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Artisan Bread Making At Home

When you're hungry and have no taste for anything else sweet and fatty inside the pantry, what does one reach for? Bread! At least that's what i can honestly say about moi. I would rather have a couple of slices of crusty Ciabatta with just olive oil, sea salt and pepper. That's it. I'm done. It is still calorie ridden, not a low calorie treat at all but i must say, something on the lower rung of the calorie diet buster snacks out there. You know, chips and cookies, ice cream and pasta. Them all.

When i stroll the food aisle at Walmart, i can only imagine why most Americans could hardly maintain their desirable lean weight with all the foods and boxed prepared meals prettily displayed in the shelves. I am simply speechless, and if i want to pig out, this is where i would definitely go. Sadly enough, the tv ads are so hard to resist. Every time i get asked to go to Walmart or groceries, i have to shop with one eye closed.

Anyway, bread should always be in the kitchen. It's a quick pick me up snack, and one thing that a baker like me can do is to tailor it to my specific dietary requirement. Low in sugar or none at all, no trans fat and no additives. These anti mold ingredients and preservatives (at least 5 of them in count for US breads), you will know them because they are hard to pronounce.

The secret to a good bake is in the starter or poolish or sponge. Call it anyway you want. I like to make small batches for me to eat for the whole week and then bake again by Thursday or Friday. I build my meals around the bread, soup with bread, salad with bread, pasta with bread, etc., etc., Not all the time, but at least 3 to 4 times a week i guess.

So below is an example of my house bread, meaning this is what i always bake for me and my sister. I cannot bake something and not share it with her. For my poolish or sponge/starter, i just mix the 3 ingredients below:

Base flour: 500 grams

bread flour      300 grams
water                400 grams
yeast                 pinch or .5 grams  (can't bake without this)

I mix all 3 into a slurry and then cover it with a lid or plastic wrap. Ferment it for 12 to 14 hours. You can also ferment inside the chiller but do it for 48 hours and use very little yeast. When i say very little, i mean barely visible amount. I teach breads every month and change my yeast every session. I use my older yeasts for making starters, they are old and will not perform as good as the new ones but i do not want to throw them away so i use them for my sponges.

After 12 hours or so, mix the sponge above with the ingredients below.

Bread flour      200 grams
yeast                    8 grams
salt                       8 grams, most lean breads use 1.8 to 2 % yeast, i don't
water               mix all ingredients first and just add more water depending on the consistency you like.

** ground flax seeds   50-70 grams, add only after the gluten has developed
** oats, instant or stone ground  100 grams, this will increase the water in the dough

For Ciabattas, it is ideal that the bread flattens out, but not as flat as a Foccacia or Pizza crust so be careful.

I like to mix my dough slow, so if you are using a Kitchenaid, mix for 7 minutes, cover and then relax the dough for about 20 minutes. Repeat the process for about 3 to 4 times (depends on the bread flour you are using), until the gluten is fully developed. Add the ground flax seeds and chopped nuts if you like.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and then round. Cover with a large bowl and rest for 15 minutes.

Divide into 2 large portions or 3 medium size Ciabattas. Place on a greased thick or heavy gauge baking sheet and proof until the dough TRIPLES in size. This could take up to 3 hours depending on the heat inside your proofer or proofing room.

About 30 minutes before baking, the oven should be pre-heated to at least 450 F. Glaze the top with eggwash made or eggwhites only, then slash the tops.

Place a heavy aluminum bowl inside. Pour hot water in the bowl before you put the loaves inside. Be ready with some ice cubes or chunks of ice. Throw in the ice inside the oven about 7 minutes after placing the dough inside the oven.

Reduce the heat to 350 after 12 minutes of baking and finish it for a total of 45 minutes. I use the top to bake my Ciabattas and there has to be a baking stone at the bottom of the pan to make the crust crispier.

I do not use my Kitchenaid to fully develop the dough only because i prefer mashing and kneading the dough with my fingers. I love feeling the texture of the dough because it gives me an idea on how much more water i needed to add or not. Now, i am a very small girl, and i have a bad back so the way out of this is to just knead it for a few minutes, then cover it over and over until the gluten is 100% developed. Not that hard if you have a starter. If you do not have one, do not attempt to do this if you are not used to it. 
The dough has been proofed for about 2 and half hours and ready for baking.

The baking might be a bit complicated than the mixing, like i said, i used chunks of ice and threw them in a heavy aluminum bowl with water during the bake to create steam inside.

top photo is from the first batch of bread, with the baking stone and ice chunks.  Below is the same bread recipe but i did not use the baking stone and ice. I got too lazy and was baking something else.

Because there is no steam, the crust in this bread is thinner and softer as well. It is still crispy but the one on top is a whole lot crispier.

The second batch is also flatter as i added lots of water to it because i wanted it this way for my sandwiches. 

Good luck with your bake!!! Till next.


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