I haven't posted anything in over a month, but don't think I haven't been busy in the kitchen! The last time you heard from me, I was recovering from my first encounter with ciabatta. Since then, I have tried ciabatta for a second time, and with much greater success. What made the difference was flouring the counter heavily, as well as using flexible cutting boards to lift the risen dough off the counter and then slide the proofed loaves onto the baking sheet (I still don't have a baking stone). The shaping went better (thanks to step-by-step pictures on kyleskitchen.net), and I got some very nice, large holes in the finished product. I was quite pleased with myself, but there is still much work to be done.
One problem that I am consistently having with lean breads is crust color. I never seem to be able to achieve a nice deep brown. This may have something to do with another problem that has been plaguing me, which has to do with temperature. I always preheat the oven (mine is gas) for about a half hour, and I have a thermometer in the oven as well. But even when I follow a recipe to the letter, my loaves always seem to get too hot in the middle after a shorter bake time than the recipe calls for. I don't know what to do other than to always bake at a lower temperature.
I am also having trouble with scoring. I have only tried it twice (both times on the French bread recipe from BBA), but my results have been poor. The first time, I used a lame that I bought from a Viking store. I had a lot of difficulty slicing through the dough, so I can only conclude that my lame is lame. The second time, I tried a serrated knife, which worked much better. However, I can't seem to score the proofed dough without deflating it quite a bit. Also, the slashes don't "bloom" the way they are supposed to when baked. I am slicing fairly deep, but perhaps my slashes are too long or too horizontal. Or perhaps I am deflating the loaves too much and not achieving proper oven spring? I don't know, but I will try again.
One recipe that I had none of these problems with is the recipe for Portuguese sweet bread from BBA. No scoring needed, and the egg wash ensured a very deep brown crust...plus it was delicious. It's perfect for breakfast or a snack (with or without butter), especially alongside a nice juicy peach and some Greek yogurt drizzled with honey. Yum. I substituted orange and lemon zests for the orange and lemon extracts, because I didn't want to shell out the extra cash. The substitution worked well. I will definitely make this recipe again soon.