BBA #7: Ciabatta

Ciabatta  - finished loaf

Ciabatta bread: this bread, along with bagels, focaccia, and sourdough baguettes tipped me from wondering if I should bake through the entire Bread Baker’s Apprentice to jumping in.  I didn’t have to think long with a list of breads like that, but I briefly questioned the decision.  Ciabatta, thus named because it is shaped like a slipper, is a favorite of mine and many others for a host of reasons.  Usually a lean dough (although mine is enriched with olive oil), there is nothing lean about its flavor.  The hard crust, the dense chew through a network of holes– it feels more fierce than regular sandwich bread.  At the very least, it’s more interesting.  And oh, the plans I had for my homemade ciabatta.  A PLT (prosciutto, lettuce, tomato), perhaps?  Maybe just a regular sandwich toasted into ciabatta submission and called panini?  I could class up our regular Hoagie Night into Panini Night!  Or, maybe I would just recline on the back porch with a quart of olive oil flavored with garlic and  minced herbs, ripping off chunks of bread and swathing it in so much golden glory before stuffing it in my mouth.  Yes, ciabatta would be a fine bread.

Imagine my dismay, then, when I saw that so many of my bread-baking colleagues were reporting dense ciabatta with no holes.  My visions of Panini Night and back porch lounging vanished.  The bread would still be good, with or without holes.  But would it be awesome?

I started, then, by choosing the biga route instead of the poolish for the bread.  Lotta people out there going the poolish route and reporting no holes.  I know how to take advice.  The biga offers more hydration to the dough.  More hydration = more holes.  I read a few bread baking forums– in particular this one over at The Fresh Loaf— and took Reinhart’s option of using all-purpose flour for the biga instead of bread flour.  All purpose flour has a lower protein content than bread flour, and lower protein = more holes.  So, I made my biga the day before I wanted to make my ciabatta.  After I fermented it and punched it down, I popped it in the fridge to retard overnight.

Ciabatta  - biga

Monday arrived with the promise of bread.  I removed my biga from the fridge and cut it into a dozen pieces.  I covered them with a damp towel and left them to slowly come to room temperature.  After an hour or so, they were soft and also firmly stuck to the towel.  N.B. – next time, oil and flour the towel that goes on top of the biga.  I collected my remaining ingredients together.  In a large mixing bowl, I stirred together a couple cups of bread flour, some yeast, and some salt.  I added the biga.  Then, I added both the max amount of room temperature water to the mix – 9 ounces – as well as the full, optional 1/4 cup of olive oil.  Hey, they’re wet, right?  And, more hydration= more holes.  I wanted to go with the maximum amount of hydration that Reinhart specified without deviating from the recipe.  I opted not to use milk or buttermilk in place of the water, because I wanted a leaner bread with an olive oil flavor.

Ciabatta  - mixed dough

I stirred all of this together.  It mixed up very easily, and it was wet and soggy.  Giant holes, here I come!  I made a square bed of flour on my counter and slopped the dough on top of it.  I used my well-floured hands to shape the dough into a very rough rectangle.  I then stretched the rectangle out to twice its size, then folded the left third across the middle.  I brought the right third over the whole, like folding a letter.  Then, I sprayed that mess with oil and floured it liberally.  I covered the mass with plastic wrap and went about my business.  I wondered if flouring the layers acted like the floured and buttered layers in puff pastry, and if this would result in holey bread.

Ciabatta  - proofing

After half an hour passed, I returned to repeat the stretch, fold up, spray down, and flour process.  I covered the bread again with the plastic wrap and left it for around 2 hours.  Before I touched it again, I set up my couche.  Not having the requisite special linen cloth, I grabbed a couple of linen tea towels.  Perfect.  I laid them on top of each other so they would have more rigidity, then sprayed them with oil and floured them well.  Time to shape the ciabatta.

To shape the bread, I dipped my bench scraper in water, then used it to slice my rectangle of dough in half.  I was careful not to degas the bread.  I liberally doused the dough with flour again, then used my scraper to transport each loaf over to the couche. Once moved, I rolled each loaf around in the flour.  Then, I used the same folding method again (less stretching this time) to form rectangles about 6 inches long.  I bunched up the cloth to form a wall on each side of and between the two loaves.  Another mist of the spray oil and another dusting of flour, then it rested, covered, for about an hour.

Ciabatta  - proofing in couche

After 45 minutes, I returned to the kitchen to ready the oven for this hearth style of baking called for in the recipe.  I placed a pan on the bottom rack of the oven and filled it with water.  I then preheated the oven to 500º.  I chose not to pour hot water into the pan as I put the bread in the oven, because I am klutz and was sure I would burn myself or pour it all over the glass oven door.  Instead, the water would heat along with the oven and provide the same effect.  I flipped over an old sheet pan, liberally sprinkled it with corn meal and set it next to the couche.  This would let me move the bread with minimal handling.

Once the hour had passed, I had a heated oven, a prepared sheet pan, and two proofed loaves.  I carefully transferrd the loaves to the sheet pan.  Then, I stretched them out until they were between 10 and 11″ long.  I dimpled down the middle sections of the loaves very gently so they wouldn’t be rounded and would form the slipper shape.  Then, I slid the pan into the oven and let the loaves hang out for 30 seconds.  I misted the walls of the the oven with water.  When you do this, make sure you aim directly at the walls and wear mitts, because it will release some mighty steam.  I did this three times, in 30 second increments, then reduced the oven temperature to 450º.  I baked the loaves for 10 minutes, then rotated them 180º and baked them for another 10.  At this point, I check the internal temperature of the loaves, which registered a perfect 205º.  I nearly died of shock that the loaves didn’t have to bake longer than the time specified, then I removed them from from the oven to a rack to cool.

Ciabatta - baking

After 45 minutes of cooling, the moment of truth arrived.  Would there be holes?  Would the ciabatta be everything I hoped for?  Could we actually have a classy sandwich night?

Ciabatta  - crumb

Yes.  Yes, indeed.

*          *          *          *          *


This is some more yeasty goodness I’m sending over to Yeastspotting.

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge was developed by Nicole of Pinch My Salt. You can see what we’re baking this week at our Flickr group, on Twitter (#BBA), or check out the challenge page.

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55 thoughts on “BBA #7: Ciabatta

    • Absolutely – it’s a great bread to make when you’ve got a nice lazy day around the house. Not too hard, but it just needs the time. So good! Don’t be afraid of adding water to the dough – next time I will use even more.

  1. Beautiful ciabatta! I agree, my biga version outperformed my previous poolish version. I heard from a gal at King Arthur Flour say that a turkey baster filled with hot water was a good idea for pouring into your pan for the first steam. Might be an idea worth trying!

  2. Lovely ciabatta…still have not made bread from scratch without a bread machine…seeing your bread, I should really try it. Love the “holes” in the bread, yummie! Nice pictures.

    • I think you would love making bread without the machine. Touching it, learning how to feel when the dough is ready is so fun. I am really starting to be able to determine when my dough has reached the right temperature and when it will windowpane without relying on tools for every step. So fun!

  3. Okay, you’ve convinced me! I’m definitely trying the biga version, and using all-purpose flour next time. Poolish version was good, but not awesome, and I’m with you – only awesome bread counts!

    • Yes – it’s definitely a time investment, so I have to make it count! I loved the biga, but now I am curious about the poolish method. I may have to make it again and just be very liberal with the water. I think I have a good feel for the dough, so we’ll see.

  4. Hello Hayley
    I know how much work goes into Ciabatta!
    But I have to say, it really is worth it, & yours looks gorgeous!
    We had Ciabatta last night with our meal, it was my daughter-in-law’s birthday dinner. I didn’t have time to make the bread, so I used a bought one…just not the same…

    • Yes, it certainly is! It is so much more flavorful than the ciabattas I have had from bakeries. I have always like the texture of the bread, but now I can praise its flavor. Tangy and cool on the tongue.

  5. Ok, I’m going to follow your lead for the Ciabatta! I’ve been trying to decide between a poolish or biga version, so I’m really glad I read your post before making my decision. Your bread is beautiful, great job!! 🙂

    • Thanks, Nicol! I’m really pleased with the crumb, but I think it can get even better. The biga definitely lent a great flavor to the bread. Complex and satisfying.

  6. Looks beautiful! Thank you for the inspiration. I’m making mine today (also with the biga method) and have my fingers crossed that I have anywhere near the success you did!

    • I’m a huge fan of the biga method, and I wish you the best! Of course, I will almost certainly have to go back and try the poolish so I have an excuse to make more ciabatta…

  7. Absolutely gorgeous! Very well done, and your write up is great. I might need to give ciabatta another try and do it just like this! I did the poolish with bread flour and used AP for the rest. I think the hydration is KEY, even more than the flour. Mine was way too dry.

    • Yes, the hydration is definitely key. I think this dough can tolerate lots more water than the recipe calls for, so I wouldn’t be afraid of being liberal with it. So glad you like the post!

  8. Thanks so much for the great write up and the advice. I’ll be tackling Ciabatta this week and I think you’ve helped avoid some pitfalls. Biga it is!

  9. Looks too too perfect! Amazing! I wish I could do this, but it seems that you had so much patience, all those careful steps. I am so impressed! I’ll bet that evening on the porch with you, a bottle of olive oil and a loaf of ciabatta was divine!

    • Jamie, let me assure you that I am a very impatient person. Although, I am very type A, so when I am following a recipe I am following it to the letter. The quality time on the backporch was great for me, not so good for my thighs, and terrible for that poor loaf of bread. Only crumbs remain…

  10. Oh, man. I have go to make this one again. Was so disappointed by the poolish version, even with more water than called for. But your loaf has inspired me to do the biga version!

    • I was not fond of the poolish we used in the Artos, so I decided to avoid it for this bread. I’m very glad I did. I’d love to see how your next loaf turns out!

  11. Your post reads like a mystery novel. You had me on the edge of my seat rooting for the holey ciabatta. It looks amazing. Wished I’d made the biga version. After seeing your results I’ll definately try again.

    • Go Biga! It’s worth it. I’m glad the anticipation I was feeling came through in the post. All day I was mooning around the house, hoping for holey ciabatta. I got my wish!

  12. Gorgeous!
    Ciabatta is one of my favorite breads — so crisp and crusty on the outside, but tender and beautifully airy on the inside. Nothing better for a panino or a grilled veggie sammich.

    • You are so right. We have been enjoying prosciutto sandwiches all week. They feel like such a luxury on homemade bread, and yet they are so simple. The bread baking challenge is one of the best things I have ever done. 😀

    • Thanks, Peter! I really love it too. I think it’s worth trying, because while it takes some time, it’s not very difficult. And, it’s super-delicious, with a really creamy texture.

  13. I finally got my Ciabatta done. I took a page from your book and started mine with a biga rather than poolish. Having read your post really helped. Here’s the gory details.

    Thanks for the advice!

    • Ciabatta seems to have been such a rough one in general, that I am doubting the accuracy of the recipe in the books. Surely there is a misprint? Your challah is absolutely gorgeous, btw.

  14. Pingback: Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge: Ciabatta — Pinch My Salt

  15. Pingback: Nachgebacken: BBA Ciabatta - FoodFreak

  16. Pingback: Foodfreak » Nachgebacken: BBA Ciabatta

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