Baking is chemistry — there’s a reason why some recipes call for baking powder and others for baking soda, why one egg too many can make your brownies runny and inedible, why cake, bread, and all-purpose flour are all different things. For a culinary novice like myself, who also nearly failed high school chemistry, it’s obvious why baking is scary. I just have no concept of how things will react, and when you throw words like “biga” around (or “pre-ferment,” which is some concoction involving yeast), I’ve lost interest.
But! Other blogs to the rescue! I came across this very straightforward recipe on Crepes of Wrath (bonus points for a sweet name) that required a mere six ingredients, one of which is water. The serving size is “one large loaf,” but I halved it so I wouldn’t have to worry about storing it without it getting stale. The issue with halving amounts like “3 1/4 cups” is that you end up with weird measurements — and did I mention I didn’t do too well in high school math? I was panic-stricken as I tried to figure out exactly what .875 cups would look like, and then a stroke of inspiration came to me in the form of the pilgrims. Surely they didn’t have Pyrex measuring cups! So I threw caution to the wind and starting winging it. If early settlers and non-technical folk like myself have made bread for centuries, surely I could do it too. As you can see, it turned out just fine and tasted even better — chemistry and math be damned.
— Recipe (adapted from link above) —
Makes one medium loaf (that I could eat in one sitting if I let myself)
1.5 cups of flour
2/3 tsp. active dry yeast
1/2 tsp. salt
Somewhere between 1/3 and 2/3 tsp. sugar
1 cup of warm water (I used it straight from the faucet and didn’t test the temperature, YOLO)
1 tbsp. olive oil
–> Whisk flour, yeast, salt, sugar, until you’re confident it’s all jumbled up in there.
–> Dump in warm water and combine using a wooden spoon. (Do NOT use the whisk, or you’ll get dough all stuck in it and it’ll be a pain to clean). To get the bubbles in ciabatta, you’ll need to pull the dough up in parts and let it fall back down. I was lazy and just used the spoon to do this, though if you wanted to feel really hardcore you could flour your hands instead. The dough will be wet, but should not be runny. (If it is runny — well, just add some more flour and cross your fingers).
–> Put into a nonstick bowl (conveniently, I plopped it into the basin of a rice cooker), drizzle some olive oil on top, and cover the bowl with a towel. Leave somewhere warm (I put it near a heater) and let rise for two hours.
–> Dump out the mixture, which should be puffier, into a floured pan, and arrange it as best you can into an ovular shape. Try not to use a glass pan, unless you have parchment paper and flour, or you will be prying up a loaf of bread and feeling very silly in front of dinner party guests (I’m not speaking from experience or anything). This time, I used metal (a nonstick-ish type surface). Sprinkle flour on the top of the loaf to make it look really authentic. Pop in the oven at 425ish degrees (I accidentally bumped the dial and turned it up to 450 degrees, and it was still fine — see how scientific I am?) for about 30-40 minutes. It should be golden-brown and…well, it should look like it’s done. It should look like bread. You will know it when you see it.
–> Most importantly, this will make your whole place smell like bread, which is what I imagine heaven smells like, and your guests will be floored at your baking/chemistry skillzz. Just remember to not tell them it only required six ingredients. And leave a bit of flour on your shirt to make it look like you toiled over it all day. (Bonus: no eggs or butter makes this vegan!)