Monday, June 29, 2009

Very Good Ciabatta

Jim DeRosa asked for the recipe for ciabatta that I mentioned the other day. This is really a pretty foolproof recipe but it is a little scary for first time bakers or bakers that only make traditional bread which is not nearly as wet as this dough. I've made this quite a few times and its never failed to produce nice loaves. It makes a bread with very large bubbles and a nice golden crust. It is also a pretty fast recipe considering the quality of the resulting bread. It should only take about 4-5 hours start to finish. It is also a lot of fun once you get past your fear of really, really wet dough. You really need a Kitchen Aid type mixer for this dough as it is so wet that trying to mix/knead it by hand would be a huge job especially for a novice baker.

Ciabatta (I understand this means 'slipper' in Italian)

You'll notice I give the measurements for the flour and water in grams here. If you don't have a kitchen scale then get one. The water flour ratio by weight is critical in this recipe and weighing the ingredients is the only way to get it right. The same holds true for many artisanal bread recipes and if you really are serious about baking good bread then you just have to have a kitchen scale....they really aren't that expensive.

500 g bread flour (don't try it with all purpose flour there is just not enough gluten, you must use bread flour and I recommend King Arthur)
475 g water ( I always use filtered(Brita) water to give my yeast a break from the chlorine but you can use regular tap water)
2 tsp. yeast ( use regular dry active yeast not the rapid rise kind)
15 g kosher or sea salt (about 2 Tsp)

In Kitchen Aid style mixer: Dump in all the ingredients except the salt and mix it roughly until just all the flour is moist and cover the mixing bowl with a towel. Let it rest for 20 minutes. This is also known as autolyzing and it just lets the flour get fully hydrated. Don't skip this resting bit or you will have trouble getting the dough to come together later.
  1. Add the salt. With the dough hook and the mixer set on 6 (pretty fast) knead the batter for anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. It starts out like pancake batter but eventually it will set up and work like a very sticky dough. It may start to climb the hook and if so just stop the mixer and pull it down. (On my mixer you can lower the bowl and this will cause the dough to drop as well.) It will seem like you are mixing forever but eventually it will start to separates from the side of the bowl and 'clean' the sides of the bowl. You shouldn't leave your mixer at this point and be ready to hold it down because once the dough forms up it will try and vibrate your mixer off the counter. Once the dough has pretty well cleaned the sides of the bowl and is coming up off the bottom you are done. If for some reason, after about 30 - 40 minutes of mixing the dough is still not 'cleaning' or coming away from the sides and bottom of the bowl you can add a small amount of additional flour one tablespoon at a time until it does come together.
  2. With lightly oiled hands(and maybe a scraper fight the dough into a well oiled container, cover and let it triple in size. Don't rush this as it really must triple in size. Depending on the room temperature this can take up to 2.5 to 3 hours but faster in a warm kitchen.
  3. Dump the dough onto a floured counter (you might have to scrape it out). It will really spread out as this is a very wet dough, just let it go. Cut into 4 equal pieces and then with well floured hands pull and stretch the pieces into oblong loaf shapes about 10 inches long and 4 inches wide. Try and work the dough as little as possible as you don't want to destroy the bubbly structure from the rise. The loaves will be flat and 'squishy' and look very little like proper bread. Don't worry. I put each 'loaf' on its own little half sheet of floured parchment paper and dust them with a little more flour. Cover them with a light cloth (tea towel) and let them rest for about 45 minutes. While they are resting you can turn on your oven to 500 F. If you have a bread or pizza stone for the oven use it.
  4. Using a peel or a ridgeless cookie sheet slide 2 of the loaves onto your baking stone which should be in the center of the oven BTW and bake at 500F for about 15 - 20 minutes. If you have an instant read thermometer they should read 200F in the center. If you have a huge oven and baking stone you can bake all four at once but I do it in two batches. These things will look pretty pitiful when you put them in the oven but you'll be amazed at what happens in the oven...they will pop up to triple their original height. There is some serious oven spring.
  5. Let them cool on a rack for at least an hour. When they first come out of the oven the crust is going to be very hard but after they have thorougly cooled some of the moisture in the center will soften the crust a bit. Don't try and cut them hot or you will lose this crust softening and the breads will stay to 'crusty'. If everything is right then you should have a traditional ciabatta that is chewy with large holes and a firm but resilient crust. They make a perfect sandwich.
These are best fresh but they freeze fine. BTW with this hot an oven the edges of your parchment will likely burn a bit...don't worry the stuff under the bread won't and your bread won't taste burnt. However, depending on the sensitivity of your smoke detectors you could get beeped.

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