I finally procured another jar of yeast from the store and, learning from my previous mistakes, immediately put it in the fridge. Those little buggers won't die on me this time!
First up with my KitchenAid is my favorite kind of bread for sandwiches: ciabatta. Having used my KitchenAid, I can't even imagine those dark ages when I actually had to knead the bread by hand for 10 minutes. The horror! All joking aside though, the KitchenAid is amazing! You literally just turn it on and walk away (keeping an eye on it of course). I think that housewives of the 1600s would have literally imploded upon hearing of this.
The ciabatta didn't come out exactly as I would have liked it; it was a bit thicker with less air pockets than in previous times. I probably need to get used to making bread in the KitchenAid.
Keep in mind that this bread starts with a sponge, so it takes over a day to make. Start ahead of time. It's super easy though, even without a KitchenAid.
1/8 tsp active dry yeast
2 tbsp warm water
1/3 cup warm water
1 cup bread flour (or 1 cup regular flour + 1 tsp wheat gluten - it's cheaper and saves space)
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
2 tbsp warm milk (don't overheat)
2/3 cup warm water
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups bread flour (or 2 cups regular flour + 2 tsp wheat gluten)
1 1/2 tsp salt
To make the sponge, mix 1/8 tsp yeast and 2 tbsp warm water, let sit for 5 minutes or until creamy. In a warm bowl, stir together the yeast mixture, 1/3 cup warm water, and 1 cup bread flour. Stir for 4 minutes, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours.
To make the bread, mix the rest of the yeast with the warm milk in a small bowl and let sit until creamy. Combine the yeast mixture with the sponge from yesterday, and the rest of the ingredients into the bowl of a standing mixer (or a normal bowl if you don't have). Knead with the dough hook for about 8 minutes, adding more flour bit by bit as needed, until smooth and elastic. The dough should form a ball on the hook. I had to add a considerable amount of flour (1/3 cup?) to get rid of the stickiness.
Scrape dough into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours. Since it's winter and my kitchen is freezing, I turned my oven on to 400 for 1 minute, then turned it off and placed the bowl in the oven to rise. Works much better.
Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface. Divide into two equal halves and place them on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper, shaped into oblong ovals about 9" long. Dimple the loaves with your fingers and dust with flour. Cover loaves with a dampened kitchen towel and let rise for another 1 1/2 - 2 hours until almost doubled in bulk.
About 20 minutes before baking, place a baking stone in the oven and preheat to 425. When ready, transfer the loaves carefully to the baking stone and bake for about 20 minutes, until pale and golden. Cool on a wire rack.