I decided to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS for short) and write about it. Don’t know much about GBBS? No worries. Check out my first blog in this series to learn more about the show and about why I decided to do this, for better or for worse (so far, mostly worse).
Like any real Golden Girls fan, I want to be like Sophia Petrillo – a wise and often wise-cracking little woman with a flair for Old-World story telling, Italian cooking and dishing out sick burns.
Forgot Sophia? Here’s a refresher:
You get it, my girl Sophia is a baller so much so that she occasionally hits people with a melon baller:
But, most of the time, Sophia and I don’t have that much in common. I’ve never been to Sicily, in 1922 or otherwise, and I’m no expert at Italian cooking or comebacks.
Frankly, the only thing Sophia and I have in common is in the looks department, and considering the fact that the character is supposed to be in her 80s, I don’t want to dwell on that now.
What I am going to talk about is my recent Sophia-like adventures in Italian cooking. Okay, so it wasn’t so much adventures as it an adventure-singular. And, technically it wasn’t so much of an adventure as it was just me cooking a loaf of bread in my kitchen on a Monday evening.
But, I made ciabatta bread – the Italian staple, so I’m basically Sophia now right? Of course I am, and you can be too, because, turns out, making ciabatta is actually really easy.
Let’s start from the beginning – the recipe.
Ciabatta was the technical challenge on season 1 episode 3’s “Bread” episode. (FYI: I’m using the seasons available on Netflix in the U.S., so the episode numbers won’t sync up with what was shown in the U.K.)
Anyway, if you watch GBBS (which, you should really be watching GBBS) you’ll know that in the technical challenge contestants are given a pared down version of a recipe – one that is missing measurements, some instructions and cooking times. And if you don’t watch GBBS you know that now too, because I just told you. You’re welcome.
But since I’m not actually on the show, I get to use the full recipe which is available on the official GBBS website here.
Ordinarily I’d try to follow this recipe but I didn’t this time because GBBS’ recipe calls for a stand mixer and I don’t have one of those.
So I went with a recipe from the Illustrated Step-by-Step Baking cookbook by Caroline Bretherton instead. It looks like this:
The ciabatta recipe is the only recipe I’ve tried in this cookbook but it worked well so the book is at a 100 percent success rate so far, which is nothing to sneeze at. (Sidenote: What a stupid expression, huh? Who even has enough control of their sneezes to aim them at things? And who would want to?)
Anyhoo, I used this cookbook because its ciabatta recipe didn’t call for a stand mixer, just a bowl, a wooden spoon and a whole bunch of kneading.
Plus the ingredients list was easy too. You just need 2 tsp. dried yeast; 2 tbsp. olive oil, plus extra for greasing; 2 1/2 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting and 1 tsp. sea salt.
From here just dissolve the yeast in 1 1/2 cups of warm water and then add the olive oil to it.
Put the flour and the salt in a large bowl and make a little well in the middle of that and pour your yeast/oil mixture into it.
Mix it all up with a wooden spoon to form a soft dough.
Put the dough ball on a floured surface and knead it for 10 minutes until it is “smooth, soft, and somewhat slippery.” That’s what the cookbook says. They’re into alliteration I guess.
Then put the dough in a lightly-oiled bowl and cover it loosely with plastic wrap. The cookbook doesn’t say what bowl to use, but on GBBS the contestants are told to use square plastic containers because it’s supposed to help the dough keep its shape. I don’t really know if that works, but who am I to question Paul Hollywood’s bread-making advice? The man is practically a bread wizard.
Then you have to wait for two whole hours (which incidentally allows you plenty of time to watch some Golden Girls).
During that time, your dough should double in size.
Look at that, the dough really rose to the occasion, huh? I was so proud. Of the dough. Not of that terrible “rose to the occasion” pun.
Then, get another floured surface ready because you need to “gently knock the dough back with your fists” and divide it into 2 pieces, which you then knead briefly and shape into “slipper” shapes, about 12 by 4 inches. Ciabatta in Italian means “slipper”.
Put the weird-shaped slippers on parchment-lined baking shapes. FYI: my parchment paper is only oven-safe up to 420 degrees F and this recipe calls for the oven to be set at 450 degrees F. So check your parchment paper, something I didn’t do until my bread was already in the oven…
Then your dough needs to rise again. Loosely cover it with plastic wrap and a towel and leave it alone for an hour. It should double in volume.
After your dough is sufficiently rested or risen or whatever, remove the towel/blanket and the plastic wrap. If you’re anything like me, removing the plastic wrap will be hard because this dough is super, silly sticky. Like it’s ridiculous. I would have taken a picture of this step but I couldn’t, because my fingers, like the plastic wrap, were covered in dough.
Once you’ve de-doughed your plastic wrap and your hands, make sure your oven is preheated to 450 degrees like we talked about before and at this point, you’re supposed to mist your bread loaves with water. I don’t have a handy dandy mister thing, so I just used a pasty/basting brush to brush some water on. A lot of water.
I remembered that the GBBS contestants said you need water/hence steam to make the dough crispy and crustier. Look at me, learning stuff from T.V.!
Then put your water-coated bread in the oven for a total of 30 minutes. You’ll need to take it out every 10 minutes and mist it or brush it with water. Because steam, guys!
(Parchment paper update: like I said, my paper wasn’t safe to be in the oven at the temperature this recipe called for, so after my initial ten-minute baking, I removed the paper, which had gotten decidedly brown and just put the dough directly on the pan. Fire safety, ya’ll. I wasn’t a junior fire patrol captain in fifth grade for nothing. Also I can’t explain why I remember I was junior fire patrol captain, or why I felt the need to brag about it just now. I’m just weird. You should know that by now.)
Fire-hazard paper removed, bake your bread until the top is golden brown and the bottom seems hollow when you tap it. Turns out, knocking on the bread can show you what the texture is like inside. You don’t even need an MRI for that.
Remove your bread-filled bread from the oven, and it should look like this. Or, well, mine looked like this: golden-brown, and delicious but also slightly-misshapen.
Then you have to wait 30 minutes before you can cut into the bread, which is the longest waiting you’ve had to do yet. Because, you want to eat the bread, duh.
But once I could finally cut the bread, I found out that it had neat, little air pockets inside which is good, I think.
And I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty proud of myself at this point. Because not only did they look pretty good, they tasted good too. (Once I was finally, finally allowed to eat them.)
So yeah, I felt like this:
Next week though, I may feel differently because things are going to get harder. Way harder. We’ve reached another “showstopper” challenge and I have to make a filled centerpiece loaf of bread. How do you do that?
So yeah, that should be interesting…
P.S. If you’re liking these blogs and wanna help support my GBBS project, you can now donate some dough (tacky, awful baking pun) through my PayPal account: paypal.me/sometimesibakeblog. I’ll use the money to buy ingredients and to buy baking equipment I don’t have yet, like a stand mixer so I don’t have to keep mixing things by hand like a rookie.
P.P.S. I just remembered I forgot to share the most important part of any bread week challenge. This:
That just doesn’t get old.