Well bugger me twice and call me Shirley, this recipe didn't just exceed my expectations, it lured them into a dodgy nightclub, gave them a fizzy blue drink, beat them, raped them, and left them to wake up in a bathtub of ice with a dull ache in the small of the back.
Heading back to the website I mentioned about a month ago, The Fresh Loaf, I settled on this recipe, for ciabatta.
I confess; I was skeptical. This was well beyond my meagre breadmaking experience, and breadmaking I think attracts some.... strong personalities. There's a lot of misinformation out there; people with cooking in general - but certain areas in particular - seem to fall in love with the process, forgetting what they're actually doing it for.
People always seem to think - in cooking as in life - that there's only one way of doing things. One way of making curry, one way of making bread. I have rarely found this to be the case.
Hence, this recipe calls for a dough mixer. In my house, I am the dough mixer. So, another reason to be worried.
But, I discovered the most _amazing_ technique. It's called stretch and fold, and as the name implies... you stretch the dough, and then - ta da! - you fold it.
I've always hated the kneading aspect of bread. It's bloody hard work; I defy anyone not to crack a sweat in ten minutes of proper kneading. Worse, it's only sporadically effective. Sometimes, the bread rises, sometimes not so much.
And of course, if you think about it, kneading is a terrible way to get bread to rise and develop properly. What you're trying to do with kneading is stretch the gluten fibres. Obviously rolling and pushing the bread around is not a very efficient way of stretching the fibres, especially compared actually stretching them.
I was shocked at how effective this was. The dough in ciabatta is like 90% hydrated (nearly equal parts water and flour), and it looked like this:
That is sloppy man, practically pancake batter. Wetter than a sauna. But, almost miraculously, I could actually feel the dough forming as I stretched and folded. I have never experienced anything so effective in my prior dough-making adventures.
Not to say it was thick after the many risings, hell no. I thought it would simply end up a doughy puddle in the oven, but lo! It rose, and yea, it was delicious. Really delicious. I'm going to make this next weekend, too. It was indistinguishable from what you would get from a baker.
Breadmaking, a brave new world for me!