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pmccool's picture

In case you are thinking that there is no way that particular sequence of dots can be connected, stay with me. You may want to send for the nice men in the white coats when I'm done explaining, but until then, think of it as a case study in aberrant psychology.

It began, innocently enough, with Floyd's suggestion (challenge?) to submit some ideas for harvest breads. Some of the things that I have long associated with Autumn are the late-season vegetables like winter squash, pumpkins, and parsnips. Squash can add moisture and texture to breads, as well as a low-key sweetness. Combine that with something savory, like sage, and you have the flavor foundation for a knock-out loaf of bread. Ah, you begin to see where this is going . . .

As I was rummaging around on the internet to see if there was a recipe that I could adapt or just plain steal, I came across a couple of interesting possibilities. Here is one of them: And here is another:

The thing that really grabbed my eye, though, was this recipe: I hadn't been aware of the site previously, but I'll definitely be back to browse some more. Sorry, sidetracked again. Anyway, I had a new recipe to try, a fresh-from-the-farmers-market butternut squash on the counter, and a note with the recipe that suggested serving the carbonara with ciabatta. Hmm, ciabatta. That's been on my list of things to try for a while now. There was a stiff starter in the refrigerator that would serve well as the biga for the ciabatta recipe in BBA . . . (Are you paying attention to the dots?)

Saturday dawned, rife with possibilities. My wife was away all day, conducting a seminar. The grass was in need of mowing and there were bare patches to reseed, now that the weather has cooled. And bread to bake. Actually, there was enough starter, after doing 3 builds, to do two batches of bread. First things first: run to the lawn and garden center for 5 pounds of grass seed. Get home, prep the squash and put it in the oven to roast. Mix the ciabatta, set it to bulk ferment. It's definitely a sticky dough, but not nearly as wet as I expected from others' descriptions. First time to follow a recipe by weights instead of volumes.

Back outside to mow the yard. Pop back in to check on progress of ciabatta and do first stretch and fold. (Yes, I washed my hands first!) Took squash out of oven. Decided to make just a plain sourdough bread from BBA. After further looking, decided that one loaf would include walnuts and blue cheese, since my wife loves blue cheese. Mixed mixed and kneaded the dough for that and set it to ferment.

Back outdoors to rake and seed the front yard patches. Headed back in for second stretch and fold with ciabatta. Sourdough rising slowly but steadily. Decided to break for lunch. After lunch, devised couche from heavily floured dish towel and shaped ciabatta loaves per Reinhart's pictures in BBA. Wound up looking like this:

Before heading back out, I put the stone and a steam pan in the oven to preheat. Oh, and separated the squash flesh from the skin and innards now that it was cool enough to handle. Put it in the refrigerator for later.

Then I went back outdoors to rake and seed the patches in the back yard. Afterwards, back in to check on breads. Oven was ready, so gave the ciabatta a final stretch, per BBA instructions and popped them onto the stone, riding on some parchment paper. Filled the steam pan and winced to see some of the spatters landing on the oven window. Somehow escaped causing any damage. Shaped sourdough loaves and placed them in the now-vacant couche.

Went back outside to make sure the seed was properly covered and then started the sprinkler. Next, started putting up new hangers for tools in the garage (that's a follow-up from last weekend's project. Checked the ciabatta when it was close to time. Internal temp read at 202F, so whisked them out of the oven. Sourdough loaves were still rising, so shut off the oven.

My wife got home about this time, so after chatting about our respective days, I ran to the store for carbonara ingredients that weren't on hand at home. (Pancetta isn't part of my standard batterie de cuisine.)

On returning home, after reading the carbonara recipe again, decided that it might take a while to pull everything together, so started working on that. A couple of notes from that process: 1. The recipe calls for 2/3 of the herbs at one point, 2/3 of the herbs at second point, and the reserved herbs in yet a third step. I suspect that the amounts should have been 1/3, 1/3 and 1/3, respectively. 2. The recipe directs you to "sizzle" some of the sage leaves in butter and olive oil as a garnish. I managed to scorch them (literally too many things in the fire at that point), but wound up not missing them in the finished dish. They are a garnish, not an integral part of ingredients, so if you want to simplify by skipping this step, go for it. Fortunately, everything else came to gether successfully. 3. Although the recipe specifically calls for butternut squash, I don't see why other winter squash (buttercup, Hubbard, acorn, etc.) or pumpkin or even sweet potatoes couldn't be substituted.

In the middle of all of this, I noticed that the sourdough was about ready for the oven, so I started the preheat. Since it hadn't cooled completely yet, it got up to temperature fairly quickly. Eventually, the carbonara came together and the bread baked as it should.

The carbonara was fantastic and, yes, pinot grigio is a very good accompaniment. This recipe is definitely in the "keeper" category. It will probably also be a once or twice a year event, because of its complexity.

The ciabatta, however, is going to require some further practice. I don't know if it was the use of the stiff starter for the biga, a too-low hydration, my inexperience with and/or mishandling of this bread, or some combination of those elements, but it wasn't a thing of beauty. Like most sub-par bread experiences, it was, at least, delicious. The crumb was, well, bready. I was looking for an open and big-eyed crumb and wound up with a relatively close-textured, soft crumb. And the shape--well, I'll keep trying.

Here's a photo:


The two ciabatta are on the right. You might be able to make out part of the crumb of the nearer loaf. Sorry that the view isn't clearer. The front loaf on the left is the plain sourdough; the rear loaf on the left is walnut/blue cheese sourdough. I was braced for a strong cheese flavor in the walnut/blue cheese loaf, since I'm not especially fond of blue cheese, but was pleasantly surprised that the cheese flavor was subtly blended with the other flavors. I haven't cut into the plain loaf yet.

A long day, lots of work done, good bread and a fantastic dinner to wrap it up. Not bad at all. And, needless to say, Sunday was a quiet day. Thanks, Floyd, for triggering my pinball progression.


Darkstar's picture

I've been passionately lurking on this site for a few months now. I have baked up a few dozen loaves and have been meaning to start up my baker-blog but never could get the stars to line up with a lovely loaf, my digital camera, AND the motivation to write down what I've done. I figured this is the easiest way to get my own personal ball rolling so without further ado, my impressions of the Fibrament baking stone.

I read all the opinions presented in this site and my head was sent twirling. I decided that after seeing the tremendous oven-spring a simple round loaf of wheat bread got on my pizza stone (now broken due to steam) I should look into a larger, more robust piece of masonry.

I couldn't wrap my brain around anything that wasn't a large slab (IE: quarry tiles, bricks, very small rocks) so my choices seemed to be kiln-bottoms or Firbrament. I'm pleased to say I placed my order on Fibrament's WWW site very early on a Thursday morning and received my stone mid-afternoon Friday using standard shipping. (Keep in mind I work by O'Hare airport in Chicago and the Fibrament company is located on Chicago's south side but it still was GREAT turnaround)

After I seasoned the "stone" I whipped up my second attempt at FloydM's pain sur poolish and made two of the ugliest shaped loaves I've ever seen with some WONDERFUL oven spring, crust, and crumb. The ugly part was my fault as my dough stuck to my cutting board (AKA fake Peel) in spite of the corn meal I had sprinkled down to avoid such an outcome.

Bottom line, my oven fits the $66 stone and I consider it money well spent. My bread is turning out markedly better looking and I'm enjoying the "brick oven" feel without the expense of building one. To anyone trying to decide whether or not to invest in ANY type of "baking stone"-like apparatus I whole-heartedly recommend it! It will make your baking experience all the more satisfying.


This post and all my others are just my $.02. Thanks to the FreshLoaf community for turning me back on to a hobby that my mother started me on when I was a wee little lad with a tiny little loaf pan making bread with her.


Floydm's picture

World Bread Day is coming up. On my birthday, October 16th, in fact.

Last year I baked a pumpkin french bread for it.

I may have to try that again, because it was good.


Floydm's picture



Joe Fisher's picture
Joe Fisher

Last week I had the pleasure of wandering around San Francisco with my wife. While at Fisherman's Wharf, we walked by the big window of Boudin Bakery a half dozen times in our trips to various attractions. A couple of times an employee was making baguettes and batards. It was really fun to watch the pace at which he formed the dough, and compare my own styles to his.

He first put a giant glob of dough into a machine that looked like a big rice cooker. He closed the lid, and a few seconds later opened it. The dough was pushed back up, sliced into about a dozen equal portions. It was so cool to see it mushrooming up out of the machine! He then tore apart the dough and made boules. To create surface tension, he used the table to hold the bottom of the boule in place, and kind of squeezed the top of the dough down into it, almost like he was wringing out a towel. It was very cool, and very fast.

For $3, we took the bakery tour and tasting. It was a self-guided tour where we got to see the history of Boudin Bakery, and watch the employees work the giant machinery below. It was very interesting to see that they do the same things we do, just on a grand scale. The mother starter is kept in the fridge (very stiff, I noticed). An employee goes in and cuts off a cube of it (about 12" on a side!), weighs it, and drops it in the huge mixer bucket with flour and salt. He then checks temperatures and adds water. Then a mix and knead, shaping, and overnight fermenting. The next day is slashing and baking.

Finally we came to the end of the tour and tasted the bread. The sourdough was very mildly sour - so mild I would have been hard pressed to pick it out as sourdough. The crumb was fairly dense with a chewy crust. My wife took a taste, then another, then whispered, "Yours is better."

I grinned for the rest of the day :)


If you have the chance, stop by Boudin. I didn't get to eat dinner there, but the tour and tasting was well worth $3.



Floydm's picture

I baked some french bread today. 

Before baking:


After baking:


It was quite good.  The crust was a bit soft because I didn't use hot enough water to create steam, but overall quite good.

I finally had a chance to update the site some today.  You may notice that both of the featured blocks on the front page are heavily focused on community participation.  It has been great how much activity there has been on the site the past few months while I've been slammed at work and travelling.  I always hoped the site would develop into a community rather than a soapbox.  I'm very pleased to see that it has.

Floydm's picture

Brr... cold today, the furnace is on.  A perfect time to bake!

We're just back from a trip up to Victoria, BC.  Had some excellent baked goods at a cafe on Government Street.





I didn't get a picture of the danishes, but they were even prettier.

Enough talk, time to bake!


vhender's picture

I was surfing the net and ran across this neat tool that will help you with your formula. just plug in your #'s and it will figure it out for you

this one if for sour dough

here is the main page with some great info and add'l calculators for your baking needs

johnm's picture

This is a whole new world. Thank you!!! I have been making pizzas for my family's enjoyment and I can do pretty well with my Weber, but now I am baking! Very cool, indeed!


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