Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ciabatta bread fail...and other weekend food adventures

Like the meme? Came across it while browsing memes.
Thought it might be appropriate for this post. Made me lolz.
I'm always on here like, "Look at what neat thing I made today! It was soooo yummy!" like I'm the greatest cook/baker on Earth. The fact is, however, I'm not perfect.

As a perfectionist, it really hurts to say that out loud. I'm not perfect. Ugh. I actually cringed after I typed that. But it's true. I do fail sometimes when experimenting with a new recipe...and sometimes with old recipes too. It happens. But this weekend I experienced an EPIC FAIL when I decided to tackle another Martha recipe.

F*cking Martha.

I'm on a sandwich bread kick, so I decided to try her ciabatta bread recipe on page 329 of Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. After my last Martha adventure, I decided to read the recipe completely several times before even starting. Everything appeared to be in order, so I got to work. And everything seemed to be going according to plan for the first couple of hours. (Don't freak out. It was like 5 minutes of work and 2 hours of proofing.)

But, see, the other problem I have with Martha's Big Ol' Baking Book is the lack of pictures. Oh sure, there are lots of pretty, well-staged, well-styled photos of mouth-watering pastries and breads. But there are next to no photos of the PROCESS of getting to those drool-worthy finished products.

So I end up reading the description of what the first phase of my dough should look like after proofing and thinking, "Yup, it's pretty wet, slack and sticky, alright. I guess I'm on target." Boy, was I wrong. The Big Guy helped me scoop it out of the mixing bowl onto the pile of flour I'd laid down...and the dough prompted oozed everywhere - nearly off the counter, even. This was not good. I spent the next 15 minutes trying like hell to "fold" this glorified pancake batter like a freaking envelope while "not getting too much flour on top," cursing Martha the entire time. My mother would blush at the words that came out of my mouth. Sorry, Mom.

It was such a horrific experience that I didn't even pause for photos. Not that I could have, even, since my hands - and the Big Guy's hands - were covered in this ooey, gooey, sticky mess. But we went through all the stages, the combined total four and a half hours rising time, and it was finally time to bake the ugly, misshapen bastards. So I turned back to Martha's minion's instructions: "place baking stone on floor of oven."

This is where it really got ugly. Thank God I had already cooked the roast we were having for dinner, because what followed was a nightmare. It's been three days, and I still don't have the guts to open my oven and confront the situation.

I placed my Pampered Chef baking stones on the floor of my oven. Luckily I have a fancy oven with hidden heating element. Hey, Martha...what should one do with her baking stone if she has an exposed heating element like most of middle America? Hm? Anyway...$50 worth of Pampered Chef goes down on the bottom of my oven. "Preheat oven to 450." Ouch. With the stones ON THE FLOOR? Okey-dokey, Martha. You're the "expert." Here goes.

I returned to my dinner prep while the oven heated up. (Yes, I was making chuck roast, mashed potatoes and corn while trying to "gently fold" this blasted dough into submission. I didn't plan it this way. I just couldn't turn down that beautiful piece of meat when I saw it at the butcher shop the day before.) Pretty soon I noticed smoke rolling out of the vent on the back of my cooktop. Ruh-roh. I had the Big Guy take down the smoke detector before I opened the oven door. I held my breath, opened the oven, and a giant cloud of smoke rolled out...and set off a second smoke detector in the house. Awesome. Big Guy made a cute remark that earned him the Asshole Husband title for the next two days.

Nothing was on fire, and I figured it was just a little something baked into my stones combined with the high heat that was making things extra exciting. Figured it would settle down in a few minutes. Besides, at this point I was committed to baking this damned bread. So I very carefully started lobbing dough blobs onto the stones on the bottom of my oven (because nobody actually owns a peal, Martha, seriously). Halfway through I ran out of room, said eff it, threw the rest of the formed rolls onto a baking sheet, slid it onto the rack (which was way up top out of the way of my stones), and slammed the oven shut.

More smoke. Opened windows in 40-degree temps. Dogs confused. Eyes watering. Asshole Husband walking around making cracks about smoke detectors "singing the song of your people." Stink of failure hanging throughout the house, even in the garage. Neighbors could probably smell it.

Finally pulled them out, and here's what we ended up with:
Pretty on top. Slightly doughy in the middle.
Didn't get that nice crunch on the bottom.
White on top. Black on bottom.
Fantastic in the middle.
A whole pile of tasty failure.
Burnt stones

Now, if you think my stones don't look too bad, I invite you to come to my house and get a close-up look at the soot for yourself. We actually left the stones in the oven overnight to cool off, they were so hot. I'm hoping they clean up ok. We'll see how it goes. And except for the burnt parts, these tasted pretty good. But it was murder getting to the finished product. And the house still reeks with the stink of failure.

So I'm done with Martha for now. I'll probably go back to her for some cookies or crap like that, but I just don't trust and her and the minions with bread anymore. It's over, Martha. We're breaking up. For now.

I'm on a mission tonight to pick up a book written by the man who is quickly becoming my Bread Hero - Peter Reinhart. He's the dude whose bagel recipe I use. And he knows bread better than Martha knows self-branding and house arrest. He's my man. Bugger off, Martha.

In other news, the Big Guy and I picked up that half a hog I told you about. Here's what 90+ pounds of custom-butchered pork looks like in your freezer, if you were ever wondering:

Not pictured: 4 lbs of lard

Now, the question is, what do I do with the feet? I'm scared to unwrap them. That's a little too much for me, I think.

Can't wait to start grilling, frying, smoking, and eating this piggy! Yum!


  1. Okay, now I'm giving Martha a stink eye. I have a Martha Stewart cookbook that I picked up at the Friend of the Library book sale and was disappointed to find few things I wanted to try that I thought we'd actually eat. So it's just sitting there waiting for Hannah cat to knock it off the top of the pantry. I requested the baking book so I could try your recipes, but now I don't wanna. But I have to go to the library to pick up the Peter Reinhart books I asked for, so I guess I will bring Martha home anyway. (Temporarily). Still need to try some of the recipes from Baking with Julia, but they are mostly cake and I don't need cake now. :P May have made a copy of a ciabatta recipe from Julia. I can't remember if I've already asked, but have you tried the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion? I've had good luck with recipes from their website so I think the book is probably good too.

    1. I bought the King Arthur companion Wednesday night. It looks REALLY informative. Super excited.