My homemade ciabatta bread stuffed just enough (but not too much--you want the bread to stand out) with the vegan Italian meatballs I made, topped with a good ladle or two of homemade marinara and you have nothing short of a perfect Michelin-quality dinner. You will not find bread like this in any store, trust me!
In reading the Bread Baker's Apprentice, I soon discovered that my scoop and sweep method of flour measuring was not to be (though Julia approves of this for the home baker)--I had to buy a scale. Laugh if you will--saying, Why not a digital scale?--I can at least see the numbers on it and this only set me back twenty bucks. So there!
Oh, the poolish. So mysterious. So very important. Yeast. Flour. Water. Overnight.
My poolish mixed with more flour, salt, yeast and water on day two. I kneaded it per Chef Reinhart's directions. I kept my hand in the bowl, turning the bowl and mixing the dough for about 7 minutes. I don't own a Kitchen Aid stand mixer--even if I did, I don't think I'd use it to make any of the breads in this book--I am strictly a hand-mixer/kneader. (Well that and I do not have the space!) I want to learn how to feel the difference in the bread doughs (he suggests this, too). The consistency is to be one which is not too dry, pulls from the side of the bowl, but still sticks to the bottom of the bowl.
After the mixing, there is folding and stretching and allowing the full dough to rest. Then you fold and stretch some more--allowing to rest again. Then you divide the dough into roughly three equal slippers (as shown above)--setting up a couche. This means dividing and shaping the dough in its final preparation--and laying it on a cloth (not terry cloth, but you could us an old table cloth)--or my method, which the chef says is fine, too. So for my couche, I placed the shaped loaves on top of an upside down cookie tray topped with parchment paper then dusted with semolina flour. The dough will rest in this stage twice, then be prepared for baking--being careful to not degas (push the gas out of the dough by strong-arming it--it's a fine, delicate process--the final stages).
While the dough rests, it gets puffy, but doesn't necessarily double in size. Then a final, very careful stretch and shaping--shown with the two loaves on the right.
My babies! Look at the beautiful results! I had to follow chef's directions for "creating a hearth-like oven" by injecting steam into my Maytag while it preheated at 500 degrees. Doing so requires careful attention, timing, patience and a spray bottle.
Another close up shot--so very pretty and well worth every last minute of pre-work involved!
My first challenge: Ciabatta Bread (or "slipper" as it is known). The ciabatta loaf is not the first loaf taught in the BBA. I cared not. I wanted ciabatta bread. Why? Because I had a sammich I craved just as much: an Italian meatball sammich! My ciabatta made last night's very simple, but over-the-top-good vegan meatball sammich one of the best forty-five minutes of eating pleasure I've had in a long time. When I was devouring the last morsel of my dinner, Mr. Thyme looked at me and said, "You're still eating?"--we were half way through American Idol, and, yes, I was still eating! (We're not always plucked in front of the tube while eating, lest you think we are heathens, but it's Idol, I love the show!) His sammich was long gone, and he looked on bewildered--he swears I am the slowest eater on the planet.
I knew I had fallen under the bread spell when, during Iron Chef on Sunday, Chef Morimoto made bagels for his challenge. I looked on in disbelief! Bagels? In an hour? Say what? Seeing this, I quickly sprang up to retrieve my BBA book, flipped to the index to find "bagels"checking for the possibility of there even being a one-hour way to make a homemade bagel? (Apparently there is as the chef's bagels even impressed fellow bread man, Jeffry Steingarten, aka, The Man Who Ate Everything.) Plus, in a thread on thefreshloaf.com--the subject was pursued further--taking to task the very idea of a one hour bagel, a fellow bread head submitted their own one-hour bagel recipe. I knew I had fallen into a bread haze that was not going away any time soon.
So my ciabatta loaves yesterday--a two day endeavor, mind you--in a word, spectacular. Let me be honest here for a moment--I have a bit of an attention deficit problem. I've known this since grade school. I know it still from the way my kitchen looked yesterday at about four in the afternoon. Like a mini tornado had struck. This results in my having to keep order and cleanliness a top priority in the grander scheme of household maintenance, plus the fact I have dogs--big dogs. I am a nut about "everything in its place, a place for everthing"--clutter out! Yesterday though, I literally had to step away from the kitchen to get perspective, then gather myself for the "washing of dishes" as I had used every single bowl I owned. I see the need for sous chefs. (But Mr. Thyme wasn't home yet.) I was covered in flour--thinking: I need a white chef's coat myself--my hair all wild--glasses smudged from pushing them back from my nose, caked-on flour mixture drying in my fingernails and on my cuticles--it was madness! But the aroma of the bread making, the intense garlic, basil and oregano from my homemade marina sauce slow cooking--I was in heaven (albeit a messy heaven--but not for long) I was there.
I've always loved bread. I have a weak-in-the-knees response when I step into a bakery. This bread-baking passion flung itself at me full force after I brought home our second bread machine over a year ago. (My husband swears we had one.) I sort of remember it--but it is long gone, or maybe in the garage--neatly packed away. Then, I bought The Bread Bible last fall. My first foray into the handmade, yeasted dough landscape began with dinner rolls. Removed from the oven, slathered in vegan butter, with just a bit of melt to them from the warmth still trapped inside. To be trite for a moment: it was love at first bite!
The recipe. I made my meatballs in a very, very quick and easy fashion using Gimme Lean Sausage. I cut that tube open, placed it all in a bowl and added some chopped scallion, garlic powder, onion powder, a couple teaspoons of Italian seasonings, mixed it all together with my hands, then formed it into little 1" balls and fried them until they were browned on all sides. I topped these with a ladle of the marinara I had been cooking all day then added some vegan mozzarella and served it in the warm confines of a fresh sliced ciabatta loaf. Mmmm. Delish!