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My intention in writing this blog was always to give a balanced view of my baking experiences, and that means including the failures as well as the successes.

So here is the beginning of an unfinished saga which starts in abject failure, continues with a qualified success, and ends… well, we’ll see in due course (watch out for episode 3).

Episode 1

I love Ciabatta, and relished the challenge of making it. I expected it to be tricky, but was not prepared for the complete disaster that was my first attempt.

It all seemed to have gone very well. I was fascinated by the gloopy but manageable dough, my loaves and rolls looked good as they went into the oven, but they emerged hard and dense, and tasted far too strongly of olive oil. This, I later realised, was all down to my over liberal interpretation of the recipe’s instruction to add a “glug” of oil at various points in the process. There was simply too much in there.

Episode 2 ½

My subsequent researches revealed that Ciabatta actually contains quite a modest amount of oil. Not, however, as modest an amount as in my second attempt, where I completely forgot to put any in at all! Doh! Leaving the oil out of Ciabatta is a bit like heading off to war and forgetting to ask the army to join you. Disaster! Or so I thought…

I realised what I had done about ten minutes into baking my two loaves. Once again they had looked authentically ciabatta-like as I put them in the oven, that is eccentrically shaped, with wrinkled, floury tops.

I whisked them out of the oven, brushed them with olive oil and returned them to finish baking. They lost their appealing floury crust of course, but actually they still looked and tasted rather good. In fact, if you didn’t know that the oil was on the outside rather than the inside, you might never have guessed.

Still, I called this episode 2 ½ because it was so nearly there. If I keep my wits about me in episode 3, I might actually get it right! If I do, I will publish the recipe, but for now I’ve included some pictures of what I’ve done so far.

The process starts with the Biga, or pre-ferment. This isn’t as scary as it sounds, being merely a mixture of flour, water and a very small amount of yeast that you leave to ferment for 24 hours, after which time it is bubbling nicely as you can see.

The dough is very wet and gloopy, but not nearly as difficult to handle as you might expect, and it changes quite dramatically as times goes on. The whole process is really quite fascinating.

A loaf ready to go in the oven.