Monday, August 26, 2013

Pear-Hazelnut Ciabatta

From looking at the above picture, you'd think this was just another ciabatta, right? Simply a different flavor combination than the one posted last week. And you'd be right of course, except that, as always, "l'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux" (what is essential remains invisible to the eyes, as the fox explains to the curious little boy in Le Petit Prince).
Indeed, beyond the listed ingredients, what got baked into this bread is friendship and love and the gratefulness that fills my heart for the support you have steadfastly afforded us since tragedy struck. Frankly I couldn't have made it so far so soon without your help. Each of your comments and emails has reached my heart and added a brick to the foundation on which healing may one day begin. Thank you!
The realization came to me as I was gathering what I needed for this bread: the stone-ground whole wheat flour with golden specks of bran came from a baker on Vancouver Island, the round and plump hazelnuts from a friend's farm in the Fraser Valley, the dried pears from a local friend who is rebuilding his home (as he will be without an oven for more than a year, he kindly brought me all -and I do mean all- his baking supplies). The levain was the distant progeny of the one sent to me last year by another friend on Orcas Island. The apron around my waist was a present from a friend in Maine.
I was  making the ciabatta for a friend from France who will be visiting next month: she lives above a bakery on a quiet street in a city near Paris. She has never eaten homemade bread in her life. 
As I stood thinking of her, weighing each ingredient in turn, I remembered the kindness and passion of the baker who had shared it with me and I suddenly realized that beyond the eagerly awaited guest and my baking friends, all of you were in the kitchen with me as well, still present eight and a half months later, still caring, still remembering Noah and still striving not only to show support but also to prevent further acts of random violence like the one which had devastated the Newtown families. I could never thank you enough. This ciabatta is dedicated to you.
It was inspired by the cool front which has hung over our valley for the past few days: mist rising from the river at dawn, odd leaves turning bright red, apples and pears hanging heavier in the gardens that line the trail, humming birds dancing at the feeders as if already gearing up for the long trip south. 
Cliff Mass, our beloved local meteorologist, says summer isn't over yet and I believe him. Still I have seen the writing on the landscape and distant memories of fall have come drifting back. The yellowing fruit against the old stonewall in my grandfather's orchard, the ripe hazelnuts falling off their husks under the thicket by the chicken coop, we kids filling our pockets before heading out for a day's adventures, the breath of a faraway and long-ago garden brought back by the smell of damp grass as I bend to pick up the paper from my Northwest driveway every morning. Threads of life woven together. Past and present. Love and loss. Being part of a larger whole, of a living tapestry. Separate, yet connected.
A comforting thought to go with the first bread of fall.

Pear-Hazelnut Ciabatta
The method is the same as the one I described in my previous post with minor changes.
  • The oatmeal I used was a leftover from breakfast the day before, it hadn't been cooked with baking in mind and was therefore a bit runnier than I would have liked. Had I made oatmeal specifically for this ciabatta, I would have reduced by half the amount of cooking water. As it is, I can't tell you how much water I used because I never measured it. I adjusted for the wet oatmeal by reducing the amount of water added to the dough in the final mix.
  • I soaked the pears only briefly (three minutes only and in boiling water) and used the soaking water (which smelled delicious) in the dough.
  • The hazelnuts I roasted and peeled, then ground coarsely in a flat bowl with the thich bottom of a small bottle of balsamic vinegar. The grinding was no hassle. But the peeling was rough: I had never truly appreciated before how convenient it was to have two hands when rubbing hazelnuts together. 
  • I didn't soak the hazelnuts but right before incorporating them into the dough, I gently hand-mixed them with the pears so that some of the wetness would rub onto them and they wouldn't be as likely to suck up water from the fermenting dough. Next time I might try and soak them briefly as they may have dried out the dough a bit.

Ingredients (for 3 ciabattas)
  • 450 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 150 g whole-wheat flour
  • 150 g wholegrain steel-cut oats, cooked, barely salted, unsweetened, at room temperature
  • Water 1: 300 g
  • Water 2: 75 g
  • 150 g dried pears, roughly chopped, soaked for three minutes in boiling water (unless they were super dry and hard, I wouldn't soak them any longer for fear of their turning to mush)
  • 80 g hazelnuts, roasted, peeled and coarsely ground
  • 150 g ripe liquid levain (100% hydration)
  • 150 g ripe poolish (75 g flour + 75 g water + a pinch of instant yeast)
  • 18 g fine sea salt
Method (the bread is made over two days)
The night before
  1. Feed the levain
  2. Prepare the poolish
  3. Roast, peel and chop the hazelnuts
Early on the day of the bake (at least two hours before mixing begins)
  • Roughly chop the pears and soak them to cover for three minutes in boiling water
  • Drain, saving the water
  1. Pour water 1 (including pear-soaking water) in bowl of mixer
  2. Add all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, oatmeal, levain and poolish
  3. Mix on low speed until incorporated
  4. Add the salt
  5. Mix on low speed until gluten is developed
  6. Add water 2 (slowly and in stages) and crank up speed one notch
  7. Mix briefly (just until the water is incorporated)
  8. Bring speed back down to low and add pears and hazelnuts
  9. Mix until incorporated
  10. Set dough to rise in oiled and covered pan
  • Dough temperature was 80°F/26°C and room temperature 72°F/22°C
  • I gave the dough two folds at 50 minute-intervals
  • Fermentation time was 4 hours, followed by 45-minutes proofing time (I am not sure why the dough fermented faster than last week. Maybe the sugar in the pears sped up the process?)
Dividing and Baking

As described for the teff ciabatta
  • Except that I set the oven to 410°F/210°C for the first 15 minutes
  • And lowered it to 400°F/204°C afterwards to prevent the crust from darkening too much (again because of the sugar in the pears)
  • I also tented the ciabattas with aluminum foil after the first 15 minutes
  • I used steam at the beginning and kept the oven door ajar for the last five minutes


  1. Amazing! Beautiful! It looks so delicious! I love that bakers are such a tight knit, supportive group of people. It is good to see you baking again!

    1. Thank you, Teresa! It is so true that bakers have a great big heart and help each other out. You are a prime example of that since you rescued me with your levain quite a few times and I am very grateful...

  2. I truly dont think you understand what you and your family have given to us in exchange. Love...

    1. Not sure, really. Maybe put a human face on what happens within a family in the aftermath of such unspeakable tragedies?

    2. I'm so sorry that you and your family have had to go through this nightmare. I would not wish that on anyone. You have a gift of writing beautiful things and I thank you for that. In return, I am committed to trying to change our society so that no other family has to go through what yours has. I still think of Noah daily. All the best to you. Liz

  3. Well, what can I say?

    this post, as you know, hits very deep.

    "O essencial e' invisivel para os olhos"

    when I read this phrase for the first time, I was reading it in Portuguese. I had no idea then that one day I would read the original in French, and then, may years later, get mad at the translations of "Le Petit Prince" to English. As a young child, you just never know the many roads life will take you through.

    You are French, you moved to the US. You bake amazing bread, and I am thrilled that I could get to "know" you through this convoluted but fantastic thing called internet. ;-)

    1. Hi Sally, as you said in an earlier message about Le Petit Prince, baking and blogging are all about creating connections and some of these connections are predestined. I love it...

  4. MC, you amazing lady- I found this website because of Noah, but I keep on coming back because of you! I feel as if I am in your kitchen and you are teaching me how to bake (which is good, because I am not much of a baker and I can use all of the help I can get!).

    My young family (myself and my husband, in our twenties, and our son, who is 5)have been slowly cutting off processed and fast foods and have been focusing on simple meals, which I have been incorporating fresh bread in place of noodles or the go-to side: Mac and Cheese, because my five year old LOVES it--no butter or toppings needed, like your Noah.

    I have bought a bread maker, and have been using dough from the local bakery and baking at home-- last night I made a cheese ciabatta, and I am very eager for fall to arrive and to "try out" making my own bread. Your pictures and thorough instructions help so much! I have a list of breads I would like to try and this one looks great! Is there any sort of bread you would recommend to a beginner? Would you recommend a bread maker or just using my oven? I could go on and on :) I live near Detroit, have you been to any bakeries or have any baker friends in this area that I could look up?

    I am so happy you are back to baking, sometimes we need to get back in touch with our soul, and I think baking is a part of yours. :)

    Amy C.

    1. Hello Amy and thank you so much for your very kind words. They brought a smile to my face. I would love it if you came to baking your own bread through this blog... I have never been to Detroit or the Detroit area and I don't know if there's or not a bread culture over there. If I hear anything, I'll be sure to get back to you. Meanwhile since you are just trying to find your baking legs, I would recommend maybe mixing the dough in your bread maker, then shaping it by hand and baking it in your oven (even possibly inside a Dutch oven in your oven, which gives wonderful results).
      I do think baking connects me to something deep and eternal. Maybe it will turn out to be the same for you!
      Please keep me posted!
      All the best,

  5. Hi MC. When I first saw Noah's picture, I was mesmerized. He looked like my son Dan at 6 yrs old. Dan's in 6th grade now & I try to imagine what Noah might have looked like in middle school. My daughter was in 1st grade last year so I can easily imagine Noah's antics so lovingly described by your daughter. I truly grieve for your grandson & think of him & your family often.
    I used to teach HS soc studies before I had children. After my youngest got to be of school age, I tried to get back into teaching. I subbed, took a job as the director of the before & after care program in my kids' elementary school, & I took a part time position investigating criminal cases for the Public Defender's office. At one point I was offered a long term sub position teaching at a nearby HS. I declined due to a conflict. On what would have been the 1st day of my assignment, a student brought a gun into the school, entered the cafeteria & opened fire. His bullets struck & injured 1 student before a guidance counselor in the room tackled him.
    As director, I had to take a 6 hr course on how to prepare for all types of emergencies. Later, I had to create plans & submit them for approval. My program used the gym, cafeteria & playgrounds. I thought I had made good solid plans & our drills ran smoothly. On Dec 14th, I realized how inadequate the plans really were. Same thing when I've subbed. Subs typically have no keys to classrooms or outer doors, we don’t train with the schools let alone know the emergency procedures for the various schools where we work, etc. In fact many subs, especially the new ones, have no clue where to find the bathrooms let alone the nearest exits. I can't help thinking about Noah's teacher & wondering what she went through as she tried to save her kids.
    Now I'm strictly working as an investigator. Because we serve the indigent, a lot of our cases involve mental health, drugs, guns, theft & prostitution. As I talk with defendants, witnesses, victims & police, the story of our gun culture unfolds like a serial crime drama. I listen to the 911 calls & hear the fear & distress. I walk scenes & try to depict senselessness through pictures & observation. I read the mental health files & watch as people unravel between the pages. I visit the jails & ask defendants what was going through their minds, trying to find something to justify their actions. The confluence of my jobs & my experiences made Sandy Hook very traumatic for me. I looked at it from every angle, as a mom, teacher, sub & an investigator.I was unproductive & really depressed for a couple of months. One of things that happens to me when I'm stressed, is that I get waking images of things I've been mauling over. I had that a lot with Noah. For example, I saw him standing next to his sister facing forward with family sitting behind him in folding chairs as if he was watching a play or an event. He turned, looked back at whoever was behind him & smiled as if to say I'm enjoying myself and thank you. I also saw him & other children standing around & looking at a gilded cage or a miniature structure (like an old time tall open doll house). While I know for sure that these images were from my own imagination as I tried to imagine Noah as a person, they were very unexpected & soothing. In my imaginations, Noah is beautiful, loving & loved, just as you've described. What you & your family must be going through is unfathomable. I want you to know that there are people in this world working hard to make sure your grandson's legacy will not be of forgotten loss, but of the seeds of peace & love sown from an event that deeply affected you, your family, Newtown & so many across the world. Noah will exist in our hearts & minds as long as we live. He is guiding us to do better things.

    1. Hello, Anonymous, you are right, plans were woefully inadequate but then who could ever have imagined such horror? You have a very hard job. I am glad to read you find solace in thoughts of Noah when you get overwhelmed. Thank you for your words of comfort: it means a lot to me that so many people keep the memory of Noah and his classmates and teachers alive in their hearts and minds.

  6. Good Morning MC,
    This story came to mind after reading your entry above - especially you thoughts on healing, interconnectedness and the invisibility of what is most essential.

    The Broken Pot
    A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on an end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the masters house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

    For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his masters house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream.

    "I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you."
    "Why?" asked the bearer. "What are you ashamed of?"
    "I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your masters house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don't get full value from your efforts." the pot said.

    The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, "As we return to the masters house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path."

    Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again the Pot apologized to the bearer for its failure.

    The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pots side? That's because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you've watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my masters table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house."

    As i get older I am reminded that life is all a mystery and that it contains great beauty and great horror at the same time. I have come to see that healing is happening all the time all around us and that it happens instantaneously. It has been my experience that physical healing is easier to accept because it can be seen. Take your wrist. It snapped. The doctors merely set it in place again with the skills they have. They covered their 'work' with a cast and have sent you on your way knowing that the wisdom in your body will do the rest over time.

    On the other hand, in my experience, psychological healing is much harder to discern because it is not a direct path and we each heal in our own unique ways. As a regular reader of your blog I would say you are indeed healing and I, for one, have witnessed it from the get go.

    Enough of that writing fro now and on to bread since that is what this is about..…isn't it? Anyway….. What a beautiful loaf! I never would have thought of adding nuts and fruits to a cibatta. See what your one armed baking is creating right here for all of us to behold? A whole new dimension of cibattas :- ) Just lovely and I bet it tasted heavenly too.

    Time to bake my loaves for the day.

    Take Care,

    1. Thank you so much for the lovely story, Janet! It puts everything in perspective, doesn't it? Events like the terrible shooting in Newtown or the horror in Syria drive us to despair of human nature and civilization, yet they also bring out such kindness, generosity and, yes, love, that one cannot help but recognize that the best and the worst are indeed inextricably intertwined in the world as we know it. Maybe that's what gives us the energy to go on...
      I am glad you are already seeing signs of healing. Going back to bread has to mean something, right? But it surely isn't a straight path: it doubles upon itself quite a bit and sometimes it goes into such deep ravines that only the memory of light remains. Still I will hold on to the images of the broken pot and the bright flowers. Thank you!
      And I am glad you like the ciabatta!

  7. Dear MC,
    Thank you for the way you are. This ciabatta comes out of your ( crowded!) kitchen, the fragrance swirling surely right to wherever Noah is now. So good.
    And Heaven knows, we all need more goodness in this world.
    I know school has resumed in the US this week & am thinking of Noah's sibling & friends and all the other children in Newtown who are starting on a new school year. I wish them a feeling of brightness and hope with a new beginning even as they feel the absences left by this madness.
    Much love,
    Julia x

    1. Thank you, Julia! I like the idea of the bread aroma wafting up...
      There is deep sorrow in the knowledge that so many kids and grown-ups won't be starting the new school year in Newtown next week with the others. My thoughts will be both with the absent and with the survivors. I can only imagine how they must feel and yet, as you say, it is essential that hope and brightness prevail. Mercifully I have no doubt parents and teachers will see to that.

  8. What a nice flavor combination! Last time I made your Hazelnut Cider Barley Bread, hazelnuts are my favorite nuts, anyway.
    A sad anniversary - and nothing has happened to prevent another one.

  9. So glad you like the flavor combo! Hazelnuts are my favorites too...
    Re: sad anniversary. Yes... indeed.

  10. Is 100% hydration equal quantities water and flour? Thanks for your continued postings; prayers for your family.

    1. Hi Graham! Good to hear from you, as always. Yes, 100% hydration means equal quantities water and flour. Thank you for keeping all of us in your thoughts.

  11. Beautiful bread dearheart and your words and your thoughts have moved me so much over these long months. I have no wisdom to offer, just my love. I am glad I came here today and read your post and Janet's story of The Broken Pot reveals the kindness that is potential in all of us to hold and cherish each other in times of darkness. Much love Joanna xx

    1. Thank you, Joanna. Your steady presence on this blog is truly a comfort. I tried to reach you personally when I read your post on asier but couldn't find your email. The post touched me very deeply because ages ago I spent several summer vacations in Denmark and my then-husband's grandmother always served homemade asier. They were one of my favorite Danish specialties and your post brought back many memories. We are indeed all connected and I feel it deeply. Hugs, MC.

  12. MC, your bread is beautiful! You continue to be in my thoughts and prayers!
    Erin G.



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