Paul’s ciabatta

It’s a Sunday afternoon as I write this and Google tells me it’s nearly 30 degrees Celsius. I, however, live in a basement suite that’s air-conditioned so while most people are sitting in front of fans, I am putting on full-length pants and possibly hiding in a blanket when it gets especially chilly.

I understand that, in writing this, I am getting death stares from most of you. And I want you to know I’m well aware of my privilege and the fact that my living condition gives me zero right to complain.

It does, however, allow me to bake.

But the next question is, what to bake?

I feel like that’s my most-asked question. That and “Do I really need to shower?”

The answer today is “bread” or, more specifically “ciabatta” or, if we want to get real specific (and why not), the answer is “Paul’s ciabatta.”

Now, before I even start I have a problem.

The recipe apparently requires one square three-litre plastic container, lightly greased, in which the ciabatta dough is supposed to rise.

I have one square two-litre ceramic container. I have one 3+ litre bowl. I have several containers that are more rectangular in shape and will no doubt be less than three litres in capacity. But even within the recipe it says this element is very important.

So instead of having a smaller container in which it won’t rise as much or a bowl which will cause it to rise circularly, I’m taking a rather daring risk.

I’m using the container I normally use to transport my baked goods, just topsy-turvy. But more details on that in a bit.

First, I have to put together the dough.

After combining the dry ingredients (flour, salt, yeast, in which the salt is not on top of the yeast, for some apparent reason), I add three-quarters of the cold water (a total measurement of 440 ml, which is hard to figure out 3/4 of on a good day) and start mixing.

Unfortunately, in my search for the dough hook for my electric mixer, I nicked my right index finger on the slicer for my food processor because I keep all those bits and bobs in the same basket. Yesterday, however, I painted my nails a bright shade in three coats. Why do you need to know this, you may ask? Well, I knew if I were to put a Band-Aid on the tip of that index finger, it would have to wrap around to the recently polished nail and would cause three hours of my life to be warranted useless. (Nail painting is a cumbersome process.)

My only choice, then, was to work one-handed.

Now you have some backstory for these next few photos.

As the dough started to slowly come together in the mixer, I was to add the remaining amount of water one drip at a time.

“One drip” is a ridiculous measurement. As is “440 ml” because suddenly my dough was looking, well, soggy. There was much too much water, but the recipe said nothing (as it usually does for bread recipes) about adding flour and/or water depending on the texture. Paul is apparently so sure of himself that he adds no such caveat.

Thus I was forced to pour the dough onto the countertop, add some flour and hand-knead for a bit.

However, as mentioned, I had only one hand and it was my left. What a great recipe!

After a few minutes of kneading and adding flour and getting the dough consistency back to “stretchy and smooth” instead of “soggy and gross,” I put it back in the mixer to finish up (since it was supposed to remain in said mixer for 5 to 8 minutes) and hoped for the best.

Then I added it to my ridiculous not-square-and-much-more-than-three-litre container that had been flipped upside down.

I added the lid, balanced the container precariously on its handle, braced it between the cookbook and the bowl and walked away, hoping against hope that this air-conditioned kitchen, non-square container, possibly soggy dough and maimed finger haven’t ruined a perfectly good ciabatta.

All I can do is wait.

1.25 to 1.5 hours later

I’m getting more and more worried as this bake goes on. It has three spoons on the top left-hand corner, which means it’s one of the most difficult recipes in the book, and yet, the steps are fairly, well, basic.

As I turn out the doubled (or “trebled” which does not seem like the right word choice) dough onto a floured and semolina-ed countertop, I’m to simply add more flour and semolina to the top, cut it in four equal pieces, stretch each piece ever so slightly before moving to a floured and semolina-ed baking sheet and letting them rest for 30 to 45 minutes.

That seems too easy for something that is apparently three spoons.

Colour me worried.

But alas, I do as I’m told.

The dough rose quite admirably. (Full disclosure: I initially wrote “the dough rised” and then had to go back and delete because I’m paid to be an editor and such a mistake is inexcusable.)

Please take the time to appreciate my nail polish. Thank you.

I would say that’s at least doubled, if not trebled (which, after a quick Google search, is actually the correct term for tripling in size).

(Fuller disclosure: A shocking portion of my paid-editor job is to have a giant Oxford English Dictionary on my desk that I refer to when I’m unsure of the legitimacy of words.)

As per Paul’s directions, I threw a bunch of flour and semolina on my work surface and rolled the dough out of the container, being careful to handle it as little as possible.

Then I cut it up, stretched it ever so slightly and moved it to the floured and semlina-ed baking sheet.

Now, a quick word on semolina. I don’t actually know what it is and, if I was told to find it in a grocery store, I would simply wander up and down the “baking needs” aisle until giving up and going home. I have never seen it in a grocery store, although I’ve never looked for it, but I did once see it at a bulk foods store that’s a new addition to my neighbourhood. That’s why yesterday I took an errand detour to go to said bulk food store and stock up on something I (a) had never heard of before and (b) still didn’t know what it was.

Maybe Google can tell me.

the hard grains left after the milling of flour, used in puddings and in pasta

Sure. Of course that’s what it is. Presumably it’s just a glutenous cornmeal?

Whatever it is, it’s currently all over my counter and my ciabatta dough and will hopefully do the trick.

In all honesty, I think “Semolina” would be a very pretty girl’s name.

“This is my daughter, Semolina.”

“Oh she’s lovely.”

“Isn’t she? We found her on the floor of a flour mill.”

(I know that’s not where hard grains are left in this process, but I hope you’ll indulge my imagination. The nice thing is you have to because you’re reading this.)

And now I wait for half an hour while the ciabatta rests. (Whatever that means.)

30 to 45 minutes later

The bread rose again and I quickly put it in the preheated oven to bake for 25 minutes.

25 minutes later

After a few minutes of asking the usual questions—Is this golden brown? Does that sound hollow? Are they supposed to be touching?—I removed the ciabatta loaves from the oven.

And then, slightly worried about how much flour and semolina was covering each one, moved them with a puff of flour onto the wire rack.

And now I wait again.

Bread is a real test of patience.

some time later

Since plain ciabatta is a weird thing to bring to work and my sister and her family are always eager to eat my glutenous creations, I decided to bring them a little picnic dinner on this now 32 degree Sunday.

And can we all just appreciate how adorable this is?

UPDATE: It was delicious! Very floury—a detail that put off my niece a bit—but very tasty. It actually tasted like ciabatta!

A surprisingly easy three-spoon recipe.

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