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Saturday, January 30, 2021

Ciabatta

While many folks have turned to sourdough during the pandemic, my "comfort" bread has been ciabatta (I was lucky enough to have yeast in my freezer when others were having trouble acquiring it). I often "double" this by making one batch right after the other (I get four loaves for one oven heating). These loaves freeze well; to preserve the fresh, chewy texture I recommend you freeze what you won't use on baking day.

 



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Ciabatta

Yields 2 loaves

For suggestions on adjustments for high altitude, see below.


For the biga:

1 c unbleached AP flour
1/8 teas instant or rapid-rise yeast
1/2 c water at room temperature

For the dough:

2 c unbleached AP flour (I've used 1 1/2 c AP plus 1/2 c whole wheat)
1/2 teas instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 teas table salt
3/4 c water at room temperature
1/4 c milk at room temperature
(or use 1 c water with 2 T powdered milk)

Between 8 and 24 hours before you want to bake, mix together the ingredients for the biga and allow to sit on the counter covered. (Once I couldn't attend to the bread after 24 hours so I put the biga into the fridge for another 24 hours. It didn't seem to hurt it.)

a couple of hours before you want bake, place the biga into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and add all the ingredients of the dough. Mix together on low speed for a few minutes to get all the flour moistened. Turn the mixer to medium and allow to knead for 10 minutes. In a few minutes the dough will gather around the dough hook and look like it is climbing up. This is a very wet dough and as it becomes cohesive it will slap around the bowl a bit and may cause the mixer to walk around on your counter. So stay close and/or place a wet wash cloth or towel under your mixer to minimize this problem. It's recommended you don't add flour even though you think the dough is too sticky. However, I've added a tablespoon when it hasn't become cohesive after kneading 5-6 minutes.

You can place the dough into a new bowl for rising but I usually just leave it in the mixer bowl and cover it. (This method may be difficult if your machine has a post in the middle of the bowl.) Let the dough rise for 1 hour; use a rubber spatula sprayed or rubbed with a bit of oil to turn the dough over itself. Place the spatula under the dough on one side and turn it, rather like folding. Rotate the bowl and repeat folding ahead of previous fold. Turn the dough a total of 8 times around the circumference of the dough. Cover and allow to rise for 30 more minutes and turn the dough 8 times again. Allow to rise one more 30 minute period.

Place a pizza stone in your oven on the lower-middle rack and preheat to 450F. It's best to give your oven 30 minutes to reach full heat. Place a sheet of parchment paper close to the top edge of a pizza peel and sprinkle a little flour where you'll place the loaves.

Generously flour the counter and turn out the dough. Use a bench scraper or a knife to cut through the dough and with well-floured hands form each piece of dough into a loaf by flattening slightly (you don't want to get rid of all those nice bubbles) into a rectangle about 12 by 6 inches. Keeping your hands floured is the key to success when working with this sticky dough. Fold the short side down and then the opposite side up, like a letter. You should now have a rectangle about 7 by 4 inches. Don't worry too much about the exact size but this is a good general recommendation. Carefully move this loaf to the parchment paper on the peel and place the dough to one side. Repeat flattening and folding with the remaining dough and place it on the other side of the peel. You should have 2 loaves about 4-5 inches apart. (You can also cut your parchment paper into 2 pieces 12 by 6 inches and set them on the peel side by side.)

Sprinkle the tops of the loaves with flour and cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise about 30 minutes. Small bubbles will appear on the top of the dough. Using floured fingers poke the dough and lengthen the loaves to about 10 inches (and about 6 inches wide). Spray lightly with water and use the pizza peel to transfer the loaves and parchment paper on to the stone, making jerky, forward moves which will shake the loaves into the oven. During the first 5 minutes of baking, open the door and spray the tops of the loaves with water two more times. 

Bake for a total of 22-27 minutes until the bread measures 205-210F on an instant read thermometer. Use the peel to slide under the parchment paper and remove both loaves from the oven at once. Place on a rack to cool completely.

Notes on higher altitudes:

I find that at my altitude (5000 feet) the lower atmospheric pressure  means loaves formed as recommended above makes for flatter loaves that I'd like (they're still tasty, though). So I have taken to rolling the dough  (instead of folding like a letter) and placing a thinner, longer loaf onto the pizza peel before the final rise. My loaves at this point are more like 8X3. In addition, when poking the dough just before placing in the oven, I try to keep the loaves more narrow and long, by manipulating the dough towards its center so I once again have a thinner loaf than called for. 

Another thing to consider when allowing this bread to rise at a higher altitude is shortening the rising times slightly (5 minutes or so). At the very least, don't let it go over the recommended time. 

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