Monday, July 5, 2010

As Promised - Ciabatta

Yesterday I talked to you about these super personal rolls I made, with the raisins and the sugar syrup. Needless to say, they're all gone, in case you wanted some. Instead you'e going to have to try my latest bread - ciabatta. I have to admit, I have tried this before and it was OK. But something was certainly missing. Something was just not right. You know how it is. You can't put your finger on it but you know... this isn't it! Well, I figured it all out yesterday and I want to share the results with you. Ciabatta!

For the uninitiated, ciabatta is a classic Italian peasant bread that requires a pre-fermentation and careful handling. When done right, it emerges from the oven with a hard crust (that softens as it cools) and a soft, slightly chewy, slightly sour, totally yummy interior. It is perfectly suited for sandwiches and in fact, if you were looking for a perfect bread for, say, a steak sandwich, this would be it. Jamie Oliver, in his first book The Naked Chef, has a recipe for maybe the best steak sandwich ever. I mean it! You should have this book just for this recipe! OK, maybe I'm getting over excited because it actually has lots of great recipes. But his choice of bread for the sandwich is none other than the ciabatta.

The word loosely translates from the Italian as 'slipper'. You know the broken-in old house slippers that are so comfortable. Ciabatta originates in the north of Italy, in the Lake Como region. The recipe I am posting today is actually a combination of two recipes. The methods I used mostly followed those given in The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook. I've mentioned this book before because it is so comprehensive. These guys really know their stuff! However, I felt their pre-ferment (called a biga) was too dry. And so I adopted and adapted the formula given by Peter Reinhard in The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, which uses a much wetter dough. This recipe will take you all day or overnight but don't worry, most of the time the dough is sitting and going through the fermenting and rising process.

Here's what You'll Need
for the biga (starter)

1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

For the starter, just mix all these ingredients together, cover, and let it sit at room temperature for about 12 hours or overnight.

The next day... add this to the fermented biga. By now it should be bubbly and have slightly sour smell. Also, when you pull at it, it is very stringy (that's our friend the gluten) and very sticky.

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cups water
1 tbs. olive oil
2 cups all purpose flour

Mix it all together for 3 or 4 minutes in a stand up mixer. The dough is too sticky and stringy to mix by hand, and we want it to stay very 'slack', i.e. wet. After mixing, place it in a lightly oiled bowl turn to coat with the oil, and cover. It should now rise for 2 or 3 hours.
and 45 minutes later...
and again...
About every 45 minutes, very gently fold the dough to develop the gluten but not to release all the gas. We want the CO2  because it will form those wonderful bubbles when we bake the bread. About 45 minutes before baking, line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and divide the dough in half. Gently, pushing with your fingers, form each half into a rough rectangle shape (the slipper) and leave indentations with your fingers on each loaf. Let it now rise, covered, until bake time.

After folding and relaxing the soft dough for a few hours it is ready to bake. About half an hour before it finishes 'proofing', preheat the oven to 425F (220C). Ten minutes before baking, spray the inside of the oven with water to create a steamy oven. You should also spray a few times during the first 10 minutes of baking. Bake the loaves for a total of 25 minutes. They will be golden brown and have a hard crust.

Turn off the oven. Take the loaves off the tray and place on the oven rack. Then open the door slightly and let the bread cool in the oven. You won't be sorry.

OMG, it's so good! Time for a steak sandwich! Bye for now.

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