Thursday, January 26, 2012

Almost Ciabatta and Experiments in Risotto No. 2

Today was yet another rainy, grey day in Southern Illinois.  It’s supposed to be sunny tomorrow and I am so hoping that will be the case.  But days too hideous to be outside are perfect for being in the kitchen.

Yesterday I had started a poolish to make ciabatta in another attempt at using up the previously noted bag of flour.  (A poolish is similar to a biga and other yeasty bread starters, but contains equal portions of flour and water.)  I was excited about making the ciabatta as it’s one of my favorite breads.  I’ve attempted it in the past with various levels of disappointing results.  Today was no different.

attempting to "fold" the dough

The dough for ciabatta is extremely soft in comparison to most other bread doughs.  Mine was too soft though, it was almost like a batter.  The fact that the humidity was 96% could have contributed, but ciabatta is one of those breads you just have to have a feel for the dough and whether or not it needs more flour.  I’ve not developed that feel yet. 
The loaves also probably should have been baked a few minutes more, but the cornmeal I had sprinkled on the baking sheets was beginning to scorch in the 465° oven and I wasn’t interested in filling my kitchen with the smell of the burnt cornmeal. 

Other than being pale, the crust has a decent crunch.  The interior was disappointing for as soft as the dough was, I was expecting a coarse texture with large holes.  Not so much.  It certainly doesn’t taste bad, but it’s not bread I would readily pay for.  I’ll spare you the recipe on that one until I’ve found one that’s near fool proof.

The second kitchen project was another risotto experiment.  This time instead of savory, I went the sweet route. 

very simple ingredients

Allow me to introduce you to Apple-Cinnamon Risotto.  This isn’t intended to be a side dish or even a dessert.  It is comfort food, plain and simple:  full throttle fat, calories and carbohydrates.  My initial thoughts of this were for something along the lines of a thick, but slightly soupy, rice pudding.  However, the rice just sucked up my last addition of liquid meant to contribute to the soupiness.  If rice pudding is more your style, I think serving it with some warm milk or cream for pouring would be just perfect.

it's quite possible that a spoonful
of mascarpone could make just
about anything better
As it turned out, I was perfectly happy with the scoop of mascarpone stirred in at the end.  I do think this risotto would be the perfect canvas for sweet arancini as well.  (Arancini are sort of the Italian version or rice croquettes.)  If I liked deep frying more than I do, I would wrap some of this risotto around a small dollop of caramel, roll them in some sweet bread crumbs and fry until golden and crispy.  And then probably make myself ill eating them.

I have a few more ideas for sweet risotto I hope to realize sooner than later.  Or as soon as I get that bag of flour used.

Apple-Cinnamon Risotto
2 cups unsweetened apple juice (mine was from frozen concentrate)
2 cups milk
2 Tbs unsalted butter
3/4 cup Arborio rice
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon, or to taste
2 Tbs mascarpone

In separate measuring cups, heat the apple juice and milk in the microwave or in small pans on the stove top.  Do not mix them – the acids in the apple juice will curdle the milk.  Keep warm, but do not boil. 

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium – medium low heat.  When the butter is fully melted and just beginning to bubble, add the rice.  Stir the rice to coat it completely in the butter.  Cook and stir until the outside of the rice is almost transparent and the inside still opaque. 

Add the about 1/3 cup of the apple juice, cook and stir until almost completely absorbed.  Add about 1/3 cup more of the apple juice.  Cook and stir the rice until the liquid is nearly absorbed, but don’t let the pan get dry.  Repeat the process until all of the apple juice is used, then begin adding the milk in 1/3 cup increments.  Keep adding liquid until the rice is fully cooked, but still has a slight firmness in bite. 

When the rice is fully cooked, stir in the salt and cinnamon.  Stir in the mascarpone and serve immediately.

Makes about 3 cups of risotto.

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