Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Homemade Ciabatta Bread

On Thanksgiving Eve, my sister-in-law called and asked if I could bring rolls to dinner the next day. Not wanting to head to the store, I sorted through some previously bookmarked recipes and settled on three different yeast breads... that way we would have variety and a back-up in case one or more didn't turn out well. (I was working with yeast, after all, and while I've had success with it in the past, each time I approach it with a tiny bit of fear, and a smidgen of trepidation.)

Of the three that I made, these were the most work, but in some ways, the most rewarding. It starts out with a biga, or pre-ferment that is made the night before and used to create that beautiful texture found in ciabatta bread. Making the biga is easy as it is essentially combining yeast, flour, and water and allowing it become a big, soupy mess overnight.

The next morning, the biga is combined with more yeast and water, then flour and salt, allowed to rest, then kneaded in a stand mixture for 15-18 minutes. Here's where you have to really keep an eye on things, as my stand mixer tried to walk off my counter at about the 8 minute mark. Trust me, it's totally worth the extra attention.

After a rise, dough shaping, and another rise, and it's ready to bake. I elected to make the rolls instead of loaves, which were adorable, but the next time, I'm going to make the loaves. There was a lot of crunchy exterior to the soft, airy, chewy interior, and it made it harder for the kiddos to eat.

I wish I had taken a picture of the inside (it was beautiful), but you can check out a pretty amazing step-by-step here. They came out just as pictured. I love it when that happens.

A lot of work? Kinda. Worth it? Absolutely.

Homemade Ciabatta 
Yield: 2 loaves, or 16 rolls

  • 4 ounce (1/2 cup) water
  • 1/2 teaspoon active-dry yeast
  • 5 ounce (1 cup) all-purpose flour
Dissolve the yeast in the water. Add the flour and stir to form a thick, gloppy paste. Give it a good fifty or so brisk stirs to build up the gluten. Cover and let sit at room temperature eight hours or overnight.
By the next day, the biga will look soupy with many big bubbles dotting the surface.

  • 17 ounces (2 cups + 2 tablespoons) water
  • 1 teaspoon active-dry yeast
  • Biga
  • 20 ounces (4 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
Dissolve the yeast in the water in the bowl of a standing mixer. Scrape the biga into the water and break it up with your spatula or squeeze it between your hands. You don't need to completely dissolve the biga; just loosen it up and break it into stringy blobs.

Add all of the flour and the salt. Stir to form a thick, very wet dough. Let this rest for 10-20 minutes to give the flour time to absorb the water.

Fit your standing mixer with a dough hook and knead at medium speed for 15-18 minutes (Level 5 or 6 on a KitchnAid). Keep a close eye on your mixer as it has a tendency to "walk" on the counter at this speed.
The dough will start off sticking to the bottom and sides of the bowl. Around the 7-minute mark, it will start to pull away from the sides of the bowl, collect around the dough hook, and regularly slap the sides of the bowl. If it doesn't, nudge your mixer speed up a notch. Also, if the dough starts climbing the dough hook, stop the mixer and scrape it down again. By the end of kneading, the dough will look smooth and creamy with a glossy shine. It will puddle back into the bowl once you turn off the mixer, and this is fine.
Cover the bowl and let the dough rise at 70° - 75° for 2-3 hours, until tripled in bulk.

Dust your work surface heavily with flour. Set two sheets of parchment near your work surface. Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto the flour, taking care not to deflate it too much. Dust the top of the dough with more flour. Using a pastry scraper or pizza wheel, cut the dough in two pieces for loaves or into 16 pieces for rolls.

Brush your hands with flour. Working gently but swiftly, scoop the the loaves (or the rolls) one at a time from the work surface to the parchment. Press your fingertips about halfway into the dough to dimple the surface and slightly flatten the loaves (or rolls). Let the loaves (or rolls) rise, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes. When ready to bake, they should look pillowy with many big bubbles just beneath the surface.

Preheat the oven to 475°F while the loaves are rising. If you have a baking stone, put it in the oven now.
When ready to bake, slide the loaves, still on the parchment, onto a pizza peel or baking sheet. Transfer them to the oven to cook, either on the baking stone or directly on the baking sheet if you don't have a stone. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Slip the parchment out from under the loaves and cool completely before eating.

Source: The Kitchn

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