As you may have noticed if you have kept up with this blog for the past few months, it has taken me a long time to go back to baking after Noah died. I am not sure why really. The only explanation I can find is that I needed a little flame to keep going and the little flame was gone.
In early July, just as I was finally thinking of baking again (I had started a new levain, it was bubbling actively and I was planning to put it to the test), I broke my left wrist.
The levain went into the fridge and back we went to buying our bread (fortunately there are several excellent bakeries in Seattle) or eating the beautiful and tasty loaves that baker friends most kindly shared with us.
All these months I had never really missed baking but this time around I felt really frustrated. However there was not much I could do about it with a broken wrist, so at first I did nothing.
Then Sunday a week ago my hand turned a bit dusky and a bluish tinge started creeping down to my fingers. According to the discharge sheet we had been given, this was reason for concern. I called the hospital hotline. We were told to go to the emergency room immediately.
To make a long story short, the physician on guard cut my cast open to make it less tight and the following day, I got a brand-new one, a bit shorter at both ends than the previous one, which made it easier for me to fold my arm and move my fingers.
Now I know the surgeon had said yes to typing again and no to bread-mixing and DSLR-photography (see this post). But as it turned out, typing is actually not that comfortable (I can do it but it makes for swollen fingers) while a few other things come more easily: for instance, pinching and lifting small things between my fingers (the thumb still not opposable because the cast holds it back) or putting a tiny bit of weight on my arm. Plus when I spoke to the physical therapist who prescribed daily exercises, he basically told me to try and go back to what I loved without overdoing anything and to see how it went. Needless to say, that was music to my ears…
So a few days ago, I sat my baking self down for some hard thinking:
- First the levain needed to come out of the fridge so that I could see what kind of a mood it was in. Fed once a day for a couple of days, it soon started bubbling again. I knew I would have no problem there
- Then I looked at my brand-new cast. Hand-mixing was out of the question: not only did I have to keep the cast clean and dry but even if I managed to hold the bowl in the curve of my left arm, I couldn’t overtax my right wrist (I have had problems with it in the past). Fortunately I have a Kitchen-Aid mixer. I resolved to use it
- Shaping was next: there was no way I could shape a boule or a batard. But I could bake in a pan or I could bake a bread that required no shaping, such as a ciabatta. With Didier Rosada’s All about ciabatta class fresh in my memory, I didn’t want to bake in a pan. It had to be a ciabatta
- Ciabattas have to proof right side down on a floured couche and need to be flipped floured side up for baking. The rod the surgeon put inside my arm goes from my elbow almost all the way up my hand to the beginning of my fingers. There is no way I can flip anything, not even a piece of paper. I would have to settle for proofing on parchment paper and baking wrong side up. The rod is coming out towards the end of September, so it was a temporary setback and hopefully not a major one. I decided to ignore it
- Didier had shared several marvelous formulas with us but when I do make one of them, I want to report on it on this blog, including tips, photos, videos, etc. With typing setting my hand on fire (I am writing this in bits and pieces), I knew the longer post would have to wait. I had to devise my own ciabatta
- Still of course I remembered what Didier said, how, in his own bakery, he likes to combine levain and poolish to add complexity to the dough and how much fun it was to just experiment. Taking stock of what I had at hand, I decided to go for teff, to use some whole wheat flour as well and to complement the flavor and texture with roasted sunflower seeds. I also decided to add water in two steps as he so brilliantly demonstrated
- I knew that mixing and baking the ciabatta wouldn’t be fun if I had to ask for help. So I made up the one and only rule: I had to manage by myself from A to Z, including handling the oven and cleaning up (even if I had to stick everything in the dishwasher, which I did). Hence the title of this post: one-handed ciabatta
It went way more smoothly that I thought it would. Cast in the supporting role (pun intended!), my left arm rose to the occasion. Believe it or not, the hardest part was setting the camera on the tripod for the post-baking shots. The one-handed smartphone shots were no problem.
The fragrance that wafted out of the oven during the baking was pure bliss and brought back happy memories.
But it wasn’t until we cut open the first ciabatta (the proportions given below yield three) and I saw the tan color of the crumb that I knew why I had picked teff out of all the grains I stock in the fridge: last summer, when Noah, his mom and his sisters came to visit at our little camp by the river, I made several loaves of teff bread with flour a former colleague had brought back from Ethiopia. Noah liked it so much that he ate almost a full loaf by himself, without butter or jam or any other kind of topping. His bright and eager expression, the sheer joy on his face as he chewed will stay with me forever.
His memory had brought me back full-circle. A circle of love. And the little flame had been rekindled.
Ingredients (for 3 ciabattas)
- 450 g unbleached all-purpose flour
- 150 g whole-wheat flour
- 150 g teff mash (75g teff flour + 75g water. See this recipe for mash explanation and how-to)
- Water 1: 350 g
- Water 2: 100 g
- 80 g sunflower seeds, toasted and briefly soaked (water from that soaking is part of water 1)
- 150 g ripe liquid levain (100% hydration)
- 150 g ripe poolish (75 g flour + 75 g water + a pinch of instant yeast)
- 18 g fine sea salt
Method (the ciabatta is made over two days)
- Feed the levain
- Prepare the poolish
- Briefly dry-roast the sunflower seeds in a small frying pan
- Pour the boiling water over the teff flour and mix well
- Make sure the teff flour is completely hydrated, adding a bit more water as needed
- Set aside until mash comes to room temperature
- Add a bit of boiling water to the roasted seeds (just enough to cover)
- Let soak 20 minutes or so
- Drain the seeds and save the water
- Pour water 1 (including sunflower seeds soaking water) in bowl of mixer
- Add all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, teff mash, levain and poolish
- Mix on low speed until incorporated
- Add the salt
- Mix on low speed until gluten is developed
- Add half of water 2 and crank up speed one notch
- Slowly add the other half of water 2
- Mix briefly (just until the water is incorporated)
- Bring speed back down to low and add the sunflower seeds
- Mix until incorporated
- Set dough to rise in oiled and covered pan
– Dough temperature was 79°F/26°C at the end of the mixing.
– Fermentation lasted six hours at 72°F/22°C, with two folds one hour apart.
– Since my broken wrist made it impossible to fold the usual way (north over south, then west over east, and flip over), I did it one-handed inside the pan, simply by picking up the edge of the dough and bringing it towards the center, making sure to go all around.
– I should point out that I chose the wrong shape of pan for fermenting the dough. Since I was making an elongated bread I should have chosen a rectangular pan instead of a square one. I will next time.
- When dough has finished rising (when you palpate it with the tip of a finger, the indentation remains for a little while), dust the top with flour and invert the container on a floured counter top
- Gently elongate the dough into a rectangle
- Divide in three length-wise (there was no way I could weigh the pieces so I just eyeballed them)
- Using the dough cutter as a lift, transfer each piece of dough to a parchment-paper covered half-sheet pan and proof, covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on room temperature
- Meawhile pre-heat oven to 420°F/215°C
- Slide proofed ciabattas into the oven and bake (with steam for the first five minutes) for 20 minutes before turning the oven down to 400°F/204°C
- Continue baking for another 10 minutes (propping the door of the oven ajar with a wooden spoon for the last 5 minutes)
- Cool on a rack