In my previous post (“Baked Goods and the Happiness They Bring”) I told you about two of my favorite recipes for baked goods, but I also shared one of my fears: baking bread. Yes, I will admit that the thought of baking bread strikes fear in my heart. It’s not that I hate bread! Bread and I are very good friends, but I’ve never had any luck when I’ve tried to make it myself. While this means job security for my neighborhood baker, I have always wanted to, at least once, make a successful loaf of bread. When my wife and I were making our dinner calendar, we decided that this past Friday was going to be an easier dinner: Pesto tossed with spaghetti, served with ciabatta. Now I will admit, the bakery that I go to makes some fantastic ciabatta that is absolutely delicious (particularly when it’s toasted with hazelnut spread on it), but I decided that Friday was the day that I would face my fear. I felt as though I was channeling Franklin Roosevelt and his first inaugural speech when he noted that, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I would make the bread, not buy it!
I began searching my cookbook collection, which I call my research library, and I finally was able to find a recipe that I could work with. The recipe is a basic one that can be manipulated for a number of different variations, but I used this specifically for ciabatta. It comes from Jamie Oliver’s first cookbook, The Naked Chef, and is extremely simple. I promise you, if I can make this you can too! One thing that I need to mention is the measurement of the ingredients. I know that most chefs and bakers will tell you to weigh your ingredients, but this recipe was simpler for me to figure out by using traditional measurement. All of the chefs and bakers out there, please forgive me.
- 2 packets of dried yeast
- 2 Tbsp. sugar (you can also use honey)
- A little more than 2 cups of lukewarm water
- 3 1/2 cups bread flour, plus extra for dusting
- 3 1/2 cups durum semolina flour, plus extra for dusting
- 2 Tbsp. salt (I use sea salt)
- Mix together the water and sugar. Now put in both yeast packets and give them about five minutes to begin working.
- On a large area of your counter (I use a marble slab) pile your flours and salt. Make sure they’re mixed together and make a large well in the middle. If you’ve ever made your own pasta, it’s the same idea. Just make sure that it’s a large enough well to fit all of the water without it breaking through.
- Carefully pour the water and yeast mixture into the well. Gently use your hands to begin bringing in the dry ingredients. Be extremely careful, because if one of the sides breaks you will have a mess, plus no bread, which is very sad. Continue this process until all of the flour has been incorporated. At this point, make sure that you have a little extra water set aside, just in case the dough is too dry. When I made this recipe, I had to add a few extra tablespoons, but a lot of factors can effect this. Just use your own judgment.
- Now its time to knead the dough. For the weightlifters in the audience, this will be easy for you. For the rest of us, this will be a little bit of a workout. I’m joking, it’s really not that hard. All that you’re doing during this process, for about five minutes, is pushing out the dough and folding it back on itself. By the end, you want to have a smooth, elastic dough.
- At this point, get out a sheet pan and put a piece of parchment paper (one of my favorite kitchen tools) on it. Now take your dough and dust it on the top and bottom with a bit of flour. Form it into a round shape and place it on the parchment paper. Using a knife, make a shallow slice in the top of the dough to allow it to rise. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and a towel, place it on top of your stove, and begin preheating the stove to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Leave the dough alone for one hour. Go get a cup of coffee and relax.
- When the hour has passed, uncover your dough and put it back on the flat surface you created it on. Punch it down to get all of the air out and knead it for one minute. When you’ve done that, cut your dough into three equal parts. Now roll each of those parts into a cylinder shape that is about 10 inches long. Take the heal of your hand and flatten down the entire piece. Place these three flattened shapes back on the sheet pan (after sprinkling durum semolina flour on the parchment paper) and make five shallow, diagonal cuts on the tops of each of the loaves. Sprinkle the loaves with more of the durum semolina flour, cover them with plastic wrap and a towel, place them on top of your stove, and leave them alone for 45 minutes. Get another cup of coffee.
- When the 45 minutes are up, carefully remove the towel and plastic wrap. Gently place the tray with the loaves into the preheated oven and bake them for 25 minutes.
- When the 25 minutes are up, check your bread. If it sounds hollow on the bottom, it’s finished. If it doesn’t, bake it for a few more minutes until it sounds hollow.
- Place the finished bread on a cooling rack to cool for about 1/2 an hour to an hour. I know that this will be difficult, but you will survive!
- Now, cut your bread and enjoy!
When I pulled the loaves out of the oven and saw them, I had a huge smile on my face. I had conquered my fear and created some great bread. That evening as we ate dinner, my wife took a bite of the bread, smiled, and told me that I could bake it again any time. Now I know that I can and I will. By the way, when you bake your own bread, it tastes better than anything you can every buy in the store. Why? Because you made it and that makes all of the difference.