Saturday, June 02, 2012

Ciabatta, Artisan Breads Every Day

My cousin invited us over to her home during the weekend for an impromptu lunch potluck. When I asked her what I could bring, she suggested I bring some homebaked bread or cake. To that point of time, I think she had tasted only my cinnamon pull-apart loaf, so that was some confidence she had in my baking skills. But heck - I jumped at the chance to work with 100% white flour!

On the morning of baking, it was rainy and cold. As dough was taking longer than planned to get to room temperature, I had to put it in a slightly warm oven to speed up the rising time. Further, I skipped a lot of the folding and resting steps on baking day. Because of this deviation from the instructions in Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day, I was afraid that the ciabatta would turn out a thick doughy uncooked lump.

This is how it turned out.

What can I say? Previously when I worked with our bread machine, I thought that bread was very difficult to make and that the slightest deviation from the receipe would lead to failure. But now, I reckon not following the instructions to a T is fine. You just have to develop a feel for the dough and you can trust your instincts.

Even though I could not see any bubbles in the dough when I stuck it in the oven, the crumb of the ciabatta looked nice, light and holey. It tasted light enough; adequately chewy, but not gummy or doughy; with a deeper, more complex taste compared to other white bread I have tasted, most likely because of the overnight retardation and fermentation. And it had the same gorgeous rustic look I have seen in bread baking books.

At my cousin's home, the children loved the freshly baked ciabatta with butter so much that a quarter of the loaf was gone before they had even begun the main course. The adults were enjoying it as well, one of them especially with the carbonara sauce he had prepared to go with his pasta. At the end of lunch, only a quarter was left, and my cousin told me that her children ate the rest the next day.

Homemade fettucine, prepared by my cousin's friends

Homemade bolognese sauce, prepared by my cousin's friends

The homemade carbonara cheese sauce and bacon bits

Mom's meal: Fettucine bolognese with bacon bits

Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day


567g unbleached bread flour
11g salt
4g instant yeast
454g chilled water
14g olive oil


1. Combine the flour, salt, yeast, and water. Mix and stir for about 1 minute until well blended. The dough should be coarse and sticky. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes to fully hydrate the flour. 

2. Drizzle olive oil over the dough. then mix again for 1 minute. The dough should become smoother, but will still be very soft, sticky, and wet. 

3. Transfer the dough to a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest at room temperature for 10 minutes.

4. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface. With wet or oiled hands, reach under the front end of the dough, stretch it out, then fold it back onto the top of the dough. Do this from the back end, and then from each side, them flip the dough over and tuck it into a ball. The dough should be significantly firmer, though still very soft and fragile. 

5. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover, and let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes.

6. Repeat the process three more times within 40 minutes.

7. After the final stretch and fold, cover the bowl tightly and refridgerate overnight or for up to 4 days.

8. On baking day, remove the dough from the refridgerator about 3 hours in advance for ciabatta (or an hour earlier if the dough has not increased to 1.5 times its original size in the refridgerator).

9. Line the back of a sheet pan with parchment paper and generously dust the entire surface with flour.

10. Gently transfer the dough to a flour-dusted work surface. You want to avoid degassing it. Dust your hands with flour as well, and coax the dough into a rough square. For a small ciabatta, you can cut the dough into 3 strips. For a large ciabatta, you can cut it in 2. Gently fold the dough in thirds, like folding a letter, but without applying any pressure. Gently roll the folded dough to coat it, then lift it and place it on the parchment paper, again rolling it in the dusting flour ont he parchment. rest the dough seam down on the parchment, and repeat with the other piece(s) of dough.

11. Mist the tops of the dough pieces with spray oil and loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap. After 1 hour, gently roll the pieces over so the seam side is up, lift and cradle each piece with floured hands, and gently elongate it. Straighten the sides of each piece with your hands so that they are more rectangular than oblong, mist with spray oil again, then cover loosely and proof for 1 hour more.

12. About 45 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 550 degrees F / 288 degrees C, or as high as it wil go, and prepare the oven for hearth baking.

13. Slide the dough, parchment and all into the oven. Pour 1 cup of hot water into the steam pan, then lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees F / 232 degrees C.

14. Bake for 12 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for 15-20 minutes more, until the crust is a rich brown (streaked with dusting flour). The bread should puff a little and the crust should be hard when tapped. 

15. Cool on a wire rack for 45 minutes before slicing.

Submitted to YeastSpotting

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