A friend once asked what I would have for my so-called “last meal”. The answer is simple: great bread, drenched in the finest extra virgin olive oil. Just like that. But it has to be really great bread. And that is not very easy to find.
If you are, like me, an obsessive home cook, you must have tried your hand at baking bread. The thing is: most recipe books contain bread recipes that come out like a basic white farm loaf, or variations of it. I’ve always searched for a great recipe that would deliver a real Italian ciabatta loaf. I prefer mine to be densely heavy, with some holes (not too many), and a very spongy but slightly “moist” texture. It should feel alive when you touch the inside. The closest I’ve come to this, is in Franck Dangereux’s book “Feast”, published in 2004 while he was still the head chef at La Colombe Restaurant at Constantia Uitsig. It is an extremely simple recipe, but you will need a mixer fitted with a dough hook. The recipe is named “Country bread rolls” but Franck writes that you can also roll the dough into ciabatta shapes, which is what I do.
Mix 1kg of flour (I use white bread flour) with 20g salt (3 teaspoons) and 1 sachet instant yeast (10g). Add 750ml lukewarm water, and mix on low speed for 20 minutes. Cover bowl with a wet cloth and leave to prove at room temperature for 45 -60 minutes (in warm weather the time will be much shorter). The dough is very, very sticky and almost runny. Turn dough out on a heavily floured surface, and shape roughly into 2 ciabatta loaves with well floured hands. You’ll need to touch the dough as quickly and as little as possible, because it sticks very easily, and is really difficult to handle once that happens!
Bake in a preheated oven at 220 degrees Celsius for 25 minutes and get ready to feast on the best bread you’ve ever tasted from your own oven. I usually serve it slightly cooled but still warm, with Morgenster or Tokara olive oil and Maldon sea salt (drooling as I’m typing…). Or to make a meal of it, serve it with a caprese salad made with fresh milky buffalo mozzarella – not the rubbery stuff.
I would die a happy woman if this could be my last meal. Happy baking!