Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Another casualty of the shrinking of my home population has been a decrease in our consumption of bread. Even when we were five, I often found it hard to convince the roommates to use up any bread that was older than just out of the oven fresh. Part of this may have been the packaging--things in old plastic bags are hard to find and sometimes harder to find appetizing. We do a lot of toast.

Still, now that there are just the two of us, the problem has magnified. I've taken to keeping bread in the refrigerator, wrapped up in the same old plastic bags. I make bread less often, and I make a lot of garlic toast. It works out. Sometimes I get so excited about the stale bread recipes (mmm, pappa al pomodoro) that I actually run out of bread, and then it's finally time to make more. After a little refrigerator-emptying early stuffing experiment, it was that time.

(I should mention that my family Thanksgivings are structured in such a way that I have no part in cooking or serving them, I just occasionally make a dessert. So my early and late stuffing experiments are completely gratuitous, I don't have some fancy occasion to cook for, I just like stuffing. Come back later this week, though, because I do have an impressive cake planned, which I'll blog about as I move through the stages.)

I made two breads. The first was a fairly uneventful ricotta bread, a fortified yeast bread from Local Breads. The second, inspired by this post, was the ciabatta recipe from the same book. I think Local Breads is a great book, and I've had a lot of success with his recipes, but one thing I don't appreciate about the book is that he simply refuses to give hand-kneading instructions for many of the wetter doughs, saying that they are better in a mixer and that is that.

That leaves me...nowhere. Of course, I understand that mixers help out a wet dough...they reduce the sticky hands and minimize the urge to add more flour. However, I don't have a mixer, and people have been making breads with wet dough since before mixers were around. I usually just wing it, and if my crumb is sometimes a little tighter (more water, more open crumb), I deal. I try very very hard to avoid using more flour, I wet or oil my hands, and I just get pretty sticky. Sometimes it works better than others. I expected trouble from this ciabatta, but it was a dream. Sticky, yes, but it had a lot of body, and right from the beginning it was like kneading a real entity, rather than a shapeless misery.

Everything went perfectly. I sliced the dough into irregular roll sizes with a pizza cutter, baked, and then we ate a lot. Very few leftovers of these. I'd like to keep experimenting with this recipe. The post referenced above, the one that inspired the ciabatta-fest, is from the blog of baking guru Rose Levy Berenbaum. In another example of internet democracy in action, my comment on the post received an almost immediate reply from Ms. Berenbaum, and the subsequent responses received several more thoughtful insights. I have actual real friends who don't respond this quickly, let alone international cookbook writing stars. I really do appreciate it, Ms. Berenbaum. Scroll down to the comments section of her post to read the discussion with me and other contributors.


Ezra Dreiblatt said...

I love ciabatta. You should try out for Top Chef.

Ezra Dreiblatt

Nicki said...

Katya, You mention keeping bread in the refrigerator! Yikes! In my upbringing I was taught to never put bread in the frig. I was under the impression that it makes it stale. Just like you never refrigerate a tomato. I do freeze bread however. Correct me if I'm wrong. And by the way, I find it delightful that Ezra comments on your blog. The news from the chicken coop-- the other day we had 8 eggs from 8 hens. Perfect batting average. Nicki

Katya said...

Here's the thing, Nicki. You're right, it does get stale. However, most of the bread I make is the kind of bread that is best used stale anyway. After the first day or two, since there are no preservatives, it doesn't really work as a fresh slice anyway. Most of the bread I eat, even for sandwiches, is in the form of toast. The rest is in bread pudding, bread soup, french toast, etc...But mostly toast, so the refrigerator doesn't harm it too much. I keep it out as long as I would want to eat it fresh, though, it is true.

Katya said...

I find it delightful too, by the way. Hello Ezra. Come over sometime and I'll make you some ciabatta.