In Pursuit of Ciabatta

I started off my bread journey last week by making several white loaves, which were achieved without too much difficulty. I have discovered that kneading bread is a very therapeutic process and also incredibly satisfying when what was once a sticky mess comes together into a smooth, springy ball of dough.

I have since ventured out further to try my hand at ciabatta ….in search of that perfect chewy, spongy texture and those elusive air bubbles.

Batch 1

My first attempt used a recipe taken from the book How To Make Bread by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou. His book teaches a kneading method whereby the bread is kneaded little by little throughout the long proving time. This is a particularly useful method when working with ciabatta dough which is very wet and cannot easily be kneaded in the conventional way.

The finished bread was ok, although the loaves needed to be in the oven for much longer. There were some large air bubbles, but not nearly as many as should be to give the ciabatta it’s unique texture.

Batch 2

I decided to try again with a different recipe.

I found this one online. It uses a different kneading method where you stretch the dough upwards out of the bowl and smack it back down onto itself which helps to create more air bubbles, a real work out for the upper arms. As you can see from the photo above this did result in a more open crumb structure (sounds like something Paul Hollywood would say!) and the loaf had a beautiful chewy crust and a soft springy inside. The one thing I did notice however was that the large bubbles were not spread throughout the loaf. The ends were nice and holey, but the centre was quite close.

Batch 3 (before baking)

At the same time as the second batch I decided to have another go at the Emmanuel Hadjiandreou recipe. These things take quite a long time to prove so why not save time and do two different methods at once!

As you can probably tell by the third attempt, I’m getting better at shaping the loaves :)

Batch 3

I was quite disappointed with the results. The loaf was dense (still soft though) and did not even look close to what a ciabatta should look like neither did not have the lovely springy texture of batch 2.

So I decided to go for batch number 4. Five stars for perseverance.

Batch 4

This recipe, from the brilliant website The Kitchn, uses a starter which is made the night before. A starter is a simple dough, which is left to ferment for a long period of time (usually between 10-12 hours) and is then incorporated into the bread dough. Because the yeast is allowed to work for a much longer time the use of a starter can create better flavour in the bread and also, with ciabatta, is meant to help with the texture as well. The starter used for Italian breads is called biga and is much drier in consistency than the French poolish,  often used for making baguettes and other French artisan breads.

Using a starter definitely helped the proving process, after only 1.5 hours the dough was tripled in size and bursting with huge air bubbles. But again, as you can see from the photo of the finished bread, the air bubbles are mostly concentrated towards the top of the loaf. This definitely was the best out of the 4, it had a lovely flavour and an incredibly soft, spongy texture, but just no air bubbles. Maybe I’ll just call it Italian bread and leave it at that…

I saw a Youtube video of a woman making ciabatta who turns the dough upside down before baking to redistribute the bubbles. Perhaps that’s what I need to try, but for now I am moving on to the next challenge and shall revisit ciabatta sometime in the future.

Adventures with Yeast

Ok, I admit it. I’m scared of yeast.

It’s alive. It needs looking after. It’s possible to kill it.


Up until 2 weeks ago I hadn’t ever baked a loaf of bread from scratch and actually up until a few years ago I had a fairly strong dislike of bread.

I mean, I’m Chinese and so growing up there was a distinct lack of bread, save for soggy homemade sandwiches (with crust, oh the horror!)  for school lunch and the bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar dip which was served at the Italian restaurant we went to every now and again.

These early experiences, especially the dread of being forced to eat sandwiches at school (slightly squashed and with huge blobs of butter), left me very disdainful of bread (and indeed butter…). In fact I even remember carefully opening my sandwiches, lifting out the ham and cheese filling, painstakingly scraping off every smear of butter and then sneaking the bread into the bin without the dinner lady noticing (and woe betide you if she did notice as you’d quickly find yourself being made to eat whatever you’d just thrown away, straight from the bin).

But then about 3 years ago everything changed. A German friend of mine invited me to her house in Munich for Oktoberfest. Every morning a selection of local breads of every shape, colour and flavour appeared on the kitchen table. The first morning I ate 10 rolls piled with sliced meats and cheeses. And from that point on for the rest of the time we were there, I ate more bread than I had ever eaten before or since.

Upon returning home I finally understood why my German friend was constantly complaining about the bread in the UK. Supermarket bread is shockingly bland and proper artisan bakeries are few and far between.

Three years have passed since my eye-opening trip to Munich, and I have returned to my former ways of eating little to no bread (it’s probably better for the waistline that way). But then it dawned on me that if I could just get over my dislike of yeast then a whole new world of baking would be open to me.

So, with National Baking Week starting today I hereby end my boycott of all things which require proving and thus will I begin my adventure with yeast.

Happycall Pan!

So we lugged this interesting looking contraption all the way back from Singapore.  As you can probably infer from the title it’s called the Happycall pan and it comes from South Korea.

It is supposed to shorten the cooking time of food with it’s rubber seal which controls the pressure and reduces heat loss from the pan and it is also meant to eliminate oil splatter when frying.

My aunt actually passed this pan to us when we were in Singapore, thinking that my brother could have use of it whilst at uni. He decided not to take it in the end and so at home we have been experimenting with cooking all kinds of dishes in the Happycall Pan.

The great thing about it is that you can cook with both sides of the pan. So instead of having to fiddle around trying to turn your chicken, you simply close the pan and flip it over. With other dishes such as stir fries, there is no stirring involved, just close the pan and shake.

Despite being quite heavy, it is very easy to use and you would be surprised how many different dishes can be cooked in this pan. I have seen Youtube videos cooking a whole chicken, grilled fish, curries and even baking a cake!

The only downside we have discovered is that because the pan is closed there is no opportunity for excess liquid to evaporate meaning that a lot of the time you have to drain the pan before continuing to cook. It’s not too much hassle though and as you can see below we ended up with brown and crispy skinned chicken :)

Oh and I suppose another downside is washing up….. because essentially it is two pans awkwardly joined together…. but that’s what dads/ brothers/ boyfriends/ flatmates are for right? The cook doesn’t have to wash up!

Anyone else out there have a Happycall pan? I would love to hear what you think of it and what dishes you have made in it!