I love baking bread . . . . especially Ciabatta ( pronounced cha-BAH-tah) bread. To me that buttery, toasty and nutty smell is heavenly. . . .
. . . . better than scented candles . . . .better than the most expensive perfume. The crisp chewy crust has a slightly fried taste that encloses a hole-filled chewy interior . . . .it is quite a memorable eating experience. . . .
. . . . one you’ll never forget . . . . not that you’ll want to. 🙂
Ciabatta bread, with its deep wheaty aroma, is the ultimate comfort food.
Now, I can’t say that ciabatta, which means “slipper” in Italian, is an attractive looking bread. . . .
. . . .in fact it’s flat and shapeless. . . . really kind of homely.
Nor can I say that ciabatta bread is easy to make . . . . basically it’s a wet sticky mass that’s a challenge to conquer.
Now don’t let me scare you . . . .
. . . . because once you do conquer that blob . . . . the effort is so worth it. . . .
. . . .that you’ll want to make it again and again.
It’s taken me many years . . . .countless cookbooks like The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. . . .
. . . .pounds of flour and cups of yeast . . . .
. . . .a very messy apron and counter . . . . to finally learn how to make a true ciabatta bread.
A ciabatta bread with a flat irregular shape . . . . traditional huge holes. . . . and a blistered, crispy crust.
Now I’d like to share what I’ve learned . . . .
. . . . and once you know the technique of making ciabatta bread . . . . and try it out . . . .
. . . . you’ll see that ciabatta bread isn’t that difficult to make and it’s worth every minute you spend making this wonderful aromatic comfort food.
The pictures below will take you step by step on what I did as I made the Ciabatta bread.
(1). Pre-ferment– I make this the night before in the same bowl I will make the bread. It is the consistency of pancake batter. (2). Measure- The next day I weigh the rest of the ingredients and put them in the same bowl as the the pre-ferment. I also include the regular measurements with the recipe. (3). Mix – I mix all the ingredients together first with the regular beater and then with the dough hook. (4). Flour –I make sure that my surface is well floured because the dough is very wet. I use a silpat on my bread board just because it makes clean-up easier.
(5). It’s a blob! Well it is but don’t worry it will soon take shape. It helps to have a bench knife– it’s that plastic thing you see in the picture– oops the scraper (bench knife) was cut off. It looks like a spatula with no handle. I sprinkle a generous amount of flour and scrape it underneath the dough and put one side over the other, folding like an envelope. It will still be loose but don’t panic. (6). Mist with spray oil and flour the top generously. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest. You will again do the stretch and fold by pulling on opposite ends and working your bench knife underneath the dough. Fold over into an envelope again, mist with spray oil, flour generously and cover again with plastic wrap. Pictures (7) and (8) shows that the dough is starting to look more like a fat pillow.
(9) and (10) Ciabatta ready to divide – The Ciabatta is ready to divide into four pieces. In this step I’m very careful not to degas the loaves. They are very puffy and full of air. (11) I use two bread forms lined with a couche ( a linen cloth used to aid in proofing the dough) You can use a tea towel but not terry cloth. I mist the cloths with spray oil then dust the cloth with flour. (12) I take each piece of cut dough and fold it into an envelope — lay it into the groove of the bread form with the folded side up.
(13).You gently cover up that dough and let it rise. In the meantime I get two baking sheets ready by sprinkling corn meal on the back of them and then I put a piece of parchment paper that I’ve misted with spray oil on top of the baking sheet. The corn meal helps me slide the bread off the baking sheet and onto the baking stone. Once the bread is ready to pop into the oven– I take each formed piece and flip it over onto the parchment paper. This means that the flap side of the dough is down. I stretch each piece by pulling gently from either end. Then I dimple the dough gently by using my fingers to push down into the dough. I’m sorry I didn’t get pictures of these two steps. If there is any confusion I will gladly make the bread again ( big sacrifice 🙂 ) and I’ll add the pictures. (14) I slide the Ciabatta directly from the baking sheet onto the baking stone. If you don’t have a baking stone you can bake on the sheet pan. The oven is very hot (500 F) and I mist the sides of the oven with water – 3 times at 30 second intervals. Now I turn down the oven to 450 F. It will bake for 10 minutes then give it a 180 degree turn. (15) Once the bread is finished baking I let let it cool on the cooling rack. (16) Aren’t those holes beautiful? That is exactly what I’ve been working towards. I wish you could smell the aroma and the taste — well it’s indescribable — sinful and heavenly all at the same time. You could use those wonderful slices to dip in . . . .
I went into a lot of detail on the Ciabatta Bread recipe I certainly hope you didn’t fall asleep mid-way. The recipe for Ciabatta Bread follows . . . . it is a combination of several recipes.
Ciabatta Bread – the Hole Story
An Italian bread that has a crispy crust with an almost fried taste and wonderful traditional holes.
- Pre-Ferment – Poolish
- 2 oz. ( 50 grams) ( 1/2 cup) rye flour
- 15 3/4 oz. (450 grams) ( 3 1/4 cups) high-protein white flour
- 30 oz. (850 grams ) ( 3 3/4 cup ) water — I use spring or distilled water
- 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
- Dough ;
- The Poolish
- 4 oz. (100 grams) ( 3/4 cup) wholewheat “bread” flour
- 14 oz. (400 grams) ( 3 cups ) high-protein (strong or bread ) white flour
or you can add more wholewheat by doing this variation
- The Poolish
- 7 oz. (200 grams) (1 2/3 cups) sifted wholewheat “bread” flour
- 11 oz. ( 300 grams ) ( 2 1/4 cups ) high-protein white flour
Either variation will take
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast
- Set up a couche which can be a cloth napkin, scrap fabric, or smooth towel ( not terry). Mist the fabric with spray oil and lightly dust with flour. You can purchase the special linen proofing cloths and reuse them.
- Prepare two baking sheets by sprinkling each with corn meal and then topping with an oil misted parchment paper.
- In the mixer’s bowl, stir the Poolish ingredients to a smooth batter — it’s like a pancake batter — and leave it AT ROOM TEMPERATURE overnight. The goo will smell strongly of sour rye and yeast by-products.
- The next day, add the dough’s dry ingredients — either variation– to the Poolish and using the mixer’s beater blade mix roughly until just hydrated. Let rest for 20 minutes.
- After the rest , run the mixer for a minute or two then switch to the dough hook and continue to knead the dough for about 5 minutes or until it is fairly smooth and shows signs of elasticity.
- Flour your counter, very generously, and scrape the very wet dough onto the flour. Dust all over with more flour and use a scraper to help you roll the dough in the flour until it’s coated all over.
- Leave for 10 minutes, sprinkle more flour around the dough and use your scraper under the dough to release it from the bottom.
- With floured hands and your scraper perform a stretch and fold. It is folded in thirds like you would an envelope. Mist with spray oil then dust the dough with flour. Cover with plastic wrap.
- Leave for 10 minutes then do the same procedure as above: sprinkle with flour, loosen the dough from the bottom, flour your hands and stretch the dough out, fold into thirds and again mist with spray oil and dust with flour and cover with plastic wrap.
- You will do the stretch and fold a total of 4 times with a 10 minutes rest period in-between.
- After the last stretch and fold, leave the dough to rise for about an hour growing about 1 1/2 to 2 times in size.
- Now it is time to cut the dough into 4 strips, being careful to degas them as little as possible. Shape the strips into fat loaves by stretching and folding into an envelope. Lay the loaves on the prepared cloth and bunch the cloth between the pieces to provide a wall. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and dust the dough with more flour. Flour is your friend. Cover the cloth with a towel and proof for about 45 to 60 minutes. The loaves will increase about 1 1/2 times.
- Preheat oven to 500 o as the loaves are proofing.
- Invert the loaves out of the couche and stretch to the typical Ciabatta shape by gently grasping the ends of each loaf and pulling. Place each loaf as it is stretched onto the prepared baking sheet. Gently dimple the dough down with your fingertips to even out the height of the loaf.
- Slide the dough with the parchment paper onto the baking stone (or bake directly on the sheet pan).
- Spritz water onto the side walls of the oven being careful not to spray the light. Do this 3 times at 30 second intervals. After the third time lower the oven temperature to 450 F.
- Bake for 10 minutes and rotate the loaves 180 degrees. Bake for a total of 30 minutes. The inside of the loaf should register 205 F.
- Cool on racks for at least 1 hour before eating. I am ashamed to say that I’ve never been able to wait the full hour.
- The loaves will feel very hard and crusty at first but will soften as they cool. You can harden them up again by putting them in the oven and heating them up.
- We freeze our Ciabatta loaves immediately after they cool. When we are ready to eat the bread we put the frozen loaf into the over, heat the oven to 300 F then turn off the oven. The bread will have the same crispy crust and a wonderful chewy inside.
- There are some Ciabatta breads made with oil and milk — those will keep longer. But we’ve never had a problem with the bread going stale– it’s not around long enough.
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