Monday, October 10, 2011

New couche!

proofing loaves in the couche

ciabatta, ready to eat

Real bakers use couches. Not just on their babies, either*. A good couche is strong and a bit absorbent, keeping the loaves in shape yet allowing them to slowly lose moisture as they proof. For highly hydrated breads, this is a very good thing.

I'd been using an old cloth rice sack. Botan brand. Too thin to stand up and support the loaves, and since it's thin it couldn't do much in the absorption and wicking department, either.

Real baker's couches are linen. I thought they were cotton, but no. Linen. Untreated linen canvas. Hey, I'd seen this stuff at the art store. Untreated cotton was even on sale when I got there, so away I went.

The first thing I noticed was that the material was not exactly odor free. Untreated apparently does not mean washed and odor free. When I first gave it a quick rinse, the water was yellowish. So, no choice but to soak it in a pot with a bit of dishwashing detergent in it for about an hour. Then rinse, rinse, rinse some more until the fabric smelled of nothing at all. Success.

Let the couche dry, then lightly spray with oil, then dust with flour. Place a loaf of ciabatta dough near one end, fold the end up against the bread, then fold the other side of the couche up against the other side of the loaf. Add another loaf. Repeat until done.

If there was enough flour on the couche, the bread should come off without too much problem. Since this is ciabatta, it's very limp and sticky. It really wants to stick to the couche. Don't let it. That flour is all that stands between you and a sticky mass of dough plastered to the fabric.

With the help of a bench scraper, you can get the loaves off and onto a peel well coated with semolina flour. I prefer semolina to corn meal, since it doesn't have that crunch that separates it from the bread. It blends with the dough, but still allows a limp, sticky ciabatta loaf to slide off the peel onto the hot pizza stone.

This batch of bread came out just about perfect. Off-white crumb with good flavor (thanks to a biga prepared yesterday). Crispy crust. Large, open holes. Maybe I'm wrong, but the couche really seemed to help.

* French joke. Too long to explain.

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