From looking at the above picture, you’d think this was just another ciabatta, right? Simply a different flavor combination than the one posted last week. And you’d be right of course, except that, as always, “l’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux” (what is essential remains invisible to the eyes, as the fox explains to the curious little boy in Le Petit Prince).
Indeed, beyond the listed ingredients, what got baked into this bread is friendship and love and the gratefulness that fills my heart for the support you have steadfastly afforded us since tragedy struck. Frankly I couldn’t have made it so far so soon without your help. Each of your comments and emails has reached my heart and added a brick to the foundation on which healing may one day begin. Thank you!
The realization came to me as I was gathering what I needed for this bread: the stone-ground whole wheat flour with golden specks of bran came from a baker on Vancouver Island, the round and plump hazelnuts from a friend’s farm in the Fraser Valley, the dried pears from a local friend who is rebuilding his home (as he will be without an oven for more than a year, he kindly brought me all -and I do mean all- his baking supplies). The levain was the distant progeny of the one sent to me last year by another friend on Orcas Island. The apron around my waist was a present from a friend in Maine.
I was making the ciabatta for a friend from France who will be visiting next month: she lives above a bakery on a quiet street in a city near Paris. She has never eaten homemade bread in her life.
As I stood thinking of her, weighing each ingredient in turn, I remembered the kindness and passion of the baker who had shared it with me and I suddenly realized that beyond the eagerly awaited guest and my baking friends, all of you were in the kitchen with me as well, still present eight and a half months later, still caring, still remembering Noah and still striving not only to show support but also to prevent further acts of random violence like the one which had devastated the Newtown families. I could never thank you enough. This ciabatta is dedicated to you.
It was inspired by the cool front which has hung over our valley for the past few days: mist rising from the river at dawn, odd leaves turning bright red, apples and pears hanging heavier in the gardens that line the trail, humming birds dancing at the feeders as if already gearing up for the long trip south.
Cliff Mass, our beloved local meteorologist, says summer isn’t over yet and I believe him. Still I have seen the writing on the landscape and distant memories of fall have come drifting back. The yellowing fruit against the old stonewall in my grandfather’s orchard, the ripe hazelnuts falling off their husks under the thicket by the chicken coop, we kids filling our pockets before heading out for a day’s adventures, the breath of a faraway and long-ago garden brought back by the smell of damp grass as I bend to pick up the paper from my Northwest driveway every morning. Threads of life woven together. Past and present. Love and loss. Being part of a larger whole, of a living tapestry. Separate, yet connected.
A comforting thought to go with the first bread of fall.
The method is the same as the one I described in my previous post with minor changes.
- The oatmeal I used was a leftover from breakfast the day before, it hadn’t been cooked with baking in mind and was therefore a bit runnier than I would have liked. Had I made oatmeal specifically for this ciabatta, I would have reduced by half the amount of cooking water. As it is, I can’t tell you how much water I used because I never measured it. I adjusted for the wet oatmeal by reducing the amount of water added to the dough in the final mix.
- I soaked the pears only briefly (three minutes only and in boiling water) and used the soaking water (which smelled delicious) in the dough.
- The hazelnuts I roasted and peeled, then ground coarsely in a flat bowl with the thich bottom of a small bottle of balsamic vinegar. The grinding was no hassle. But the peeling was rough: I had never truly appreciated before how convenient it was to have two hands when rubbing hazelnuts together.
- I didn’t soak the hazelnuts but right before incorporating them into the dough, I gently hand-mixed them with the pears so that some of the wetness would rub onto them and they wouldn’t be as likely to suck up water from the fermenting dough. Next time I might try and soak them briefly as they may have dried out the dough a bit.
Ingredients (for 3 ciabattas)
- 450 g unbleached all-purpose flour
- 150 g whole-wheat flour
- 150 g wholegrain steel-cut oats, cooked, barely salted, unsweetened, at room temperature
- Water 1: 300 g
- Water 2: 75 g
- 150 g dried pears, roughly chopped, soaked for three minutes in boiling water (unless they were super dry and hard, I wouldn’t soak them any longer for fear of their turning to mush)
- 80 g hazelnuts, roasted, peeled and coarsely ground
- 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 bread is made over two days)
- Feed the levain
- Prepare the poolish
- Roast, peel and chop the hazelnuts
- Pour water 1 (including pear-soaking water) in bowl of mixer
- Add all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, oatmeal, levain and poolish
- Mix on low speed until incorporated
- Add the salt
- Mix on low speed until gluten is developed
- Add water 2 (slowly and in stages) and crank up speed one notch
- Mix briefly (just until the water is incorporated)
- Bring speed back down to low and add pears and hazelnuts
- Mix until incorporated
- Set dough to rise in oiled and covered pan
- Dough temperature was 80°F/26°C and room temperature 72°F/22°C
- I gave the dough two folds at 50 minute-intervals
- Fermentation time was 4 hours, followed by 45-minutes proofing time (I am not sure why the dough fermented faster than last week. Maybe the sugar in the pears sped up the process?)
Dividing and Baking
- Except that I set the oven to 410°F/210°C for the first 15 minutes
- And lowered it to 400°F/204°C afterwards to prevent the crust from darkening too much (again because of the sugar in the pears)
- I also tented the ciabattas with aluminum foil after the first 15 minutes
- I used steam at the beginning and kept the oven door ajar for the last five minutes