Sunday, January 19, 2014

Ciabatta Redemption

After last weekend's epic ciabatta defeat, courtesy of Martha Stewart's Baking Painbook, I went back into the kitchen this weekend determined to redeem myself and wash away the stink of failure that still hung in the air. In my hands was my new favorite book: Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day.

Taking many of the same recipes from his earlier work, The Bread Baker's Apprentice, and distilling them down to the basics for the home baker, Reinhart has created the perfect go-to companion for crafting beautiful, insanely delicious breads without special equipment or impossible techniques. He also takes the time to break down professional techniques into easily understandable steps, with helpful accompanying pictures. His ciabatta bread - or pain à l'ancienne - covers four pages in book, with three-quarters of one page being step-by-step photos, plus a fifth page featuring only a beauty shot of the finished product. That's three and three-quarters pages of deeply detailed instructions.

On Friday night, the Big Guy and I got to work. He's such a great helper. He got all my ingredients out and helped me get dishes done from dinner and get everything ready to work while I carefully read Reinhart's instructions for the ciabatta and his streamlined bagel recipe.

You may remember I've been using Reinhart's original Bread Baker's Apprentice recipe, as adapted by Smitten Kitchen. So I was curious to see what he had done with the recipe for Artisan Breads Every Day. Let me tell you...he has streamlined it to perfection. It still takes up six pages in the book, but that includes the requisite full-page beauty shot plus another whole page of photos showing the step-by-step shaping instructions, which turned out to be key to the whole process.

Normally when I make bagels, it's about 3-4 hours of work on day 1 and about 1-2 hours (depending on how many batches I've made) on day 2. Last weekend when I tackled six dozen bagels plus ciabatta bread all in the same day, it took the entire Saturday, plus 4 hours on Sunday to accomplish the task. I'm ecstatic to report that this weekend we spent less than 2 hours on prepping dough Friday night, then about 3 hours on Saturday to finish shaping, rising and baking. Granted, we only made one dozen bagels this weekend vs six dozen last weekend, but still, time will be considerably less no matter how many dozen I'm making because he has switched to more cold fermenting of the yeast vs warm proofing. So now there are fewer steps, fewer ingredients, and less on-the-counter rising time.

I was excited to try the new method of rolling the bagel dough out into ropes and then pinching the ends together to form a circle, rather than my previous method of just poking a hole in the middle of a ball, which produced majorly lopsided bagels sometimes. The rope method will be my go-to from now on. Look at these beauties:

The one in the middle was formed using the rope technique. The one on the right used the less-than-scientific "poke a hole in it" method. I decided we needed to make some cheese bagels this time. Why we hadn't tried cheese yet, I don't know, because we're both big fans. So I grabbed a giant bag of shredded parmesan and started spreading the love:

With my oven set to "screaming hot", I slid them in to bake. A short 20 minutes later, here's what we ended up with - cheesy, golden heaven:

You'll notice a few of them have "snail tails." I still need to work on perfecting the rope technique. But for a first try, I think I did pretty darn well! The ciabatta came out beautifully also - just need to brush off more flour next time before baking. And it tastes awesome.

Then, after all this was done, just for fun I decided to try pesto parmesan bread from a recipe I found on Pinterest. I have all this pesto sauce in my freezer from the overabundance of basil in last summer's garden, so we're finding creative ways to put it to use. And since my girl Rachel was feeding us lasagna Saturday night, what a perfect complement! I used the Braided Pesto Bread recipe from Confections of a Foodie Bride (how cute is that??). It was tasty and a huge hit with nearly everyone, but it was a pain in the ass to make, if I'm being honest. I even went back to the blog to check the comments to see if anyone else had as much trouble braiding this damn loaf as I did. But either all of the people who made it are much more skilled at braiding unwieldy dough than I am, or they're just not as easily irritated about stuff like that as I am and so didn't bother mentioning it when they commented. Either way, it was annoying. But tasty! Here's what it looked like:

More adventures next weekend, I'm sure! But for now, that's all I got. Now off to relax before tomorrow morning brings another busy week. Bye, y'all!

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