Ciabatta – No need to Knead!


Having gained a degree of confidence over the last couple of weeks, I gelt it was time for something a little more challenging.  Ciabatta isn’t a difficult bread to make as such, but comes with 3 areas of consideration.  1: Be prepared.  You need to kick this off the night before, as the bread is made with a preferment, or poolish. 2: The dough has a high level of hydration – this recipe runs at 75%, which creates a very sticky dough which can be very unnerving if you’ve previously ‘failed’ with overly wet mixtures, and 3: The dough needs careful handling to ensure you end up with those big bubbles and open texture – no rough handling here.

I was looking for a suitable recipe to test out the ‘stretch and fold’ technique, which can be used as an alternative to kneading, and as such makes it very suitable for high hydration doughs.  But why make high hydration doughs in the first place, when it’s so easy to knead normally and use a little less water?  Well, evidence would have it that if you can master the high water content, your bread will have a more open texture and those wonderful big air bubbles.  A drier dough will tend to turn out much more dense.  But as I experienced with my first Sourdough experiment, an overly wet dough is very difficult to knead, and can be easily mishandled to knock all of the air out.  This recipes allows the mixture to autolyse – to rest for a period after the initial mixing to allow the flour to absorb the water, and the enzymes to start acting on the flour, reducing the need for kneading (so to speak).  The stretch and fold approach during the course of the traditional ‘rise’ period also supports the gluten development, meaning no kneading is required yet a properly structured loaf still pops out the other end, instead of a runny mess.  No Knead Bread. No sticky mess all over your hands.  Nice Italian loaves with big air pockets.  Terrific!  All I need know is a bit more practice with my shaping…

Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients

Preferment:

  • 150g Strong White Bread Flour
  • 150ml Water
  • a pinch of Quick Action Yeast

Dough

  • 350g Strong White Bread Flour
  • 220ml Water
  • 7g Quick Action Yeast
  • 9g Salt

Method

  • The night before you wish to bake, you need to make the preferment, or poolish.  In a  small bowl, mix all of the ingredients together to make a soft batter.  Leave for 3-4 hours (there should be signs of the yeast taking effect with a few small bubbles), then retire to the fridge overnight
  • The next day, get the poolish out of the fridge and allow to warm up to room temperature for about an hour
  • In a mixing bowl, add the flour, yeast and salt and mix briefly.  Add the water to the poolish and stir before pouring in to the flour.
  • Mix roughly in the bowl with a fork or dough scraper, turning the contents over in the bowl to form a sticky ball of rough dough.  Get in there with one hand whilst turning the bowl around with the other to minimise any pockets of flour.  Cover the bowl and leave to autolyse for 30 minutes
  • Tip the dough onto a clean surface.  Taking each side of the dough in turn, stretch the dough out a little, and fold back on top of itself.  Repeat until all 4 sides have been folded.  It helps to stretch if the dough actually sticks to the surface at first – lift the dough with a scraper rather than your hands to prevent too much sticking.  Return the dough to the bowl and cover for about 30 minutes.
  • Repeat the Stretch & fold about 4 times, at 30-40 minute intervals.  You’ll notice that the dough develops over this time from a sticky mess to a more structured (but still quite sticky) ball as the gluten starts to build up
  • Tip the dough onto a floured surface and carefully shape into a rough square.  Cut the dough in half, and stretch each half to form a longer rectangle.  Be careful not to knock out any of the air.  Dust well with flour and leave on a floured sheet to prove for 10 minutes whilst the oven comes up to temperature
  • Bake at 220oC fan for about 20-25 minutes – I baked mine directly on a baking stone
  • The bread should start to rise very quickly with the wet dough and all of the trapped air.  The bread is cooked when nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the base

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5 responses to “Ciabatta – No need to Knead!

  1. Yes, this bread is lovely! I have two loaves of no knead bread in oven at moment. I’ve making bread this way ever since discovering Jim Lahey’s method years ago. I have since added different ingredients to create all sorts of savory and sweet versions. I love your site. Great spicy recipes of yours are a staple in our house now!

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