The book I checked out is Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. So why did I check it out if I want it for Christmas? Well, because I have his Whole Grain Breads and frankly, it intimidates me and I was nervous that this book might be too difficult for me. Although the more bread I make, the less nervous I get. And I am now happy to report, I REALLY want this book for Christmas. Especially because I followed the advice of my absolute favorite alternative baker Speedbump Kitchen (I so love love love her blog and it's a tremendous resource for anyone dealing with an allergy) who told me that I can get instant yeast at GFS. Hooray! I now have instant yeast! (She also told me about Peter Reinhart's Pizza book and I want that too. And a pizza stone. Oh the list really could be endless...)
So the nice thing about The Bread Baker's Apprentice is that it's very good for semi-obsessive compulsive people like myself who happen also to be sort of science geeks and math nerds. The directions are very explicit. Well except for the sticky dough versus tacky dough comments. I really don't understand the difference. But I followed the directions and have eaten some mighty delicious Ciabatta bread. Okay, maybe I've eaten more than necessary. Maybe I should stop eating it so that the Brain can taste it.
And yes, it's a long recipe. And you might want to go check it out at your local library, or buy the book so that you can see the photos and learn in detail about what specifically to do.
2 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 cups water at room temperature
1/4 tsp instant yeast
Stir together flour, water, and yeast in a mixing bowl until all of the flour is hydrated. The dough should be soft and sticky and look like very thick pancake batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours, or until the sponge becomes bubbly and foamy. Immediately refrigerate it. It will keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.
3 1/4 cups poolish (all of the recipe previous)
3 cups unbleached bread flour
1 3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
6 Tbsp water, lukewarm (between 90 and 100 degrees F.)
cornmeal for dusting
1. Remove poolish from refrigerator 1 hour before making the dough to take the chill off.
2. To make the dough, stir together the flour, salt, and yeast in a 4 quart mixing bowl. Add the poolish and the 6 Tbsp of water. Mix in a stand mixer on medium speed with the paddle attachment for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. Switch to the dough hook for the final 2 minutes of mixing. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. You may need to add additional flour to firm up the dough enough to clear the sides of the bowl, but the dough should still be quite soft and sticky.
3. Sprinkle enough flour on the counter to make a bed about 8 inches square. Using a bowl scraper or spatula dipped in water, transfer the sticky dough to the bed of flour and dust the top liberally with flour patting the dough into a rectangle. Wait 2 minutes for the dough to relax. Coat your hands with flour and lift the dough from each end, stretching it to twice its size. Fold the dough over itself, letter style, to return it to a rectangular shape. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil, again dust with flour, and loosely cover with plastic wrap or a food grade plastic bag.
4. Let rest for 30 minutes. Stretch and fold the dough again the same as step 3; mist with spray oil, dust with flour, and cover. Allow the covered dough to ferment on the counter for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. It should swell but not necessarily double in size.
5. Prepare two baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper, spraying with oil and dusting with cornmeal. Carefully remove the plastic wrap from the dough and proceed to shape the dough. Using a pastry scraper that has been dipped in water, divide the dough into 2 or 3 rectangles, taking care not to degas the dough. Sprinkle the dough generously with more flour and, using the scraper to get under the dough, gently lift each piece from the counter and then roll it on both sides in the loose flour to coat. Lay 2 loaves on one baking sheet and the third on the other baking sheet. Gently fold each piece of dough, from left to right, letter style into and oblong about 6 inches long.
6. Proof for 45 to 60 minutes at room temperature, or until the dough has noticeably swelled.
7. Prepare a hearth oven by placing an empty heavy duty pan on an upper rack and a baking stone or baking tiles on a lower rack. If you don't have a baking stone or tiles, you can bake on a baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
8. Generously dust a peel or the back of a sheet pan with cornmeal and very gently transfer the dough pieces to the peel or pan, using the pastry scraper if you need support. Lift the dough from each end and tug the dough out to a length of 9 to 12 inches. If the dough bulges too high in the middle, gently dimple it down with your fingertips to even out the height of the loaf. Slide the 2 doughs (or bake one at a time if you prefer) onto the baking stone (or bake directly on the sheet pan.) Pour 1 cup hot water into the steam pan and close the door. After 30 seconds, open the door, spray the side walls of the oven with water, and close the door. Repeat twice more at 30 second intervals. After the final spray, turn the oven setting to 450 degrees F. and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the loaves 180 degrees, if necessary, foreven baking and continue baking for 5 to 10 minutes longer, or until done. The bread should register 205 degrees F. in the center and should be golden in color (but the flour streaks will also give it a dusty look). The loaves will feel quite hard and crusty at first but will soften as they cool.
9. Transfer the bread from the oven to a cooling rack and allow to cool for at least 45 minutes before slicing and serving.