Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ciabatta - An Old Slipper for Steak Sandwiches

I don't know about you, but when I make a steak sandwich, I need the bread to be chewy and just slightly sour. I have tried all different kinds of bread, everything from white sandwich bread ( a mistake!!) to baguette (better but not there yet) to ciabatta. Hands down the best bread for a steak sandwich (or for that matter any grilled meat) is the Italian 'peasant' bread, which has become extremely popular in the last few years. The word means 'old slipper', the kind of old familiar, comfortable friend you have worn for years, that has lost it's shape a little but cannot be replaced. These breads, are really without a defined shape, and must be treated very delicately up until they are baked. Then, after they have cooled, they are soooo chewy, and filled with holes (for mustard, olive oil etc.) they are truly second to none. This recipe is adapted from the wonderful cookbook by Ciril Hitz, Baking Artisan Breads, 10 Expert Formulas for Baking Better Bread at Home. It is a cookbook intended for those who want to bake incredible bread at home, using regular ingredients, and without the intent of turning you into a professional baker. Just someone who appreciates good, but really good, bread.

When you mix this dough, it is so wet, you might think you have made a mistake. You have not!!! After mixing you literally pour the dough into a greased bowl to rise and ferment. Be gentle, adding only as much flour as necessary to fold or manipulate the dough. Finally, bake in a hot oven, on a stone if you have one, and you won't be sorry. BTW, Jamie Oliver, in one of his early episodes , makes a steak sandwich that is to die for. No doubt, he used these ciabattas!

Here's what you'll need:
for the poolish (starter);
330g (11 oz) bread flour
330 ml (11 oz) water at room temperature
a pinch of instant yeast

Mix these ingredients together until it is all incorporated. At 100% hydration it will be VERY wet. Not to worry. Pour it into a bowl, cover, and leave it to ferment at room temperature for 16 hours (or overnight).

the next day...

Add these ingredients: (to the starter)
613g (21.5 oz) bread flour
405 ml (14 oz) water at room temperature
1/2 tsp. instant yeast
18g (1Tbs) salt

Mix it all together, until completely incorporated then mix (beat!) vigorously for about 10 minutes. The dough will be very soft. Place it in an oiled bowl and cover to rise, about 2 hours. At 45 minute intervals, stretch and fold the dough over itself and return to the bowl. It is easier to wet you hands, to keep it from sticking.

At the end of the rise, pre-heat the oven to 480 F (240C).

Place the dough on a heavily-floured cloth or baker's peel, and cut it, using a dough scraper into fairly even pieces. Let the cut pieces rest, and proof for an additional 30 minutes or so before baking. Be careful not to degas the pieces of dough. Handle with care!

Bake for 35 minutes or until dark golden brown and the surface is blistery. Cool on a rack.

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