I felt like making something different the other night - I've been making way too many sweets, and haven't tried my hand at bread in a while. Plain white bread has been the staple of my bread baking in the past, and while sufficient, it just isn't exciting. After searching for...well, not that long at all, I found a recipe for ciabatta bread on Peabody's site.
It turns out this was good timing. I needed some serious bread this morning to help out with a mild hangover (note to self: THAT much tequila should only be enjoyed on the weekends, not on a work night). I tried to add some oregano to give a bit of flavor, because for the first time my plant is looking real healthy. Took a tablespoon of finely chopped fresh leaves, but it didn't change the flavor at all - I'll have to add much more next time.
The sponge was made the night before I made the bread. After sitting out for 2 hours, it didn't seem to be rising too much, but after waking up the next morning, it was trying to escape from the bowl it was stuffed into.
It deflated a bit after forcing off the wrap on top, but here's a general idea of what it looked like. After letting it sit on the counter for the day, I walked home to find it nice and puffy, and smelling a bit like beer - the yeast were definitely having fun.
Mixed together the rest of the ingredients, kneaded it, and shaped it. After poking the holes on the top and flouring it, I let it sit on the counter for 2 hours to give some time to rise a bit more.
After baking on the parchment paper, on the baking stone (first time I threw parchment paper into the oven like that...I was slightly afraid I'd get a small fire), I pulled the loaves out with a spatula and let them cool down for an hour before cutting into them. It didn't turn out quite as bubbly as it should have, probably because I didn't let it rise as long as I could have in the middle steps (had to hurry up before people came over for the liquor!), but it still has a great texture, very soft inside. Tonight I'll probably pour out some olive oil and balsamic vinegar and just snack on it, always one of my favorite ways to eat bread.
Recipe (Source: Gourmet Magazine, March 1998):
1/8 t. active dry yeast
2 T. warm water
1/3 c. room temperature water
1 c. flour
Mix together the yeast and warm water, allow to stand for 5 minutes until creamy. Add in the remaining water and flour, stir for 4 minutes, then let sit at room temperature for at least 12 hours, up to 24.
1/2 t. active dry yeast
2 T. warm milk
2/3 c. room temperature water
1 T. olive oil
2 c. flour
1 1/2 t. salt
Mix together the yeast and milk, then let stand for 5 minutes. In a stand mixer using the hook attachment, mix the milk mixture, sponge, remaining water, oil, and flour, until just moist. Beat at medium speed for approximately 3 minutes, add the salt, and then beat for another 4. Move to an oiled bowl, and let it rise (this is where I definitely could have let it rise longer - next time I'll wait about 2 hours). After it's gotten nice and big, move onto some floured parchment paper and cut it in half (it will be sticky!). Form two oval-shaped loaves about 9 inches long, dimple with floured fingers, and dust the tops with flour. Let them rise for another 2 hours before moving them into the oven which should be preheated to 425ºF with a baking stone or something similar inside (heat the stone for about an hour before throwing the bread on top). I threw one loaf in at a time because my stone is relatively small, on the parchment paper and all. After 20 minutes, the loaves were nice and golden. Removed from the oven with a spatula, moved to a cooling rack for one hour before cutting in and enjoying.