From the looks of things around here, it doesn't seem like I've been baking much bread. The last time I mentioned baking a loaf of bread was on January 12. The truth is that I have been baking bread. I just haven't been thrilled with what I've baked. You see, ciabatta has become my nemesis. I set out to bake loaves of chewy, airy, holey ciabatta, and my results have been less than perfect. Some loaves have a few holes but not enough, and other loaves have a crumb that looks the same as my sourdough baguette. I've tried different recipes and techniques and eventually got to the point of dreading the moment of cutting into a baked and cooled loaf. Now, I have a freezer stocked with loaves of bread disappointments. I may have to admit defeat eventually, but I'm sure I'll try again as soon as I clear out some freezer space. For now though, I needed to move on, change things up, and bake a different kind of bread. I went back to the Breads from the La Brea Bakery book and chose the rosemary-olive oil bread recipe. In the headnote, this bread is described as having a "multifaceted flavor in which the rosemary is a strong but not overpowering element," and the olive oil coats "the gluten strands and make[s] a softer dough than usual." It was to have a uniform crumb and is basically a white dough flavored with herbs. This was perfect. A holey crumb was not the goal here, and that's the change in bread baking I needed.
As usual, the two-day dough process turned into three days for me because I always need to bring my sourdough starter to room temperature and feed it the day before mixing the dough. Then, on day two, the dough was mixed by combining water, white starter, bread flour, and wheat germ in a mixer with a dough hook. It was left for the autolyse, and there's a fantastic description of exactly what that 20 minute resting period is all about at A Bread a Day. After the autolyse, salt was added to the dough, and then chopped, fresh rosemary and olive oil were mixed in as well. It didn't seem like the olive oil was getting well-mixed into the dough in the mixer, so I transferred it to a board and kneaded by hand until the oil was incorporated. The dough was placed in an oiled bowl, covered, and left to ferment for about three and a half hours. It was then placed on a floured board, cut into two pieces and allowed to rest for a bit. After the rest, each piece was shaped into a boule, both were placed in proofing baskets, the baskets were covered, and the dough was left to rise at room temperature for an hour and a half. At that point, the baskets were covered with plastic and refrigerated for 12 hours. The next day, the baskets were removed from the refrigerator so the dough could warm up for a couple of hours before baking. I baked the two loaves at the same time on a baking stone, and the oven was spritzed with water from a spray bottle during the first five minutes of baking. After a total baking time of about 40 minutes, the loaves were browned and crisp on the surface.
As promised, the flavor from the rosemary was evident but not too strong. The tender texture of the crumb and the crispness of the crust were due to the olive oil. This made me excited about bread again. Not only did I finally have a couple of loaves that weren't failures, they were also very flavorful. This is a bread I'll look forward to baking and cutting into again, and then I'll think about going another round with ciabatta.
I’m submitting this to Yeastspotting where you’ll find some seriously well-made bread.