Cooking, photographing and writing has been a challenge for me and every day I become passionate and interested in learning more. In my journey to conquer these arts, I discovered that making bread is so much fun. After my success making French bread I tried ciabatta bread this time, and again it was a delight.
Ciabatta is an Italian word that means slipper. This rustic-style bread is made from very wet dough. It also needs a slow-rise and long-fermentation process to create the big holes in the webbing and the shiny crumb.
As said in the book Crust and Crumb by Peter Reinhart “As a general rule, long, slow fermatantion draws forth the fullest flavors and the best result for the dough… The best way to increase the fermentation time without over fermenting is to build the bread in stage…”. That’s the secret of ciabatta bread. The yeast is not mixed directly on the dough. First you have to prepare a sponge, which consists of a combination of yeast with a small amount of flour plus a large amount of water. After at least one day of fermentation, you can use the sponge to prepare the dough.
You need to plan several days ahead before start it: the first day for making the sponge, the second day for mixing the bread dough, the third day for shaping, and the fourth day for baking. If you prefer, the loaf can even be held over for baking on fifty day.
Poolish-Style (Sponge) Pre-Ferment
(From Crust and Crumb, Peter Reinhart)
4 cups unbleached bread flour
4 cups cool water (65 to 70F)
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast, or 1/3 teaspoon active dry, or 3/4 teaspoon fresh, crumbled yeast
Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl large enough to hold the batter after it has doubled in volume.
Best or whisk for about 1 minute, until the batter is well mixed and quite smooth. (Any remaining small lumps will dissolve when the final dough is mixed, if not before.)
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature for 3 to 5 hours, or till foamy and bubbly.
Refrigerate the poolish, well covered, overnight.
(From Crust and Crumb, Peter Reinhart)
6 cups unbleached bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons malt powder or brown sugar
3 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/2 cups cool water (65 -75F)
2 1/4 cups poolish-style sponge
vegetable oil cooking spray
Combine the flour, malt, salt, yeast, water, and poolish in the bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment.
Mix on low speed for 1 minute, then on medium speed for 5 minutes. The dough will be sticky. Some will be pressed against the bowl and some bunched around the paddle. Dip a rubber spatula in water and scrape all the dough down into the bowl. Switch to the dough hook for another 7 minutes on medium speed. The dough will be very wet and stretchy. if not, add a few drops of water, as needed.
With a wet spatula, scrape down all the dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise for 3 hours at room temperature. It will rise slowly, almost imperceptibly. Refrigerate it, covered tightly, overnight.
When you are ready to prepare the loaves the next day (or up to 2 days later), set out 3 sheet pans, parchment paper, cooking spray a pastry cutter or knife, a bowl of cold water, a damp tower for wiping your hands, and semolina or bread flour for dusting.
Invert the pans, cover the bottoms with parchment (cut it to fit if necessary), and mist the parchment with cooking spray. Liberally sprinkle the parchment with semolina and your work surface with flour.
Dip your hands into the water and transfer the dough to the work surface. Liberally sprinkle more flour over its surface. Dip a pastry cutter or knife into the water and cut the dough into 3 equal pieces, pulling them to almost the width of a sheet pan. When you lay them down they may shrink in a little but should retain an oblong shape.
With either floured oe wet hands, transfer 1 piece to the first cheet pan, gently pulling it to the desireed length. Repeat with the other pieces, placing them on separate sheet pans. Lightly dimple each piece all over with moistened fingers, pressing gently to break up any air pockets.
Mist the tops of the loaves with cooking spray. Enclose each pan inside a plastic bag, and let the dough rise for about 4 hours at room temperature. The loaves should swell noticeably, as if ready to burst at the seams, nearly doubling in size. You may then bake the loaves. (If refrigerating them overnight, put them in the refrigerator after just 1 hour.)
Put an empty steam pan on the bottom rack. Preheat the oven to 500F.
Carefully slide the pans out of the bags, slowly peeling the bag off it has settled on the dough. Allow the dough to warm to room temperature while the oven is preheating (it takes at least 30 minutes for most ovens to reach 500F). Lightly dimple any noticeable air pockets (or pop them with a toothpick).
If baking on a stone, slide the dough, parchment and all, from the back of the sheet pan directly onto the stone, or carefully lift the parchment, lay the dough on a lightly floured peel, and transfer the dough to the stone. If not using a stone, simply place the sheet pan in the oven. Do not attempt to score this bread.
Spritz the bread and the oven walls with water, and pour 2 cups of hot water into the empty pan. Shut the oven door, wait 2 minutes, and spritz the oven walls again.
After 5 minutes, reduce the oven heat to 450F. Bake for about 30 more minutes, or till the crust is a deep, rich brown and feels very crisp.
Turn off the oven and open the oven door, but leave the bread in for an additional 5 to 10 minutes. The goal is to take it as long as possible without burning, so that the crust sugars deeply caramelize and the interior crumb develops a nutty flavor. The bread is done when the internal temperature of the loaves reaches 205F to 210F, and the loaf feels light and airy, almost hollow, when lifted off the paper (the read will soften as it cools).
Remove the parchment from the bottom of the bread and let it cool on a rack for at least 1 hour before eating.