Raspberry Catering was soon to hold an Italian themed supper and I was asked to show them how to make Ciabatta in advance of the event. I was more than pleased to agree as, the only thing better than good bread is sharing the knowledge of how to make it.
Ciabatta is one of those recipes that is best demonstrated rather than learned from a book as the dough is not for the faint hearted and, if faced by it for the first time the tendency is to add loads of flour and destroy the end result, as it is sticky and very, very elastic –think Mozzarella on a Pizza and you get the picture.
It is a two day job starting with making a Biga. This is a starter, not too dissimilar to a Sourdough starter but made with fresh yeast as opposed to the local airborne yeasts that surround us. Flour, Water and Yeast is mixed together and left in a covered bowl for 12-24 hours to develop.
Once the Biga has doubled in size, and got lots of air holes in, it’s time to move to the next stage.
The Biga goes into a Kenwood or other mixer bowl along with Water, Milk, Olive Oil and more Yeast. This is blended together with the usual mixing beater and, when fully integrated more flour is added. Carry on beating until the dough starts to form then change to the dough hook and knead at full speed.
When the dough starts to come away from the edges of the bowl, about 10 minutes usually, turn off, remove the dough hook – the elasticity of the dough first shows through here – cover the bowl and leave to rise for about an hour.
This is the scary point, and the one at which panic could lead to the addition of far too much flour!
Turn the dough onto a VERY well-floured surface. When I say turn I don’t mean turn as much as pour!
The well-floured surface is essential to stop the viscous, sticky dough adhering to the worktop, then using a plastic cutter or palette knife divide the dough into 4-6 pieces dependent on the number of loaves you mean to make.
Roll them over once in the flour then shape into rectangles. DO NOT knock back.
Take the dough over to a well-floured baking sheet, the elasticity will allow you to stretch them to full size and dimple each piece as you would for Focaccia. Cover with a cloth and allow to rise for 45 minutes or so. They don’t rise much but will still bounce back if prodded with a finger-tip.
Dust with flour and place into a 220c oven for 20 minutes or so before cooling on a rack.
So how did it go?
I was to bake with Julie and three of her staff, two of whom were studying for NVQ qualifications. I arrived and after introductions told them about the bread and the method, showing them the Biga that I had made the day before. Having examined it the girls set about making their own which would develop for 24 hours and be used the next day.
Combining the Biga with fresh ingredients in the mixer we had time to talk about bread, the kinds of yeast available, and why Real Bread would always defeat the Chorleywood processed stuff.
As it rose we covered other aspects of baking and took a coffee break before checking that the dough had risen.
At this point we needed the work-surface floured, and there was mass amazement at the amount of flour we used to ensure that the Ciabatta dough would not stick to the surface.
Despite considerable doubt that the soft and sticky dough would turn into the crusty bread that I promised we managed to select a volunteer to pour it out. Quickly dividing the dough and rolling it over once in the flour we got ready to move on. Most of the girls wanted to flavour their breads and the rising time had allowed for fresh herbs to be picked from the garden or sundried tomatoes to be chopped.
Three quarters of the ingredients were placed on the dough before it was folded over to ensure that they were in the middle and the dough, join side down, went onto the baking tray. With the top thoroughly dimpled the remaining flavourings were added and the proto-Ciabatta set aside to rise.
45 minutes meant that a small but acceptable rise had taken place and the breads went into the oven for 20 minutes.
The results were outstanding and within minutes bowls of Olive oil were produced and a tasting session ensued.
Great fun and the Real Bread message had been spread a little wider, more importantly another four people discovered that it is easier than you think to make bread by hand, and fresh each day.
I rang back the next day to see how the session had gone and was delighted to learn that not only had the girls enjoyed their first solo session but that the warm breads had been served at a function they were catering and the client loved them for their authenticity!
Fancy making some Ciabatta? Here are the ingredients and the method is in the blog.
For the Biga
7g Fresh Yeast
400mls warm Water
500g PLAIN Flour
For the Ciabatta
7g Fresh Yeast
125mls warm Milk
300mls warm Water
1tbsp Olive Oil
500g PLAIN Flour
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