Ciabatta: Learning how to work with sour dough

Ciabatta: Second attempt

Ciabatta: Third attempt

Bread is a staple food in our household. We go through mountains of store bought wholemeal pita bread because its is tasty and easy to throw in the toaster straight from the freezer! Pita is great for scooping up whichever curry or stew has been made for a mid-week dinner. One day I want to try and make my own pita bread…

After a recent trip to abroad, my partner came home asking me to make some ciabatta as he had really enjoyed the bread whilst away. I’ve never tried to make a sour dough bread before. It’s always seemed a big challenge as the ‘starter’ takes at least 7 to 10 days to get going before it can be used. A few years ago I went on a bread making workshop for beginners and learnt about the science behind the craft. Sour dough breads were mentioned and some of the more experienced students were sharing stories about ‘feeding’ their starter. It was all a bit scary sounding so I put it to the back of my baking mind.

When looking up ciabatta recipes, I found that it was made with a similar ‘starter’ called ‘biga’ that only needed to be made the night before so using this recipe I set about on this new challenge! While researching ciabatta recipes I also found out that the meaning in Italian is ‘slipper bread’ because it looks like an old man’s slipper!

Ciabbatta: one with sun-dried tomatoes and mixed herbs

Ciabatta: one with sun-dried tomatoes and mixed herbs

Ciabatta

Ciabatta

When making these loaves the dough was so wet that it wouldn’t hold a shape so I resorted to using cake loaf tins to bake them in, hence the different shapes and sizes! I added some sun-dried tomatoes and mixed herbs to add flavour to one loaf, which proved worthwhile as the flavour was delicious!

During my second attempt at this recipe I managed to get the consistency of the dough much better as they could be baked ‘free form’, however I’ve forgotten to take pictures!

For my third attempt at ciabatta, I found that the taste and the bread didn’t have the characteristic big holes in the middle as in previous attempts. This may be because I used a different recipe or it could be because it’s freezing cold in Manchester these days, and may too cold for the biga so it may have just been dormant overnight. The depth of flavour wasn’t there and though the dough was very bubbly when proving. Next time I want to try and make it from whole meal flour!

Compared to standard home made bread (baked in a bread machine) the taste of ciabatta is far superior. However remembering to do the ‘biga’ the night before is still a challenge for me so this will have to be a weekend bread to make when I have more time and don’t have a 6am start!

Ciabatta: Second attempt

Ciabatta: Third attempt

 

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Fun With Bread: Stuffed rabbits and garlic dough balls

 

Bunny Rolls with Garlic Dough Balls

Bunny Rolls with Garlic Dough Balls

It is a well known fact that we eat with our eyes first. Food should look appealing as well as taste good, but it is also important to get the balance right.

I regularly go to my sister’s house at weekends for dinner. She’s a mum and works full time so I try and bring something along to ease the burden a little. This weekend she made a very complicated but delicious fish lasagne recipe, from one of Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks. I offered to make the garlic dough balls to go on the side.

The weather in the UK has turned for the worse. It’s rainy, windy and generally pretty miserable out. This has had a pretty drastic effect on my bread making. Having decided to make the dough by hand, it just wasn’t rising during the proving as the kitchen was too cold. As a last resort I had to stick it into a warm oven which helped a little but I think it was a little too late as the dough still refused to rise much.

 

 

Garlic Dough Balls with Parmesan Cheese

Garlic Dough Balls with Parmesan Cheese

Bunny Rolls with Garlic Dough Balls

Bunny Rolls with Garlic Dough Balls

To make the dough balls taste a little more exciting, I made half the dough into dinner rolls but stuffed them with sun-dried tomatoes and parmesan cheese. Looking a little uninteresting, I decided to snip in a couple of ears of poke in a couple of eyes to make them into cute little rabbits.

Now you would think that my two and a half year old nephew would love these little rabbits, since he’s completely obsessed with animals! However he seemed pretty indifferent and slightly bemused. He was however much more interested in the garlic dough balls, ploughing through the bowl one by one.

It may be true that you eat with your eyes but at the end of the day its the taste that really counts. Since the ‘rabbits’ could easily have been ‘cats’ or ‘mice’, I think I only passed the taste test on this one!