Ciabatta: Andando Italiano


So I have been baking bread lately. Apart from trying out recipes for a business opportunity, I’d like to try my hand on bread baking and have some get-to-know sessions with yeast and dough.

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I’ve “been” to France with the french bread, although I am not sure if it really originated from France just because of the word ‘french’ attached to it *cough*french fries*cough*. Now, I am travelling to Italy where baking bread has always been part of their culinary culture aside from fresh pasta. I chose to make ciabatta for the primary reason that it has been my mom’s favorite gourmet bread. I remember buying a lot of whole wheat ciabatta, storing them in the freezer and just take out how much bread you want to eat to put in the oven.

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The preparation was a long process. You had to make a biga, a pre-fermented starter used in Italian baking, a day or two before your actual day of baking. Compared to the other bread dough I have handled, this was incredibly sticky. So sticky that the bread looked like a mutant ciabatta after baking. Nonetheless, the taste was awesome! It was crusty on the outside and soft in the inside. However, the consistent complaint I have whenever I bake bread is that the resistance it has when biting is quite strong. Any idea how to make bread that is not too resistant? I’d like to have some resistance but not to the point of struggling to take a bite out of the bread. Thoughts and suggestions are well-appreciated!

Ciabatta

Recipe from Leite’s Culinaria

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
5 tablespoons warm milk
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons water, at room temperature (if using a food processor, use cold water)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 very full cups (17.5 ounces / 500 grams) biga, rested for 12 hours
3 3/4 cups (17.5 ounces / 500 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
1 tablespoon (0.5 ounces / 15 grams) salt
Cornmeal

If making the ciabatta in a stand mixer: Stir the yeast into the milk in a mixer bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Add the water, oil, and biga and mix with the paddle until blended. Mix the flour and salt, add to the bowl, and mix for 2 to 3 minutes. Change to the dough hook and knead for 2 minutes at low speed, then 2 minutes at medium speed. Knead briefly on a well-floured surface, adding as little flour as possible, until the dough is still sticky but beginning to show evidence of being velvety, supple, springy, and moist.

If making the ciabatta in a food processor: Stir the yeast into the milk in a large bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Add 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons of cold water, the oil, and the biga and mix, squeezing the biga between your fingers to break it up. Place the flour and salt in the food processor fitted with the dough blade and pulse several times to sift the ingredients. With the machine running, pour the biga mixture through the feed tube and process until the dough comes together. Process about 45 seconds longer to knead. Finish kneading on a well-floured surface until the dough is still sticky but beginning to show signs of being velvety, supple, moist, and springy.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/4 hours. The dough should be full of air bubbles, very supple, elastic, and sticky.

Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces on a well-floured surface. Roll each piece into a cylinder, then stretch each cylinder into a rectangle, pulling with your fingers to get each piece long and wide enough. It should be approximately 10 by 4 inches.

Generously flour 4 pieces of parchment paper placed on peels or upside-down baking sheets. Place each loaf, seam side up, on a piece of parchment. Dimple the loaves vigorously with your fingertips or knuckles so that they won’t rise too much. The dough will look heavily pockmarked, but it is very resilient, so don’t be concerned. Cover the loaves loosely with damp towels and let rise until puffy but not doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The loaves will look flat and definitely unpromising, but don’t give up; they will rise more in the oven.

Approximately 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 425ºF (218ºC) and slide your baking stones on the center rack to heat.

Just before baking the ciabatta, sprinkle the stones with cornmeal. Carefully invert each loaf onto a stone. If the dough sticks a bit to the parchment, just gently work it free from the paper. If you need to, you can leave the paper and remove it 10 minutes later. Bake for a total of 20 to 25 minutes, spraying the oven three times with water in the first 10 minutes. Transfer the ciabatta loaves to wire racks to cool.

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