July 30, 2011

Soft spaces - what ciabatta is made of.

There is something wonderfully comforting about a home filled with the fragrance of baking bread. Its warm aroma seeps out of the oven and fills the home with round, soft scents and elicits feelings of security and peacefulness. The process of baking bread cannot be hurried, and I think that is one of the reasons I like it so. It forces a person to slow down and do things one step at a time. From the time of making the biga to when the loaves were cooling on the rack, this bread took 17 hours, and it was worth every minute invested.

Make some bread, assemble a rustic sandwich, sit in the sunshine on your deck and savour your food with a glass of good red wine, smile, and enjoy just being.

My sandwich was made with soppressata, roasted tomatoes in olive oil, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil. Mmmm.

Biga (starter)

4-24 hours before you intend to make your bread, mix together in a large bowl:

  • 1 1/2 tsp (generous 1/2) active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • 3 tbsp rye flour

Cover with plastic wrap and leave out on the counter for 4-24 hours to allow the flavours and yeast to develop.


When you are ready to complete the process of making the bread, place the biga in your stand mixer's largest bowl, and add to it:

  • 4 3/4 cups bread flour (reserve 1/4 cup to add only if needed)
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 1/2 tsp sea salt

While mixing on a low speed, add flour in three additions, alternating with the water. Add salt. Mix well for 10 minutes (or even 15! This part is crucial!). The dough will be very loose and sticky,and only mound. It will not be firm enough to knead as you would with a regular bread dough. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

The sticky dough after all of the ingredients have been mixed together.

Leave the dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let set until the dough rises to double its original size (about 90 minutes).

Dough after the first rise.

Turn the dough out onto a generously floured counter. Gently press the dough down to release most of the gases. Cut into 12 equal parts to make large rolls, or divide into two to make two medium sized loaves. Make each piece of dough into a rough square approximately a 1/2 inch thick. Fold two of the sides opposite each other in toward the middle third, as though folding a letter. Flip over so the pieces folded in are now underneath. While the dough is still covered in the loose, dry flour from the counter, gently pull the dough lengthwise to finish shaping into a rectangle(this will also give the ciabatta its characteristic striations on the crust).

The dough shaped into a rustic loaf, before the final rise. Notice how soft it appears.

Let the dough loaves/rolls rise again until they are approximately double in size.

Bake in an oven preheated to 475F for five minutes. When you first place the loaves in the oven, you may lightly spray them with water to increase oven spring and help form a chewy crust. Reduce the heat to 425 to finish baking, about 22 minutes, until loaves/rolls are a very light golden brown.

Om nom nom nom

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