It's alive. The birth of bread.
Okay, bear with me. I'm feeling introspective today. The first thing I listened to this morning was a Buddhist chant that someone had posted on face-book. It could have been Bach, or Brahms, or Shostakovich, or Annie Lennox that set my mood for the day. But it was this chant. I decided to make bread.
Bears reappear later in this story.
I shared the Buddhist chant video. Giving it away. It will enrich somebody's day. I'm going to give away the bread too, it will enrich somebody's day. It's nice to share.
So, before I sound too lofty let me walk you through my "Trout Fishing in America" bread day. (Richard Brautigan reference.)
I'm making Ciabatta, Italian for "slipper." It's my favorite bread. It looks like a slipper. I love slippers. I love thinking about Ciabatta, making it, and eating it.
And, sharing it.
We begin by waking up some yeast, a living organism that's been dehydrated only to live in my freezer, only to be roused from slumber with a nice warm bath and something to eat.
Nice way to start the day I say.
Active-dry yeast, warm water, flour. That's all. Mix it together and let it hang out all day in a bowl. Covered.
This is called a Biga, or a pre-ferment. We'll keep it moist, warm and happy. It's going to sit around all day and eat and pass gas.
Biga is celebrating St. Patrick's Day.
I'll share the recipe later. But right now, I'm on my journey. Me and my Biga, hanging out, eating, and passing... the day.
Olivia and Lois Lane, our beloved dachshunds are itching for a walk. Probably along a creek. I feel like a creek. Biga is going to stay home.
We're going for our walk. I'll tell you about it later. You can't rush bread.
We're back. It was a really nice walk. The sun was out.
|Lois and Olivia met a bear, a metal one, |
but a bear just the same
|Lois met chickens, real ones|
|Biga passed gas under the shamrock |
Now, back to Ciabatta. Next step? A bike ride. Lois and Olivia need a nap, Biga needs to pass more gas and I need exercise, eggs and pistachios. I'm also making Torrone a.k.a. nougat today.
I'm going to give you a quote to ponder while I'm out on my bike:
If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.
I have now introduced Biga to the rest of the cast of characters. I've mixed the ingredients, kneaded the dough with the Kitchen Aid, poured the dough into a bowl sprayed with cooking spray, covered the bowl with plastic wrap, let it sit for about half an hour, then folded it over on itself, eight folds.
I went ahead without you because for the first time today I turned on the T.V. and The Shining is on. I love The Shining, but didn't want to ruin my Zen/Taoist mood with REDRUM, REDRUM, REDRUM. So, the dough is made and is now resting in the refrigerator over night. I've turned off the T.V.
Okay, you're anxious for the recipe, I'll cut to the chase. If you'd like a recipe without all the chitter chatter, e-mail me. I'll send it to you. firstname.lastname@example.org
yield: 2 slippers
Biga, you're going to have more than enough. Make this recipe and use what's left for pancakes tomorrow or the day after. Or waffles.
1 1/4 cup warm water
1 3/4 cups (about 8.5 ounces by weight, I always weigh ingredients when I bake) bread flour
Add the flour, stir, cover, let sit for 6 to 12 hours. Overnight is good. I like first thing in the morning so I can make the dough in the evening and let it hang out in the refrigerator over night to develop more flavor.
Once the Biga has inflated and then deflated somewhat (it's hungry again) combine:
1 1/4 water
2 tsp. salt
and 12 oz. of your biga (put the extra in the refrigerator for another use.)
The dough will be VERY wet. See how it pours out of the bowl?
Pour it into a sprayed or oiled bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it hang out for half an hour. Go watch T.V. but not scary movies.
After half an hour, the dough will have risen. The yeast is happy, eating and passing gas.
This is the "first rise."
Spray a rubber spatula and fold the dough over on itself eight times. Be gentle. Lift the dough at 3:00, then turn the bowl so you lift and what was 9:00, then 12:00, then 6:00, then 2, 4, 8, 10:00.
Notice, I do not use the word "PUNCH."
Letting the dough rise in the frig over night will #1: retard the process and #2: develop more flavor. I might check it one more time before I go to bed.
It might like another gentle bedtime massage if it's had a significant rise. Eight more folds with the spatula.
NOTE: Ciabatta can be made in one day. Prepare the biga first thing in the morning. Let it sit on the counter for at least 6 hours. Then prepare your dough and punch, I mean massage it a few times (like every forty five minutes) throughout the day. Then shape it, proof it (we'll get to that) and bake it for a late evening dinner.
But why rush? I love to take my time. Time equals flavor. I take four days to make a batch of croissants.
8:00 a.m. The day after St. Patricks' Day
I took the dough out of the refrigerator. It's had it's "second rise." I didn't fold it again before going to bed. I was watching Downton Abbey, season three, episode four again. Then, straight to bed.
Eight more folds. Cover, let it warm up and go for it's third rise.
Have some coffee. Think about your day.
Good things to do while making bread:
Yoga, Tai Chi, bike ride, walk the dogs, think about what meal to prepare with your bread as the centerpiece, sit in the sun, read Richard Brautigan, listen to music.
Things NOT to do:
Taxes, pay bills, write a letter telling something to someone that you know they don't want to hear, watch a scary movie.
You know what I say, food takes on the aura of the cook.
Eight more folds of the dough. The dough needed to warm up and commence with the passing of the gas.
By now, you may be wondering why we "punch down" dough.
We're deflating the dough, we're creating both air bubbles and structure by working that gluten. Gluten is made up of two proteins. When those proteins get wet they intertwine and become net-like. As we know, yeast eats and then produces gas. The gas gets trapped by the gluten structure and creates air pockets. It's pretty cool.
Just completed more folds. I turned on the kitchen T.V. just as a commercial came on for a "Fresh Baked Bread in Under an Hour" mix. We'll get back to that.
Check out these bubbles. NICE! This is after doing another "punch." I did it differently this time. I dusted my counter with a light coat of flour. Poured my dough out of the bowl onto the flour. Picked it up gently at 3:00 and 9:00 and gently stretched the dough, gently folding it back on itself. I then turned the dough clockwise and did that stretch and fold thing again.
I didn't use this method earlier because I didn't want to introduce a lot of flour into the process. But look at those air bubbles! This is getting palpably exciting!
It's time. The dough is about to become bread.
We remove the dough from it's happy bowl onto a well floured counter. I have made this recipe times 2, so I will shape four slippers.
Gently cut the dough
Letter fold the dough into rectangular loaves
Place the loaves on parchment paper lined sheet pans. I often use silicone baking mats for baking. But, we're going to crank the oven up to 500 degrees F. silicone mats don't like it that hot.
WITHOUT TURNING ON THE OVEN place the sheet pans in the oven with a hot (from the tap) pan of water in the bottom of the oven. Close the door and walk away.
Your loaves are now proofing in a nice, warm environment. Dough rises, loaves proof. Bread baking has a language.
We're going to let the loaves proof until they are like a soft pillow feeling like a soft marshmallow. Could take 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how warm it is inside the oven, the kitchen, the house, outside.
3:30 p.m. Take the loaves out of the oven and place on the counter covered with a nice clean towel. Preheat the oven. 500 degrees with a pan of water to create loads of steam.
4:00 p.m. Spray the bread with water, lightly. Bread into the hot oven. It's the home stretch!
4:20 p.m. Turn the oven down to 400 degrees to continue baking, rotate the sheet pans while you're at it.
4:30 p.m. Take one of the sheet pans out, check the color, check the internal temperature. The temperature crawls up to 190 degrees.
One more step to go.
Let those loaves sit for 10 minutes to let the proteins settle down, let the steam continue to do its work.
I purposely make large slippers. There's room on a slice for all sorts of goodness. Or not. They're great just dipped in soup or olive oil.
4:45 p.m. Cut one of those loaves open to check the crumb. The outside is called, as you know, the crust. The inside is the crumb. You want a crispy crust with a soft, airy crumb.
4:46 p.m. Enjoy a slice, warm. Maybe dipped into a bit of good olive oil.
I'm taking two of the loaves to my Taoist Tai Chi class tonight. My teacher loves bread. And some Torrone for the other students.
Back to that commercial I saw earlier. The bread baked in just under an hour.
It probably tastes fine. But what have been doing here over these two days? We've been building flavor, naturally. We've been creating structure. A soft, airy crumb and a beautifully browned crust.
And then there's the journey, the process, the company of having this living organism in my kitchen that I'm taking care of from birth through it's maturity and eventually into the completion of its purpose.
Yes, this journey has lasted well over 20 hours. But the actual time that I have spent fiddling with the biga, the dough, the loaves, only minutes really.
I walk my dogs along a creek, I ride my bike to pick up eggs, I practice 108 moves of Tai Chi. I create 108 steps to make a loaf of bread.
In that same Buddhist Chant video that I watched yesterday, there is a shot of just the feet of a Japanese nun, I presume. She is taking very slow, mindful steps. These steps were on a city sidewalk, Tokyo I presume. People were quickly passing by on their way to some destination. The wind was blowing.
I get it.
And that's how I make bread.
Again, if you want the recipe sans philosophy e-mail me.