If you’ve read this blog or know me in any way, you may be aware that I have this obsession with/love for baking bread. Despite reading numerous books and taking bread baking classes, I am still far from perfecting the art form. A few months ago, I ran into Chef Laurie Pfalzer. We used to work together, but she in the kitchen and I in marketing. She was starting her own business, Pastry Craft, to teach home bakers that they too can make seemingly complicated breads and pastries in their own kitchens. We’ve been saying for quite some time that we need to get together for a day of bread baking, that she would teach me a few tips and tricks to get closer to a perfect loaf of bread.
Yesterday was the day. On Friday night, Laurie sent me the recipe for the poolish, the starter that would bring the ciabatta to life. Keep in mind, I’ve never made ciabatta. I’ve always tried whole wheat breads and baguettes. Turns out those simple baguettes are the most difficult to get right. Tip #1 from Laurie: Stick to the Ciabatta – no shaping or scoring involved!
Laurie arrived at 11am and we quickly jumped into making the dough. We used the ciabatta recipe from Jeffrey Hamelman’s Bread, dumping in the poolish, water, salt, and flour. Tip #2 from Laurie: Always use bread flour! (I’m guilty of not doing this… my regular grocery store doesn’t carry bread flour and I often substitute all purpose. Of course, I’m never happy with the result!)
I measured the ingredients for my recipe with measuring cups and spoons while Laurie used a scale to measure the ingredients for her baguette recipe. I should have followed her lead because somewhere along the way, I must have mis-measured and the dough was way too stiff. Without a blink, Laurie said no worries and fixed the dough by adding a bit more water and flour to get it to the right texture. Tip #3 from Laurie: Always use a scale for measuring bread ingredients!
We let the dough proof in their bowls for an hour then flipped them onto the counter and stretched and folded them before letting them rest for another hour.
At this point, the baguettes were ready to be shaped while the easy breezy ciabatta just needed one more round of stretching, folding, and resting. We shaped the baguette dough into small rolls, round loafs, and long skinny loafs.
When the ciabatta was ready to become ciabatta, we dusted the counter with a thick layer of flour, simply cut the dough into the size of loaves we wanted, then flipped them over onto the flour. (See, no shaping involved… this is way too easy.)
We fired the oven up to 550 degrees with a baking stone set on the top rack and a cast iron skillet on the bottom rack. We pre-steamed the oven by pouring a half cup of water or so into the cast iron skillet and quickly shut the oven door. Using the back of a sheet pan and parchment paper, we slid the first round of rolls into the oven and added more water to the cast iron skillet to create more steam. The bread was baked within ten minutes, the ciabatta looking beautifully rustic and the baguettes, well, we both agreed they could use some improvement on the scoring, but the texture was better than any baguette I’ve attempted to make in the past (hence, the sticking to ciabatta!).
It took a while to get all of the bread in and out of the oven, but I was glowing as the rolls and loaves stacked up on my counter.
I admired the texture of the ciabatta, snapping pictures and picking it up for further inspections.
This may be the best bread I’ve ever baked. It’s amazing how a few tips and tricks from a pastry chef can get you just a bit closer to that perfect loaf of bread.