Today’s blog post is dedicated to all you bread bakers out there. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about baking, but there used to be a time when I was pretty bad at it. It wasn’t until a certain baking fiasco made me want to become a better baker. Let me share one of my more embarrassing baking moments with you…
I was baking cookies and thought that wax paper and parchment paper were interchangeable (The fact that the two have different names should’ve been a clear sign that the two are not in fact the same). After putting my cookies in the oven on top of the wax paper, I realized the wax paper was starting to char and that my cookies were sticking to the paper. I called my mother, who happened to be driving in the car with my father, and asked her what I did wrong. She had me on speaker phone and her and my father proceeded to laugh at me and make fun of my baking blunder. It was then that I realized I didn’t know all these little baking idiosyncracies that my mother knew; even my own father who does not bake or cook very much knew that putting wax paper in the oven was a no-no and that this is what parchment paper was for. Ever since this little incident, I vowed to become a more knowledgeable baker. This brings me back to bread making…
Bread making is part of the baking realm, but it is really a whole other giant. Bread baking is so complex and sensitive; sprinkling yeast onto water that is too cold or too hot will result in a mess; sourdough starters can turn moldy if the temperature in the room dips or rises and; the type of flour you use can significantly change the outcome. Last week I felt like baking some bread, but not the typical 1-day bread—I wanted to bake some Ciabatta bread that would require a sourdough starter as well as a sponge (Ciabatta means slipper in Italian and refers to the bread’s flat, elongated shape). I got this recipe from my Essentials of Baking cookbook. I started my sourdough starter on Sunday afternoon and by Wednesday evening, I had 4 loaves of Ciabatta bread fresh out of the oven. They were definitely not pretty and the dimples “disappeared”, but they were moist and tasted good. It was a total crap shoot though; I used all-purpose flour instead of bread flour, and it was the first time I made a sourdough starter, so I wasn’t even sure how it was going to turn out.
I think it’s safe to say that with bread making, practice makes perfect. Every time you bake bread, there’s always something that could go wrong, even something like the weather could affect your bread. For these reasons, my hat goes off to all you bread makers out there.
Do you have any bread baking tips to share? What’s your favorite bread to bake and why?
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups cool whole milk (78 degrees F)
*(This makes 2 batches of starter, but recipe only calls for 1. You can half the starter recipe or double the sponge and make 4 loaves of Ciabatta instead of 2.)
- In a glass bowl, combine the flour and water and stir with a wooden spoon until mixed.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 3 days, stirring the mixture once a day. If the starter turns moldy or pink, throw away and start over. If it bubbles and has a sour smell, it has attracted airborne yeasts and is a good starter.
- 1 tsp active dry yeast
- 1/2 whole milk, heated to warm (105 degrees)
- 1 1/4 cups cool water (78 degrees)
- 1 cup sourdough starter
- 2 cups bread flour
- In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk and let stand until foamy, for 5 minutes.
- Using a wooden spoon, stir in the water, sourdough starter, and flour.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature.
- 2 cups bread flour
- 1 TBSP sea salt
- 1 TBSP olive oil
- Extra all-purpose flour for work surface
- Transfer the sponge to the stand mixer and add the bread flour, salt, and oil.
- With the kneading hook, knead on low speed for 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise overnight.
- Sprinkle two sheet pans with flour.
- Cut the dough in half.
- Generously flour a flat work surface and shape dough while it is cold into a flat rectangle. Add dough to keep from sticking.
- Place the loaves on the sheet pan and dimple all over with your fingertips.
- Cover the pans loosely with dry kitchen towels and allow to rise at room temperature for 1-2 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Mist the bread with water and bake for 20-25 minutes or until brown and hollow when tapped.
- Transfer to wire racks and allow to cool.