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29 January 2012

Easy Bread Recipes (for the Newbie)

Ciabatta / Xapata / ChapataI don’t want you to have an image of me as the sort of woman who dons a tidy white apron everyday breezily removing different shaped, freshly-baked loaves of home-baked bread from the oven whilst humming serenely. The vision is more of me in jeans and an everyday sweater rolled up to the elbows, trying desperately not to get myself covered in flour to save on the washing; and often swearing
if things haven’t quite worked out how I expected (like when I forgot to turn the oven back on and the loaf seemed to take a lifetime to cook).

I think people have an awe with regards to baking as if it’s some mystic art from centuries past. But all it is is mixing flour, yeast and water together and waiting for a bit before bunging it in the oven. It does take a couple of practices to get the “feel” for it but after that Betty’s your Crocker and you can expect to receive instant Domestic Goddess-status from all your friends. Not to mention that it is healthier for you (no weird preservatives), it’s cheaper, and it tastes awesome.

Jason's Quick Coccodrillo Ciabatta Bread

I adapted this from a recipe I found on the fantastic bakers’ website “The Fresh Loaf”. This particular formula was originally posted on usenet in the great group by Jason Molina all credit to him and the 'King of Gloop'.

500g bread flour (plain, ’pain de campagne’, whatever)
475g (~2 cups) water
1 packet of yeast
15g salt

  1. In a bowl, or a Kitchen Aid style mixer if you have one, mix all ingredients roughly till combined and let it rest (leave it along, don't touch it!) for 10 minutes.
  2. With a wooden spatula beat the living hell out of the batter, it will start out like pancake batter but in anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes it will set up and work like a very sticky dough.
  3. Place into a well-oiled container and let it triple! it must triple! For me this takes about 2.5 hours
  4. Empty on to a floured counter (scrape if you must, however you gotta get the gloop out), cut into 3 or 4 peices. Spray with oil and dust with lots o' flour. Let them proof (i.e. just sit there) for about 45 minutes, which gives you enough time to crank that oven up to 500F/260C.
  5. After 45 minutes or so the loaves should be puffy and wobbly, now it's iron fist, velvet glove time. Pick up and stretch into your final ciabatta shape (~10" oblong rectangle) and flip them upside down (this redistributes the bubbles, so you get even bubbles throughout), and onto baking paper. Try to do it in one motion and be gentle, it might look like you've ruined them completely, but the "oven spring" (the initial heat from the oven that activates the yeast) is immense on these things.
  6. Bake at 500F/260C for about 15-20 minutes. To check if they’re done pick one of the loaves up with a cloth and knock on the bottom, if it sounds hollow then it’s done.

No-fuss Pizza Dough

As a mother of small children, I value the option of a no-fuss meal that you can count on the kids chowing down. Pizza is a great choice, but it’s considered junk food right? But done right (i.e. by yourself) it can be an cheap, nutritious meal that the kids will love, especially if they can dress their own. The raw dough can be prepared beforehand, divided into batches, and frozen. The morning of, simply take the dough out to defrost and just before supper time, roll out the dough all ready for its toppings!

Ingredients (this will make 1 large thin-crust pizza):
500g flour (plain, bread, whatever)
1 packet of yeast
15g salt
2 tbsp olive oil
300g water

  1. Mix all the ingredients, by hand or with a mixer. Make sure it is well-mixed and stir for a couple of minutes more.
  2. Cover the bowl with oiled cling-film and let the dough rise in a warm place (I set it beside my sink in the bathroom). This will take anywhere from 1-2 hours. Go away and read a magazine, surf the net, do something fun.
  3. Punch the dough down with your fist (there’s something extremely satisfying about this which I never seem to tire of). Plunk the dough down on a well-floured countertop and roll the dough out as mush as possible with a rolling-pin. Be aware that the dough may be stubborn and refuse to stretch easily. Place the rolled-out dough on your pizza tray: I use the roasting tin that comes as part of the oven - just make sure to either cover it with baking paper or sprinkle with flour to stop the dough from sticking. Now patiently press the dough out to the edge of the pan, it will get there in the end, patch up any holes with extra dough from the edges. Bake at about 230C for about 20 minutes.
  4. That’s it. Cover with pizza sauce (I make my own by throwing a tin of tomatoes in a pot with a smashed garlic clove, some oregano and a good glug of olive oil and cook for 15-20 minutes) and loads of veg for the kids (very thinly sliced peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, even spinach), ham (optional!), and grated cheese! Done.

Bon appetito!

Photo credit: Gaspard Winckler


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