Ciabatta and I have a special relationship. I’m, er…addicted to its big holes. The problem is, every recipe I’ve tried has failed me. I’ve tried recipes with sponges that require 2 days, careful crooning, timing, and frankly, just far too much effort. I’ve tried the Artisan Bread in 5 recipe, to the letter, and every time the result is lovely bread…but not with those characteristic big holes. I was going slowly crazy until yesterday, when I just didn’t have time to let the bread rise as long as I should have. The mistake was serendipitous. Big holes were born.
I felt so blissful I had to spoil myself by getting some adequately amazing mayo from the farmer’s market this morning. I managed, finally, to obtains some saffron, dill and mustard mayo from Cannon Hill. I had been meaning to get some for aaages but whenever I’m at the market I spend all my money halfway down the market and then have to sulkily stall-browse. It was so amazing, I had to lie down on the couch with my eyes closed to eat it. Somehow it’s got a slightly buttery taste to it, but the mustard punch ensures it’s not gaggy, if you know what I mean. It’s nice that it uses free range egg yolks too. Oh, and I also got the best spinach and feta pie I’ve ever tasted in my life. For $2.50, I like to think that was a steal. The pastry wasn’t great, but y’know. The insides made me make inappropriate noises as I walked past families toting their children with them. It was that great, really.
So – if you’re still reading you’re probably awaiting the recipe. It has the same ingredients as are used in the Artisan Bread in 5 boule. The difference is that you only let it rise at least one hour, then shape it VERY gently, then let it rise another good hour (instead of the 20 minutes suggested in the book), then bake it for about 20 minutes. That’s right. Fresh ciabatta in 2 1/2 hours, not 2 days. It’s just as good too. The crust isn’t as crunchy, but I don’t like my ciabatta crust to tear my gums to shreds. The crumb (inside) is something else – slightly silky the day it’s baked, while staying soft and chewy until the next morning. I left it out overnight and it didn’t even shrivel up into a dry, leathery mess. So yes. It’s not too holey, which is just right for me. Right. Let’s do this!
EDIT: After much experimenting, I thought I’d comment on the two most important factors. It turns out you can rise the dough more than an hour (even refrigerate it for up to a week – refrigerating it is best if it has been left to rise more than 12 hours), but bring it to room temperature (at least 21C, or 70F) before you do the shaping/resting of the loaf. I’ve noticed that refrigerated dough is a little more chewy and moist on the inside. Then make sure you let the shaped loaf rise AT LEAST one hour, although if you let it rest for up to two hours you’re more likely to get it big holey. Also when you “shape” the loaf, the best way to do this is to sprinkle the top of the risen dough liberally with flour, then scrape it out onto an unlipped baking tray and shape with your spatula. It does not need to be smooth or anything. If you’re worried about sticking, sprinkle some cornmeal on the baking tray before pouring the dough onto it. The edges may still stick, just use a metal spatula to ease them off so you can shake the loaf onto your stone easily. Good luck!
makes 2 large loaves or 3 small loaves
- 1 1/2 c warm (body temp) water
- 3/4 Tbs active yeast
- 1/2 Tbs rock or kosher sea salt (1/4 Tbs if you don’t want it salty)
- 3c plain white flour
In a large mixing bowl (at least 12c capacity), add first 3 ingredients before the flour, then mix until there are no flour bits left. Keep mixing for a bit, trying to incorporate as much air as you can. Cover with a tea towel or something similar, as long as it’s not airtight. Let rise for 1 hour in a room temperature room (21C), or until slightly risen. The top will be smooth and glossy but won’t have collapsed back onto itself. Dust a work surface and chopping board (best for this are those flexi plastic ones) or pizza peel with plenty of flour, then dust the dough with flour. Pull out half or a third of the dough, knocking out as little air as possible. With your fingers, tuck the sides under the loaf to form a ball shape, stretching the top of the dough slightly but NOT kneading. Use the flour on your work surface to stop the dough sticking to your hands. This is always the hardest bit, because it’s a bit like trying to shape liquid! Once you have a ball shape where the top is smooth, tuck two sides into the centre under the ball until you have a log shape. The whole process should take no longer than about 30-40 seconds. Dust the loaf with a little more flour. Let sit on your well floured chopping board (WELL floured – you should see no wood/plastic peeking through). Repeat shaping with the rest of the dough, and also place on well floured board. Let sit in a room temp. room (21C) for an hour.
Forty minutes into resting the dough, preheat your oven to 225C (450F), with a rack in the centre and very bottom. Stick a baking tray on the centre shelf and a brownie tin or something similar on the very bottom shelf close to the door side during the preheat. Put some water on to boil (only 1 c is needed).
Now, you have to be speedy with the next few steps. Pull out the hot baking tray (close that oven door!), and lightly wriggle/shuffle your loaves onto it, by shaking the board or pizza peel close to the baking tray. If you’re not confident with this, or your loaves have stuck slightly to the board, use a large spatula or large cleaver to help you get them off. Leave 2 inches between loaves. As soon as the bread is on the tray, place it back in the oven, and when you do so, quickly pour about 1c of the hot water into the brownie tin on the bottom shelf, then shut the oven door. It’ll go nuts. It’s fun.
Let bake for about 15 mins for small loaves, or 20-25 minutes for the larger loaves. Remove from the oven and let cool on racks. Eat within 3 days.