Ciabatta

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Today’s blog is about my second attempt at making Ciabatta.  Ciabatta is an Italian white bread known for its open crumb.  Translated, “ciabatta” means “slipper” in Italian.  The one thing I kept hearing about ciabatta is that it is virtually impossible to master in the home kitchen.  I was told that I would never achieve ciabatta nirvana no matter how many times I tried.   All of this negative banter only served to strengthen my resolve!

You might be wondering what happened with my first attempt at making ciabatta.  That attempt was made about a year ago after I got a copy of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “The Bread Bible.”  Make no mistake, the fans of Mrs. Beranbaum are quite loyal, and any comments related to the failure of any of her recipes will get you a firestorm of inflammatory comments and snide remarks.  However, in this one case, it was admittedly me who had the problem.  The ciabatta I made from her book looked nice – but I made a couple of rookie mistakes when making it.   First, I made some very minor mistakes – such as using iodized salt instead of sea salt, questionable supermarket yeast, and volumetric measurements versus weights.  Second, I over-handled the dough and used a bit too much flour because it was so sticky.  My final mistake was to cut into the loaf as soon as it emerged from the oven.  Without the proper cool-down time, I ended up with a soggy crumb.

Armed with all the proper ingredients and with my wife’s approval (an important aspect of bread making for the married home bread-maker), I set off on my own version of a culinary adventure.  This time, I opted to use the FCI book (see previous post).  The FCI method is very precise, to the point of being almost mechanical.

I made the poolish the night before.  I prepared my mise en place by creating some space for myself and by carefully measuring the ingredients.

The next morning, the poolish was bubbly and ready for action!  I started making the ciabatta. The techniques were fairly straightforward.  There are two fermentation stages, each lasting an hour.  Halfway through, my dough looked like this:

Shaping the dough was far easier than I imagined.  I simply divided the dough into four 350g pieces and kept them in roughly rectangular pieces.

While this was happening, my oven was preheating.  I used a circular large pizza stone, and opted to slide the ciabatta right off the baker’s peel, parchment and all, onto the stone.  After 15m of baking, I removed the parchment.  I did this for two reasons.  First, a dough as wet and sticky as ciabatta would be difficult to put directly on the stone.  Proofing the ciabattas on the parchment on the peel for 30 minutes made it really easy to just slide the whole thing onto the pizza stone.

The finished result was not as browned as I would have hoped, but the ciabatta was definitely ready.  Keeping it in the oven longer would only dry out the bread.

At this point, anyone familiar with ciabatta is probably wondering…”did he achieve those large irregular holes in the crumb?”  The answer is…not as much as I would have liked.  But not that bad!

The taste was excellent, as evidenced by the first loaf disappearing within one hour of it coming from the oven.  My neighbor didn’t complain either – she even recognized it as ciabatta (whew!).

Lessons learned:

  • The dough is slack – the slacker, the better…but not so slack that it spreads instead of rises.
  • Some sources say to dimple the top.  I did not and I prefer it without the dimples.
  • It is very difficult to achieve a super dark crust in a home electric oven.  I placed a pan on the lowest shelf, then added 1c ice to the pan right at the moment of baking.  With an electric oven, much of the moist air / steam escapes through the vent.  It is tough to bake in an electric oven!
  • Dough should pull itself from the bowl that you fold it in…careful mixing and handling is needed!
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