I can’t think of a way to describe the fabulous and unusual taste of ciabatta, except to say that once you’ve eaten it, you’ll never think of white bread in the same way again. Everyone who tries this bread loves it. “Ciabatta” means “slipper” in Italian; one glance at the short, stubby bread will make it clear how it was named. Ciabatta bread is a remarkable combination of rustic country texture and elegant tantalizing taste. It is much lighter than its homely shape would indicate, and the porous, chewy interior is enclosed in a slightly crunchy crust that is veiled with flour. Eat it for breakfast or slice an entire ciabatta horizontally and stuff it with salami and cheese.
This ciabatta recipe should be made in a stand mixer, although it can also be made in a food processor. I have made it by hand, but I wouldn’t recommend it. (You can’t really put the dough on the table for the entire duration of kneading because the natural inclination is to add lots of flour to this very sticky dough, and pretty soon you wouldn’t have a ciabatta…unless you are willing to knead the wet, sticky mass between your hands–in midair–turning, folding, and twisting it rather like taffy, your hands covered with dough.) Resist the temptation to add flour, and follow the instructions. The dough will feel utterly unfamiliar and probably a bit scary. And that’s not the only unusual feature: the shaped loaves are flat and look definitely unpromising. Even when they are puffed after the second rise, you may feel certain you’ve done it all wrong. Don’t give up. The ciabatta bread rises nicely in the oven.–Carol Field
LC Bereft of a Baking Stone? Note
If, like many of us, you haven’t yet brought yourself to ante up for a dearly priced baking stone, try flipping a large cast-iron skillet upside down and baking on its bottom. It ought to do the trick. It has for us.
Special Equipment: Two baking stones
- Quick Glance
- 30 M
- 4 H, 20 M
- Makes 4 loaves
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 5 tablespoons warm milk
- 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons water, at room temperature (if using a food processor, use cold water)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 very full cups (17.5 ounces / 500 grams) biga, rested for 12 hours
- 3 3/4 cups (17.5 ounces / 500 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
- 1 tablespoon (0.5 ounces / 15 grams) salt
- 1. If making the ciabatta in a stand mixer: Stir the yeast into the milk in a mixer bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Add the water, oil, and biga and mix with the paddle until blended. Mix the flour and salt, add to the bowl, and mix for 2 to 3 minutes. Change to the dough hook and knead for 2 minutes at low speed, then 2 minutes at medium speed. Knead briefly on a well-floured surface, adding as little flour as possible, until the dough is still sticky but beginning to show evidence of being velvety, supple, springy, and moist.
If making the ciabatta in a food processor: Stir the yeast into the milk in a large bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Add 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons of cold water, the oil, and the biga and mix, squeezing the biga between your fingers to break it up. Place the flour and salt in the food processor fitted with the dough blade and pulse several times to sift the ingredients. With the machine running, pour the biga mixture through the feed tube and process until the dough comes together. Process about 45 seconds longer to knead. Finish kneading on a well-floured surface until the dough is still sticky but beginning to show signs of being velvety, supple, moist, and springy.
- 2. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/4 hours. The dough should be full of air bubbles, very supple, elastic, and sticky.
- 3. Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces on a well-floured surface. Roll each piece into a cylinder, then stretch each cylinder into a rectangle, pulling with your fingers to get each piece long and wide enough. It should be approximately 10 by 4 inches.
- 4. Generously flour 4 pieces of parchment paper placed on peels or upside-down baking sheets. Place each loaf, seam side up, on a piece of parchment. Dimple the loaves vigorously with your fingertips or knuckles so that they won’t rise too much. The dough will look heavily pockmarked, but it is very resilient, so don’t be concerned. Cover the loaves loosely with damp towels and let rise until puffy but not doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The loaves will look flat and definitely unpromising, but don’t give up; they will rise more in the oven.
- 5. Approximately 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 425ºF (218ºC) and slide your baking stones on the center rack to heat.
- 6. Just before baking the ciabatta, sprinkle the stones with cornmeal. Carefully invert each loaf onto a stone. If the dough sticks a bit to the parchment, just gently work it free from the paper. If you need to, you can leave the paper and remove it 10 minutes later. Bake for a total of 20 to 25 minutes, spraying the oven three times with water in the first 10 minutes. Transfer the ciabatta loaves to wire racks to cool.
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Ciabatta Recipe © 2011 Carol Field. Photo © 2011 Ed Anderson. All rights reserved.