I am far from an expert when it comes to bread-baking, I leave that to my mum. But I am passionate about home-made bread, even more so after just having watched a documentary on German TV about the disappearance of old-fashioned neighbourhood bakers that still bake their own fresh loaves and pastries every morning and that are being replaced by big chains and bakeries within big supermarkets which simply bake half-baked frozen breads and pastries. Although that by itself is alarming enough, what really shocked me is the kind of bread these new and modern bakeries churn out.
The message that was reinforced by the documentary is that bread-baking is not for the faint-hearted and requires a certain amount of flexibility and finesse as no batch of dough will be alike. While frustrating for the home baker, the fluctuations in the essential characteristics of a flour (how “thirsty” it is, how much gluten it contains etc) are a nightmare for any quality assurance specialist trying to optimise industrial processes for turning such flour into bread – they need consistency and predictability (ideally both at a low cost, oh and no sticky doughs, however much certain types of bread like ciabatta for example benefit from a wet dough, sticky dough is a nightmare for industrial machinery). So what is an industrial baker to do but to turn to additives to ensure flour quality (and thus bread quality) is uniform…
As much as I try to avoid additives in my food and try to cook from scratch as much as possible, I certainly don’t lead an additive-free life. I still eat ketchup and use stock cubes once in a while and I certainly don’t say no to a tub of ice cream. However, in all of those cases I am fully aware of eating food that contains additives because they are listed in all their glory among the other ingredients I might or might not recognise Yet, in the case of additives added to bread, there are no requirements to put these onto the label. Thus, you might be impressed by seeing the rather short ingredient list of “flour, water, yeast and salt” when buying one of those pre-baked baguettes to bake off at home, yet that is no guarantee that your humble baguette is not full of a double digit long list of additives, additives which have not been around for very long and for which no studies have been undertaken to assess whether they are harmful to our health in the long term. Quite the eye-opener and definitely the motivation I needed to get back into bread-baking. Oh, and the fact that your “freshly baked” dinner rolls are in fact 9 months old and were likely pre-baked in Poland.
The recipe below is actually an adaptation of a recipe for pizza dough. The original recipe is from Gabriele Bonci, “il re della pizza” (the king of pizza), and it is the best pizza dough recipe I have ever come across (the slow proving ensures a very aromatic crust). Typically I always make more dough than I need (partly because my kitchen scales are not accurate enough to measure out 1g of dried yeast) and I started baking any leftover dough into ciabatta style loaves. The other day I made pizza dough using this recipe again and my mum suggested I make a new batch of dough just for bread baking to have some fresh bread on hand for the weekend.
The beauty of this recipe is that it yields a very light and airy dough (all the folding helps incorporate additional air into the dough) that is slightly moist and, thanks to the slow proving in the fridge, it is the closest in taste and looks to a sourdough I have ever come across (and is superior even to the NY Times no knead bread while requiring only slightly more work).
Everday ciabatta style bread, adapted from Gabriele Bonci Il Gioco della Pizza
Ingredients, makes 2 medium loaves
500g flour (ideally type ’00’, I have used strong white bread flour as well as spelt flour and have had excellent results every time, this time I used a mix of 250g ’00’ and 125g each of wholemeal emmer flour and wholemeal einkorn flour*)
2g dried yeast
20g olive oil
1. Mix the flour with the yeast. Pour over the water and mix until well combined with the flour (the dough will be very sticky at this stage).
2. Add the olive oil and salt to the dough and mix with the dough.
3. Cover the dough and let rise for ca. 1 hour.
4. Place the dough onto a floured surface and use the following folding technique 3 times over the next hour (so every 15 to 20 minutes):
Placing the ball of dough in front of you, stretch it slightly so you have a rectangle with the short side in front of you. Fold 1/3 of the dough towards the centre of the rectangle, starting with the short side furthest away from you and then the short side of the dough right in front of you. Next, fold in 1/3 of the dough from the left hand side into the middle and then from the right hand side. turn your dough by 90 degrees and repeat, turn the dough again by 90 degrees and repeat once more.
Repeat this whole process twice, letting the dough rest for 15 to 20 minutes between each turn.
5. Once you have folded the dough three times as just explained, place the dough in a well oiled bowl, cover the bowl with cling-film (to ensure that the dough does not dry out) and place the bowl in the lower part of your fridge for 18-24 hours.
6. Ca. 1.5 hours before you want to bake the bread, take the bowl out of the fridge. Let the dough come to room temperature (ca. 10 minutes) and pre-heat the oven to its highest setting.
7. Carefully turn the dough out onto a floured surface. The dough should now have doubled in size from when you placed it in the fridge. Carefully split the dough into two equal halves with a dougscraper, trying not to tear or stretch the dough (so that you don’t lose any of those precious air bubbles inside the dough) and shape into an oval or round form.
8. Leave the dough to rest under a moist kitchen towel for 1 to 1.5 hours (the dough will increase further in size). The dough will be ready when once you press the dough with your finger, the dough will spring back slowly but the indent from your finger remains visible (if the dough springs back quickly and the mark from your finger disappears, the dough needs to prove a bit more). The aim of this is to ensure that the yeast has had sufficient time to work but that the bread will still be able to rise a bit further in the oven.
9. Once the dough is ready for baking, carefully place the two loaves onto an oiled baking tray. Turn the oven temperature down to 225 degree celsius and place the loaves into the oven. Spray the sides of the oven with water (or place a bowl with water on the bottom of the oven – the steam from the evaporating water will help the bread retain moisture).
11. Bake the loaves for 20 to 25 minutes until dark golden brown and the loaves sound hollow when tapped from underneath.
The bread is perfect to accompany hot or cold dishes (great for mopping up sauce) but goes equally well with https://realsimplefood.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/chocolate-olive-oil-sea-salt-pate-a-tartiner/. I am sure it makes a great base for french toast as well.
*Emmer and einkorn flour are ancient types of flour which Bonci likes to use because they are the closest to the types of flour the old Romans would have used that you can find today. Although a little pricier than regular flour (and likely not stocked by your regular supermarket, I found both in an organic food store), they did produce the most aromatic bread out of all the flour variations I used.
Emmer is a type of wheat also known as farro. It was one of the first crops domesticated in the Near East. It was widely cultivated in the ancient world, but is now a relict crop in mountainous regions of Europe and Asia.
Einkorn is another type of wheat (from German Einkorn, literally “single grain”) which can refer either to a wild species of wheat or to a domesticated form. Like Emmer, Einkorn was one of the earliest forms of cultivated wheat.