Ciabatta – The Italian Bread

It’s best to cook when you are cooking for someone….cooking something on someone’s request !!!

A few days back, I met a old friend after a long long time and got talking on food (what else would you expect from me….) and during the course of the conversation discovered a mutual love for all things good (read Italian food). He loves to eat and I love to cook.
I’m always up for a new challenge….always ready to try something I’ve never done before and breads are my favourite. He asked if I knew how to bake a Ciabatta. I said I didn’t but I could always try…..
Ciabatta is an Italian white bread…..it’s crusty on the outside and soft inside. The pores of this bread are larger, they almost look like small craters or pockets. It is an excellent accompaniment to soups and is best had toasted. 
A sandwich made from the ciabatta is called a Panino.
So here’s my first attempt to baking the Italian Ciabatta !!!
Discovered a new way of using yeast….did some improvisation on the original procedure.
Ciabattas take longer than the usual breads to prepare, but it’s worth every bit of that effort. A perfect bread to bake on a weekend.
Like sourdough breads require a starter…. though it is a natural starter without yeast, Ciabattas also require a starter called the Biga (in Italian). It is a pre ferment made with yeast, flour and water.
Biga is used in breads which require light open texture with holes…yes holes along with the regular pores and also adds a complexity to the bread’s flavour.

I was quite pleased with the results and so were KJ and mum-n-dad. I already have an ultimatum from mum that this time she surely wants a bigger loaf …. 🙂 Can’t wait to get them baking again….

Ciabatta Recipe
Makes 4 loaves

Ingredients
1 tspn active Dry Yeast
5 tbspns Warm Milk
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons Water, at room temperature (if using a food processor, use cold water)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 very full cups (17.5 ounces / 500 grams) biga, rested for 12 hours (see the recipe at the end)
3 3/4 cups (17.5 ounces / 500 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
1 tablespoon (0.5 ounces / 15 grams) salt
Cornmeal
Direction
If making the ciabatta in a stand mixer: 
Stir the yeast into the milk in a mixer bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Add the water, oil, and biga and mix with the paddle until blended. Mix the flour and salt, add to the bowl, and mix for 2 to 3 minutes. Change to the dough hook and knead for 2 minutes at low speed, then 2 minutes at medium speed. Knead briefly on a well-floured surface, adding as little flour as possible, until the dough is still sticky but beginning to show evidence of being velvety, supple, springy, and moist.
If making the ciabatta in a food processor:
Stir the yeast into the milk in a large bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Add 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons of cold water, the oil, and the biga and mix, squeezing the biga between your fingers to break it up. Place the flour and salt in the food processor fitted with the dough blade and pulse several times to sift the ingredients. With the machine running, pour the biga mixture through the feed tube and process until the dough comes together. Process about 45 seconds longer to knead. Finish kneading on a well-floured surface until the dough is still sticky but beginning to show signs of being velvety, supple, moist, and springy.
2. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/4 hours. The dough should be full of air bubbles, very supple, elastic, and sticky.
3. Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces on a well-floured surface. Roll each piece into a cylinder, then stretch each cylinder into a rectangle, pulling with your fingers to get each piece long and wide enough. It should be approximately 10 by 4 inches.
4. Generously flour 4 pieces of parchment paper placed on peels or upside-down baking sheets. Place each loaf, seam side up, on a piece of parchment. Dimple the loaves vigorously with your fingertips or knuckles so that they won’t rise too much. The dough will look heavily pockmarked, but it is very resilient, so don’t be concerned. Cover the loaves loosely with damp towels and let rise until puffy but not doubled, 1 1/2  to 2 hours. The loaves will look flat and definitely unpromising, but don’t give up; they will rise more in the oven.
5. Approximately 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 425ºF (218ºC) and slide your baking stones on the center rack to heat.
6. Just before baking the ciabatta, sprinkle the stones with cornmeal. Carefully invert each loaf onto a stone. If the dough sticks a bit to the parchment, just gently work it free from the paper. If you need to, you can leave the paper and remove it 10 minutes later. Bake for a total of 20 to 25 minutes, spraying the oven three times with water in the first 10 minutes. Transfer the ciabatta loaves to wire racks to cool.

Notes:

1. If you do not have a baking stone you could invert a cast iron skillet or a griddle and place it in the centre of your oven. It works equally well.

                          
Recipe for Biga

Ingredients

¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
¼ cup (2 ounces/ 60 grams) warm water
¾ cup plus 4 teaspoons (7 ounces/ 200 grams) water, preferably bottled spring water, at room temperature
2 1/3 cups (11.6 ounces / 330 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
Directions
1. Stir the yeast into the warm water and let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
2. Stir in the remaining water and then the flour, 1 cup at a time. 
If mixing by hand, stir with a wooden spoon for 3 to 4 minutes. If mixing with a stand mixer, beat with the paddle at the lowest speed for 2 minutes. If mixing with a food processor, mix just until a sticky dough forms.
3. Transfer the biga to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at a cool room temperature for 6 to 24 hours. When ready, the starter will be triple its original volume and still be wet and sticky. (The bakers I admire most advise 10 to 11 hours for the first rise, but others are very happy with the 24 hours it takes for dough to truly become yesterday’s dough. If you like sour bread, allow your biga to rest for 24 to 48 hours, or you might even stretch it to 72 hours.) Cover and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use. (If refrigerating the biga, use within 5 days. If freezing the biga, let it rest at room temperature for about 3 hours until it is bubbly and active again.) When needed, scoop out the desired amount of biga for your recipe and proceed.
Happy Baking !!

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