Ciabatta


 

Freshly sliced ciabatta
Freshly sliced ciabatta

As far as bread goes, Ciabatta is very much the new kid on the block having only been around in it’s current form since the middle of the ;last century.  Like many artisan breads, this uses a 2 stage process by first creating a pre-ferment, sponge or ‘Biga‘, which means you need to plan ahead.  The pre-ferment is made the day before and forms a vital element in the bread’s fermentation process, even though it is supplemented with a second body of dried yeast later on.  The pre-ferment I created here stood in a cool utility room overnight, and should used at room temperature.  If your room is warm, you’ll probably need to use the pre-ferment quicker than I did or refrigerate it or else it will burn itself out!

 

Ingredients

For the Pre-ferment:

  • 250g White Bread Flour
  • 1/4 tsp Quick/Instant Bread Yeast
  • 200ml Warm Water

For the Bread:

  • 250g White Bread Flour
  • 3/4 tsp Quick/Instant Bread Yeast
  • 200ml Warm Water
  • 2 tsp Sea Salt
  • 1-2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil (optional)

Method

  • First make the pre-ferment by sieving the flour and yeast into a large bowl. Add the water and mix well with a wooden spoon or form for a few minutes
  • Cover the bowl and leave overnight to rise
  • After a few hours, the biga will have more than doubled in size and look quite volcanic, at this point it is packed with air bubbles
  • Sift in the remaining flour and yeast and mix as well as you can with a fork or wooden spoon for a couple of minutes.  The air pockets in the biga will be knocked out quite quickly by the mixing process, but the mixture will be too dry to incorporate all of the flour
  • Start to add in the water and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon.  With the last few tablespoons of water, add the salt and olive oil.  Continue to stir for at least 5 minutes to work the gluten in the dough.  This is tough by hand, and you’ll wish you invested in that £400 Kitchen Aid mixer with a dough hook…
  • Once throughly mixed, the dough will be springy, elastic and still sticky.  There will definitely be no signs of the biga lumps – if there are, continue to work the dough harder
  • Oil a second large bowl and pour the dough into it (it will need some encouragement).  Cover and set aside to rise in a warm airing cupboard.  This will take at least an hour and the dough will have doubled in size
  • Clear a large work surface and heavily flour, ideally with a mixture of semolina flour and pasta flour.  More white bread flour will be fine.
  • Pour the dough on the the surface and cut in half using a dough scraper or a pair or large kitchen knives.  Gently form each piece into rectangle, about 10 cm by 30 cm
  • Transfer each piece onto a large sheet of oiled baking parchment, cover with oiled cling film and leave to prove for 1 – 1  1/2 hrs
  • Pre-heat the oven to 240ºC. Leave a bowl of water in the bottom of the oven to create a steamy atmosphere  Cook each loaf, one at a time by removing the cling film and sliding the baking parchment on to a baking sheet.  For the first few minutes, splash or spray the tray & top of the loaf with water to achieve a good crust. After 10 minutes turn the loaf and reduce the heat to 220ºC.  Bake for approx 20 minutes in total
  • The loaf of cooked when it is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped
  • Cool on a rack before eating

 

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