Ciabatta

The variety of bread that can be created with the same 4 or 5 basic ingredients is astounding.  I have made more than a dozen different breads, but this Ciabatta is my favorite (so far). Inexplicably, I haven’t made it in more than a year. Ciabatta has a flatish shape, roughly in the shape of a “slipper” (which is the literal translation of the word ciabatta). It has great, complex flavor, with a tender, airy crumb.  The crust is deeply golden, but not overly tough like the Rustic Italian Bread. This recipe makes two small loaves, but the chances are small that you’ll be able to save one loaf for the next day.

Lots of kneading

The bread is kneaded in the standing mixer for a total of 15 to 17 minutes; longer than any other bread I have made. The resulting dough is unbelievably silky. I had always thought that lots of kneading would result in tougher bread; but I see that it’s a lot more complicated than that. I guess the high level of hydration is what saves this bread.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: 50-cents for 2 small loaves.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Started: 2 PM.  Ready:  6:30 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared and baked the bread today are given below:

Biga:
1 cup all-purpose flour (5 ounces)
1/8 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1/2 cup water (4 ounces)

Dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour (10 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1-1/2 teaspoons table salt
3/4 cup water (6 ounces)
1/4 cup milk (2 ounces)

  1. Make the biga the night before baking the bread; combine flour, yeast, and water in medium bowl. Use a wooden spoon to stir for 1 minute until the mix appears uniform. Use plastic wrap to cover and allow to stand overnight at room temperature. If you kitchen is much below 70-degrees, then you can use a slightly warmed oven (but turned off) which will ensure there is sufficient warmth.
  2. The next day, add the biga and dough ingredients to the bowl of your stand mixer. Use the paddle attachment on the lowest speed for 1 minute, which will form a shaggy dough. You may need to scrape down sides of bowl using a spatula once or twice.
  3. Increase speed to medium-low (4 on a KitchAide) for between 4 to 6 minutes; until the dough pulls away from sides of the bowl.
  4. Use your spatula to remove the dough from the paddle attachment, and chage to your dough hook.
  5. Increase speed to medium (6 on a KitchAide) for 10 minutes; until it becomes smooth and shiny.
  6. Put the sticky dough in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise at room temperature for 1 hour; the dough should double in size.
  7. Spray a rubber spatula with non-stick cooking spray. Use the spatula to fold the dough over onto itself; gently lift and fold the dough’s edge toward the middle. Rotate the bowl 90-degrees, and fold again. Rotate again and fold six more times (a total of eight folds).
  8. Cover the dough again with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 30 minutes. Repeat the folding process for a second time.
  9. Cover the dough again with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 450-degrees. Place a baking stone on the lower-middle oven rack. Cut two 12″x6″ pieces of parchment paper, place on a pizza peal (or overturned baking sheet). Liberally dust the parchment with flour.
  10. Liberally dust a counter with flour. Turn the dough out carefully so as not to deflate completely. Liberally flour the top of dough. Cut in half using a dough scraper or knife.
  11. Working one piece at a time, turn the dough so that the cut-side faces up, dust with more flour, then with well-floured hands, gently press into 12″x6″ rectangle. Fold your rectangle up like a letter, which will result in a 7″x4″ loaf. Repeat with second piece of dough.
  12. Place each loaf on its side on the parchment; seam-side down. Again, dust with more flour. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the loaves to rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  13. Flour your fingertips, and evenly poke each loaf to form a 10″x6″ rectangle. Use a spray bottle to lightly spray the loaves.
  14. Slide loaves with parchment onto the pre-heated baking stone. Bake at 450-degrees, spraying the loaves with water two more times during the first 5 minutes of baking.
  15. Bake for a total of 20 to 22 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer reads 210-degrees in the center of the loaf. The crust should be deeply golden brown.
  16. Allow to cool for 1 hour on a wire rack.
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