Ciabatta Bread

Years ago, my friend Mindy taught me not to be afraid of yeast; she demystified it for me and I’ve been grateful ever since! This bread is so incredibly delicious; it is not difficult to make once you get the hang of it. I maintain that it is easier to make it yourself than drive to the store and buy a sub-par loaf. The recipe comes from Cook’s Illustrated and I’ve modified it slightly based on other bread recipes and my own experience making this particular loaf over and over. You need a Kitchen-Aid mixer (or something comparable) and a pizza stone is a good thing to have. The key to having this bread turn out good is to handle the dough very gently (like a baby the Italians say) at all times and to accept and embrace its batter-like consistency. A kitchen scale is handy for bread recipes because the weight of flour is typically different from the equivalent given in cups measured. I hope that last sentence made sense….
Start the dough one day before you want to bake the bread.

Biga (starter dough to be made one day ahead):
5 oz. (1 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 t rapid-rise or instant yeast (I use SAF)
1/2 cup water at room temp.

Stir the ingredients in a medium bowl until a uniform mass forms. Cover tightly and allow to sit at room temperature for 8-24 hours.

10 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 t instant yeast
1 1/2 t table salt
3/4 cup (6 oz.) water at room temp.
1/4 cup (2 oz.) milk at room temp.

Put the biga and dough ingredients in the mixer bowl. Mix with the paddle attachement at low speed until rough dough forms (about 1 minute). Continue to mix on medium-low speed until the dough collects on the paddle in a uniform mass and does not stick to the sides of the bowl; this takes 4-6 minutes and looks extremely hopeless. In my experience, it almost always miraculously comes together right at the 6 minute mark although it can be another 30 seconds or so. Trust that it will actually do so. Change to the dough hook and knead on medium speed until smooth and shiny, about 10 minutes. Scrape the dough to a large, shallow, un-oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.  Now, 1 hour is not the gospel- if it is very cold this might take longer. Also, keep in mind that the dough is almost fluid so it won’t look or feel like other bread dough.

Using your hand like a kind of scoop, lift a portion of the dough gently from the bottom and fold over itself toward the middle, stretching it a bit. Turn bowl and fold again, repeating a total of 4 to 6 times. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes; repeat the process again and let rise until doubled, approximately 30 minutes. Meanwhile, place your pizza stone on the lower-middle rack of the oven and preheat oven to 500º.  I put the other rack in the top position and put the lower part of the broiler pan on it to preheat as well. Have ready a large piece of parchment paper sprinkled with corn meal.

Gentle Gentle Gentle

Transfer the dough carefully and tenderly, using your hand to gently scoop it out onto a well-floured counter- do not deflate the dough. Using a large knife or a bench scraper, divide the dough in half. With well-floured hands, press the dough into roughly a 12X6 shape. Using the bench scraper, carefully fold the shorter sides of the dough toward the center, overlapping them like a business letter to form a 7X4 inch (roughly) loaf. Transfer to parchment sheet, folded side down and repeat with other piece of dough. Spray some plastic wrap with oil and cover; let them sit for 30 minutes.

Using your floured fingertips, poke the bread, dimpling it to form each loaf into a 10X6 rectangle. Slide the parchment onto a cookie sheet or bread peel and slide the whole thing (parchment and dough) onto the baking stone, using one decisive motion. Close the oven door and grab a glass of hot water; pour the hot water carefully, wearing an oven mitt on your hand, into the preheated broiler pan to create steam in the oven. Immediately turn down the temperature to 450º and bake for 22-27 minutes. I turn the loaves after about 15 minutes of baking as well as take out the broiler pan (be careful here- there are numerous opportunities for bad burns). Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for about 10 minutes before busting into the bread.

I realize this does not sound so easy as promised but it really is! I will take photos of the various steps next time and add them (or if I’m feeling really bold, a you-tube video). Once you get the gist of it, you won’t want to buy bread from the supermarket again.

Note: If you don’t want to use a broiler pan, spray the loaves with water from a mister bottle prior to putting them in the oven and once or twice more during the first 5 minutes of baking.

One Comment

  1. That looks so yummy. ��

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *