Ciabatta saga, ciabatta saga, ciabatta saga…..
Trying yet another recipe today. Every recipe I’ve tried or have on deck to try is different enough from the others that I’m surprised to find that they all purport to produce a ciabatta loaf. Silly Italians.
Today’s version comes from Bread Cetera, and this guy is as nerdy as I am about bread. This is very much a good thing. Bread folk tend to be very analytical about why and how bread does what it does and it’s almost comforting to find other people expending as much and more energy as I am to get the thing right.
I took a sec to update before this loaf is fully proofed because of the sound the dough was making as it incorporated the last bit of water. One of the previous recipes had me reserve some water to add in later, but I didn’t think of adding it in a bit at a time. Ultimately it was all incorporated and everything turned out fine, but I like the subtle touch of mentioning to add it a bit at a time. I thought the sound of adding water was interesting as well:
In addition, we have the size of the dough at the beginning of fermentation:
More later as she’s fully proofed and ready to bake.
Today’s version of ciabatta comes from Wild Yeast, a fantastically detailed all-things-yeast site. My favorite part of the site is the constant talk about technique with plenty of visual explanation. 95% of bread is timing and technique and this site understands.
So. On to things. The most dramatic part of following this recipe is just how wet it is at all times. Knowing the basics of baking allowed me to add more flour than called for after step 4 but even then the dough would’ve crawled all over the place if it left the container. I’m curious to learn the exact rising properties of different levels of hydration vs amounts of yeast – does ciabatta get those windowpanes from internal steaming? Fascinating. After 4 hours of refrigerated rising, she went from 2 liters to this animal:
After further rising over night, I woke up to rest the dough to room temp, gently stretch and cut/shape for a final rise. And, you know, start my day and all that.
When I nail ciabatta, I will buy myself some proper shaping tools instead of constantly making homeless french artist bread that just lays all over the place looking ridiculously gorgeous.
But that day is not today. The bread is tasty and slightly chewy but the crumb isn’t right. However, I think this is the recipe to try again because it’s the closest I’ve come thus far. Maybe without the flour I thought it needed? And also maybe halved because right now I have 7 medium loaves of ciabatta seconda.
So I may have mentioned a brief thingy the last time I made bagels. I think it went something like this: I made bagels but didn’t take pictures of them so nyah nyah, Ima go eat ’em all up already, NO BAGEL FOR YOU.
Or something like that.
This time I took pictures. The recipe I’m using (I honestly forget where I grabbed it) wants a sponge made the night before: equal parts flour and water and the yeast. This means that when you wake up and stumble downstairs to the yowls of kittens wasting away after an entire evening with no food, you are presented with this monstrosity:
Here’s a tip – don’t remove the plastic and immediately stick your nose into the bowl and inhale deeply. This bowl is RIPE.
Next step is to add the rest of the ingredients – honey (used agave instead because it’s what I had), malt syrup (which is step 1 of 3 to making bagels taste like bagels), more flour, salt, aaand I think that’s all. Beat it up for a nice long while til it’s beautiful and smooth and slightly out of focus.
Oh, did I mention that half the bagels will be scallion? Yeah. So there’s that happening as well.
Next you boil them (step 2) in water with a bit of baking soda (step 3) before baking. As with all bread you should wait for it to cool before eating but, I ask you, how is that possible when they look like this:
You see the one in the very top left corner? The one that looks like an actual bagel? I know what I did to make it look like that. This means that, with 16 fresh bagels in the house still cooling on racks, I’m already planning to make them again.
This is not ciabatta. I will continue forward in my quest for mastering ciabatta. However, while on the road to ciabatta, I will be eating this bread. There is a very slight twang to it but the best part is that it’s the lightest bread I’ve ever turned out. It was perfect as breakfast toast and it’s going to be perfect for sandwiches. I dare say I’d make a serious pressed sandwich with this bread. I need to find whole wheat bread flour.
By the way, these are huge. They rose beautifully for sandwich bread but there’s still a balance needed to obtain those ciabatta windows of dough.
The biga worked! Rather, it certainly got active during the night. The recommended ferment time is between 12 and 24 hours; I mixed it and set it to rest yesterday around 12:45, and got back to it around 7:45 this morning. Within those 19 hours, this transformation took place:
And it smells SOUR. And this is GOOD. I continued on to the next step of the recipe, hooked it for 8 minutes, and now it has the consistency of caulk. It’s sitting under plastic to double over the next 90 minutes, then to be separated and proofed once more before baking.
After a rather lovely meal at Tabla on Friday night (pretty sure they make their own butter), I’ve decided to master making ciabatta. I spent some time getting to the heart of exactly what is responsible for the thin chewy windows of dough beneath a serious crust, and it seems that the answer is biga. Biga is a pre-ferment used in making Italian breads, a precursor to the standard yeast/water/flour/salt containing all but the salt, and is meant to be a shortcut (ready after 12 hours) to the depth of flavor that a more familiar but slower-to-react starter like sourdough can provide. The French equivalent is poolish, a mixture with a much higher hydration. If this works, I’ll be messing around with other variants, but for now it’s all about the biga.
So. The biga. It’s hella dry, much more than expected. I mixed it and set it to rest at 12:45, so tomorrow morning I’ll find out what happened and go from there. I decided to start with a pretty basic recipe, and if this works even halfway, I’ll start monkeying around with the details.