Sarah Kenney on the discovery of yeast and how playing with food can fuel the development of new dishes.
Text And Photos By Sarah Kenney
This week, it was time for me to continue moving onwards in my effort to fine tune my baking skills. What new bread is in store for me? This week it is Ciabatta Bread or Pain à L’Ancienne (Rustic Bread)
Since I started teaching myself how to bake breads, it just amazes me each and every time, that you can go from a lumpy, gloppy, mass of very few ingredients to a beautiful, crusty, golden loaf of delicious bread.
How did they do that in the ancient days? Since I started to bake from scratch, questions of food history began swirling in my mind. Especially questions about the discovery of yeast.
How in the world was yeast discovered and then used in baking? Yeast goes back some six thousand years, when it was discovered by the Egyptians. Beer was produced and brewed in the same areas as bread was being made. It is suspected that the liquid ale was used in a batch of bread. The rise was more spectacular than a normal loaf of bread and so the same “ale” water was continuously used. No one really knows how it all came about. This is just a theory. The lesson learned here is that we should never chide ourselves for “playing with our food”.
- 4½cups (20oz/567g) unbleached bread flour
- 1¾ teaspoons (0.4oz/11g) salt
- 1¼ teaspoons (0.14oz/4g) instant yeast
- 2 cups (16oz/454g) chilled water (about 55ºF or 13ºC)
- 1 tablespoon (0.5oz/14g) olive oil
- Combine the flour, salt, yeast, and water in a mixing bowl. If using a mixer, use the paddle attachment and mix on the lowest speed for 1 minute (Snippets Notes: Because if you don't put it on lowest speed, you might be wearing a lot of white on your face). If mixing by hand, use a large spoon and stir for about 1 minute, until well blended. The dough should be coarse and sticky. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes to fully hydrate the flour.
- Drizzle the olive oil over the dough.
- Mix on medium-low speed using the paddle attachment, or by hand using a large wet spoon or wet hands, for 1 minute. The dough should become smoother but will still be very soft, sticky, and wet.
- Use a wet bowl scraper or spatula to transfer the dough to a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest at room temperature for 10 minutes.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface.
- With wet or oiled hands, reach under the front end of the dough, stretch it out, then fold it back onto the top of the dough. Do this from the back end and then from each side, then flip the dough over and tuck it into a ball. The dough should be significantly firmer, though still very soft and fragile.
- Place the dough back in the bowl, cover, and let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes.
- Repeat this process 3 more times, competing all repetitions within 40 minutes. (Snippets Notes: I just stretch and fold right there in the bowl as opposed to taking the dough out and moving it to the counter)
- After the final stretch and fold, immediately cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate over night or for up to 4 days. The dough will rise, possibly to double its original size, in the refrigerator.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator about 3 hours in advance for ciabatta.
- About 1 hour after taking the dough out of the refrigerator, line the back of a sheet pan with parchment paper and generously dust the entire surface with flour.
- Use a wet or oiled bowl scraper to transfer the dough to the work surface, taking care to handle the dough as little as possible to avoid degassing it.
- Dust the top of the surface of the dough with flour and also flour your hands.
- Using your hands or a metal pastry scraper, gently coax and pat the dough into a rough square measuring about 9 inches on each side, still taking care to degas it as little as possible.
- About 45 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 550ºF (288ºC) or as high as it will go, and prepare the oven for hearth baking.
- Slide the dough, parchment and all, onto the stone; if you aren't using a stone, put the entire pan in the oven. (Snippets Notes: This is a shallow pan that you fill with water and slide in the oven right beneath you bread. It will steam the dough and make a really nice crust)
- Pour 1 cup of hot water into the steam pan underneath the pan holding the bread, then lower the temperature to 450ºF (232ºC)
- Bake for 12 minutes, rotate the pan and bake for 15-20 minutes more, until the crust is a rich brown. Cool on a wire rack before slicing.