Monday, July 7, 2008

Enough of the !@$#! bread already

The next foray is ciabatta. An entirely different kind of bread from the baguettes - it is made with a starter and has a long starter preparation period. The dough uses a lot of yeast and then looks more like pancake batter than bread dough. So lots of challenges.

Of course Dan Leader came to the rescue again, and we have turned out some very good looking ciabatta - and to please nic, I even remembered to take some pics!!!

So let's get the pics out of the way first.....

See how wet, flat and sloppy this loaf is before baking. It is about 11 inches long and 7 wide at its widest point. Shaping it is like shaping quicksand!

After baking we are left with this beauty... See how well it has puffed up. It stays that way as it cools. The crust softens a bit and the crumb is light, airy and holey!

So, how to achieve this magic? Again, I will borrow from Dal Leader's book called "Local Breads".

Ingredients - Starter
1/2 cup (65gm) water
1/2t (2gm) instant yeast
2/3 cup (100gm) unbleached bread flour - the stronger the better

Method - Starter
About 12 hours before you want to make the ciabatta, make the starter by mixing the water, yeast and flour in a small bowl. Then knead a few times to make it almost smooth. Cover and leave to rise 1 hour in a warm place (around 80F, 25C) and then refrigerate for the remainder of the time.

When ready to make the bread, remove the starter from the fridge.......

Ingredients - Bread
1 Cup (167 gm) starter (from before - the exact quantity of the starter recipe above is what you need)
1 1/2 cups (425 gm) tepid water (70-75 F, 21-23C)
2t (10 gm) instant yeast
3 1/4 cups (500gm) unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 t (10 gm) sea salt or kosher salt

Method - Bread
Place the starter and the water into he bowl of a standing mixer. Break the starter apart with a spatula. It does not need to be completely smoothed or dissolved. Stir in the flour, yeast, salt and mix until a dough forms.

Mix the dough in the stand mixer using the dough hook on a medium speed for about13-15 minutes. You will have to stand by because the mixer will likely start to walk around the counter. The dough won't really clear the sides of the bowl. Stop periodically and scrape it down and off the hook. After giving it about 13-15 minutes, turn the speed up to high and knead for a further three minutes. The dough mass will be quite creamy and shiny looking.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl that has room for it to triple in size. Cover with cling wrap and leave to stand at room temperature until it has tripled in size. This takes 3-4 hours.

In most household ovens it is unlikely that you will be able to bake 2 loaves at the same time, so here's what I do...

After the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured board and immediately divide in half.

Cover a peel (or the bottom of a baking sheet) with parchment and make sure it slides. Lightly dust the parchment. Take one half of the dough mass and pick it up stretching it to about 11 x 7 inches and place it into the middle of the floured parchment. Press it flat gently with your fingers. Don't burst too many bubbles. Then wet your fingers and just dimple the surface. Do the same with the other loaf onto a different pan or peel. I do the first one on a peel and the second on a pan.

Leave to rest/proof at room temperature for 40 or so minutes - you will see bubbles forming under the top surface (they look like blisters).

1 hour before baking, heat the oven to 475F and ensure the stone is on the upper middle rack. On the lower rack put a cast iron container into which you can introduce ice.

When the bread is ready to bake, slide the first loaf onto the stone (still on its parchment paper), add 1 cup ice to the pan below and close the oven door. Add more ice 2 more times. Opening the door quickly. After 10 minutes turn the temperature down to 425F and bake until the loaf is a beautiful caramel colour. That will be another 13-20 minutes depending on your oven.

Remove the loaf (using the peel) and put on a wire rack to cool. Resist the temptation.....

Turn the oven back to 475F, slide the second loaf on its parchment onto the peel. Let the oven come to temperature (about 10 minutes). Bake the second loaf just like the first one. You do need to keep adding the ice to make steam. That is a key part of getting the crust nice!

We ate it various ways. Initially while warm with butter.

Then for supper, cut a large piece off the loaf and halved it horizontally. Toasted one side then added some ham (sliced and folded into a thickness of 4 layers), some Caerphilly cheese that Madame had brought back from England, diced tomatoes from the Farmer's Market all grilled under the grill (broiler) until the cheese had melted, with some hot English mustard on the side. No there are not pictures of that, we ate it before we could get to the camera!


Anonymous said...

is there any way to do this by hand? it looks incredibly difficult as the dough is so sloppy. however, i have resisted buying the stand mixer (yet another gadget for the counter, my husband says).....

any ideas?

Chris Bird said...

You might try a large food processor (if you have one of those). I haven't kneaded in mine, so don't know if it is potent enough. Other than that I can't think of anything. It does need a lot of kneading and it is really sloppy. I think even in Italy it is made in a mixer. Remember that Ciabatta only came into existence in the last 50+ years - when mixers were readily available.
Try borrowing a mixer from a friend (and offer a loaf in return?)

Anonymous said...

i have broke down and bought a stand mixer. cuisinart 700W. i just made the biga - stay tuned to this space....