I can Ciabatta better than you. (No I can’t).
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Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better) is one of THE great Irving Berlin songs and one of several show-stoppers from his 1946 show, Annie Get Your Gun, based on the real-life romance between Annie Oakley and Frank Butler, 19th century sharp-shooters at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West touring attraction. Conceived by lyricist and co-librettist Dorothy Fields as a vehicle for her friend Ethel Merman, the original composer was due to be South Pacific‘s Jerome Kern, who died of a stroke only days into the project – without this tragedy, such hits as There’s No Business Like Show Business and Anything You Can Do would never have existed. So, silver lining, and all that… A film soon followed starring Howard Keel and, originally, Judy Garland (who was fired and replaced by Betty Hutton). The show has been revived countless times with the less culturally insensitive elements toned down over time.
The song is part of the climax of the show where Annie and Frank’s egos clash as part of a shooting contest, arguing about who will outdo the other in various tasks – shooting partridges, singing high notes, wearing girdles, drinking alcohol, although baking skills seem to elude both of them…
Annie: Can you bake a pie?
Annie: Neither can I
… although perhaps some artisan Italian breads would suit Frank better… some ciabattas perhaps?
Frank: I can live on bread and cheese!
Annie: And only that?
Annie: So can a rat!
This project forms part of my exploration of the art of baking (which we could call Aspects Of Loaf had that song not already been bagged by one of Keith’s future show-stopping projects…) so expect more bready goodness in the next few weeks (and check out Georgina’s eye-watering crusty ring, The Circle Of Loaf). I’ve had plenty of use out of my bread machine in the past (although it does tend to just take up space in the kitchen cupboard nowadays) but wanted to be more hands on with dough.
As a baking novice, I can’t claim this recipe as my own. There are plenty of great tutorials available online, but I’ve been following the excellent bread guide written by Katie Caldesi in her book The Italian Cookery Course (published as Cook Italy in the US) and, having made a starter dough, or madre*, used it to make an excellent basic wholemeal loaf.
*A sourdough starter is, essentially, a living wild yeast culture that you have to keep feeding (rather like your own personal Audrey II, but fed with flour and water rather than sadistic dentists), and remove portions to use as the yeast in the bread recipe. This is what is responsible for the sour flavour in artisan breads.
Puffed up by my success, and armed with a suitable pun, I thought I’d tackle classic Italian ciabattas, that I’m almost positive are named after the big hairy fella in Star Wars…
You say Ciabatta
I say Chewbacca
Let’s call the whole thing off.
(OK – wrong song, but close).
I used a stand mixer with a dough hook for this as it’s a very wet dough – perhaps too wet in my case. I’m not sure if it’s because my madre was too wet or because I accidentally left the dough to prove for an extra hour by going out for lunch (oops) but I ended up with something very slack and decided that once “shaped” (or, slopped out) after the first prove, I’d better bake it straight away in case it all merged back together again – and so it never got the second prove (but it had that extra hour the first time – recipes schmecipes!!).
And the result… flatter than I would like (none of the traditional large air-holes), but nicely baked with great flavour from the olive oil and sourdough starter: an experiment definitely worth repeating (now, what other puns can I work “ciabatta” into??)
Meanwhile, Audrey III is bubbling away in my fridge… FEED ME…