Ciabatta shouldn’t usually be this challenging…
February 23, 2009 4 Comments
… but if you’re me, it means a two hour quest for lava rock and an explosion in the oven.
I started baking bread once or twice a month about two years ago but I’ve yet to make my own starter (necessary for sourdough) and until today had yet to make a serious attempt at recreating the brick oven environment needed for truly great bread. Believe me, fresh bread is always great, but I was always a little disappointed with how quickly the crispness of the crust disappeared as the loaves cooled. I still liked baking my own bread, but there was something missing in the end product.
Today I tried to overcome the crust problem. The secret to a thicker and crustier crust is steam; in the past, I’d tried tossing a few ice cubes on the floor of my oven but evidently that didn’t work. I was also trying out a new recipe for ciabatta (from the excellent Wild Yeast blog) and I was determined to get the crust right, so while the loaves were proofing for the final time, I went out in search of lava rock and a baking stone. First stop, Bed Bath & Beyond two blocks from my house. No baking stone, even though they advertise one on their website. Second stop, the local nursery – no lava rock. Third stop, the local Orchard Supply Hardware. They carry lava rock but unfortunately were out of stock. Fourth stop, the Home Depot a couple towns over – 20 lb bag of lava rock, check. Fifth stop, the Crate & Barrel on the other side of town – only a small baking stone, not the larger size I needed. Sixth stop, Williams Sonoma in the high end mall next door to the Crate & Barrel. Expensive baking stone, check. Two and a half hours later, I hurry home to get the oven going.
This is where the disaster happened. You hear this warning all the time, but for some of us common sense takes inconvenient sabbaticals. You see, I put the lava rocks in a Pyrex baking dish and put this on the floor of the oven. 475 degrees later, I slid the loaves in, and poured a cup of hot water in the dish.
Duh. Glass doesn’t like temperature changes. And no matter how hot the water is from the tap, it’s not going to be 475 degrees. So now I had glass and lava rock all over the floor of the oven and I sure wasn’t thinking about steam anymore! (Luckily, the glass was all contained in the oven and none of it flew out when it broke.) So we scooped most of the lava rock into a metal pan and set the pan on top of the shards, poured some more water over the rocks, and hoped for the best.
After all that, the ciabatta seems to be fine. I’m mad at myself for sacrificing a dish and making a mess but the crust is definitely crustier and I’ve definitely learned a lesson. And now that I’ve seen what steam can do, there won’t be any going back.
Anyone need 18 lbs of lava rock?