It's hard to believe we're already on week seven of The Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge. I decided to do a more in depth post on this week's bread since it's one of my favorites, and is possibly the recipe from BBA that I've made the most often: Ciabatta.
A few years ago I sat on a friend's couch and flipped through a library copy of The Bread Baker's Apprentice. While I was no stranger to baking bread, I'd wondered how one could achieve the soft, moist crumb, and crispy crust of the artisan breads from the bakery. And there, in my hands, was the answer. I wasted no time in requesting my own copy from the library, and devoured the first section of the book, in which Peter Reinhart goes into much detail on the art and science of bread, of yeast and enzymes, of how manipulating time and temperature produces both subtle and drastic changes. I'm just geeky enough to enjoy that sort of thing! And better yet, he was willing to walk me through it step by step, the amazing process of turning flour, yeast, water and salt into "the staff of life".
Ciabatta hails from Liguria, Italy, and has spread across the Italy, and across our country as well. It literally means "carpet slipper" as it's freeform shape apparently can resemble a slipper. It may best be known as the bread that is typically used for making panini. (And trust me, it makes wonderful panini!) It is bread in it's simplest form; water, flour, yeast, and salt. It is the magic of "time and temperature" that transform these most basic ingredients into something much, much more than the sum of its parts.
Poolish, a pre-ferment that is started at least one day prior to baking. A simple mixture of flour, water, and a small amount of yeast, the pre-ferment is key to both the texture and the subtle flavor of the bread. It is left out at room temperature for a few hours, then chilled overnight.
This is the dough toward the end of mixing. It's a very wet, sticky dough and working with it takes a bit of getting used to.
Here is the dough after two rises, the first about 30 minutes, and the second closer to 2 hours. This recipe directs the baker to let it rise on a well-floured countertop.
I divided the dough into three portions; two I folded and placed into the folds of my "couche", which in this case is nothing more than some heavy cotton dusted with flour. It serves the purpose of providing structure for the loaves rise during their final rise. Because the dough is so wet, a lot of flour is used to prevent it sticking to hands, countertop, and couche. This is what gives the final product a rather "dusty" look. Incidentally, this dough is never "punched down"; rather, is is gently stretched and folded back together, degassing it as little as possible. This is, in part, what gives the characteristic large open holes.
The third portion of dough I divided into two pieces and formed each into a ball. I slipped these into baggies with a drizzle of olive oil (to prevent it sticking to the bag, of course!) These will become crusts for pizza in a day or two.
After about an hour in the couche, the dough is gently lifted and stretched out a bit before being placed on a floured peel. This peel was handmade as a friend and given to me as a gift.
About 15 minutes, 500 degrees, one steam pan, two baking stones (one on the lowest shelf and one on the highest; this simulates a brick oven a little more than just one stone) and three mistings later, the bread registers 205 in the center. The crust is golden and hard to the touch, but as the hot bread cools the steam inside will soften it into a lovely chewiness.
Slightly out of order here, but this is the moment the bread comes out oven, and this is the messy kitchen where all the magic happens! ('Cuz my kitchen staff are ages 6, 4, and 1, and frankly, I think they make a lot more mess than they clean up. But we're working on that...)
And here is the finished product; ciabatta!
And one last parting shot.
If you're interested in trying this recipe, you can find it here, along with quite a bit of the book. Go! Bake! Eat! Or, as they would say in Italy: Mangia, Mangia!