Friday, June 08, 2007

Ciabatta at the Plate

If you had a vacation day planned to start off a long weekend, and the day started off sunny and beautiful, what would you do with your day? Work in the garden? Go for a long drive? Head out to the nearest baseball game?

Me, I got up and baked bread.

(I trust you were expecting something food-related, after all!)

There's a reason for this, and it's not just because I was out of bread. No, I'm pretty certain that I'll be able to find fresh radishes at the farmers' market this weekend, and June just wouldn't be the same if I weren't able to make radish sandwiches on slices of slightly tangy and hearty bread. And since the bakery that in past years has had a table at the market is not showing up this year (they're planning to open a new location right here in town yet this summer), well, I'm on my own if I want good artisan-style bread.

Besides, I have fresh strawberry jam sitting around, just begging to be slathered on fresh homemade bread, and that's more than enough reason to bake.

So I flipped through the pages of the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook -- as you can see, I'm still smitten with it -- and decided on the recipe for ciabatta, an Italian bread that draws its flavor from a starter that rises overnight and a lengthy rise once the dough is made.

I started the dough last night, mixing together whole wheat flour, a pinch of instant yeast, and water and letting it proof in the warm kitchen overnight. Once I got going this morning, I finished mixing the dough, deciding to knead it in the bowl to cut down my cleaning.

I left the dough to rise for the requisite three hours, deflating it every hour, while I went about my morning plans (which included a thorough scrub-down of the kitchen, believe it or not). When it came time to shape the dough into loaves and set them on pans, I was a bit surprised by how free-form they were intended to be. The recipe indicated just to stretch and pat out the dough into a length, with no further tucking or sealing as I've come to expect. (All right, I did tuck the ends in a little bit.)

But after two hours' worth of rising and a quick bake, I was pleased with how the loaves turned out:

The fragrance of fresh bread, of course, is utterly irresistible, so it wasn't long before I had cut into the first loaf for a slice or two, still steaming, to dip into some good olive oil.

I think it's a safe guess that this bread will work well for the other purposes I had in mind, too, but just as a start, bread dipped in oil was the perfect little snack for the afternoon.

So those of you who prefer your outdoor activities on a vacation day, you go ahead and enjoy. (Watch out for that afternoon thunderstorm, though!) I'll be very happy with my cooking adventures when I take them, and I'll enjoy the results on my home plate for a few days to come.


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