Sunday, August 16, 2015

Ciabatta Bread

Ciabatta is one of my favorite Italian breads, but it is not always the easiest or quickest bread to make, even for a seasoned baker. The dough is rather wet and sticky and can seem impossible to work with when you’re new to the process, but that wet stickiness is also vital to the light, bubbly, airy texture of this bread.

There are some moments when making this bread you are going to shake your head and say "this can't possibly be right," but believe me, this is the best recipe I've ever made for this classic bread.

4 cups all-purpose flour
2¼ tsp active dry yeast
2¼ cups warm (not hot) water
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp sugar

Mix the sugar, water and yeast in a bowl and set aside for five minutes for the yeast to start working. Add the flour and salt and mix in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle. You want the mixture to be just slightly thicker than a pancake batter and it should definitely not pull together into a firm dough.

Let the mixture stand for about 15 minutes. Then turn on the stand mixer to a medium-high setting. After about six minutes, the dough will start to make a flapping sound and start rising up the sides of the bowl.

At this point, switch the paddle for the dough hook and knead for another six to seven minutes until the dough starts pulling cleanly off the sides of the bowl. It will be smooth at this stage but still very sticky and loose.

Grease a bowl and pour the dough into it. Cover with plastic wrap or kitchen towel and place in a warm spot. In about 1½ to 2 hours, the dough would have tripled.

Prepare a cookie sheet by lining it with parchment paper and then dusting the paper liberally with flour. If you don't have parchment paper, spray the cookie sheet with cooking spray, but do not dust with flour.

Pour the dough out of the bowl and into the center of the cookie sheet. Dust the top with flour. Using a bench scraper, divide the dough into two pieces. Now use the bench scraper to shape the dough, tucking the irregular pieces underneath, until you have two flat logs. You may scrape and push the dough several times to get them shaped. The logs should be about six inches apart. This is a rustic bread, and the wet dough is not going to hold a definite shape. It is known as an Italian "Slipper" Bread for a reason.

Dust some more flour over the logs, then cover them with a loose kitchen towel and place in a warm spot for about an hour or until the logs are risen and all puffy-looking.

About half an hour before baking, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Place a pan filled partially with water on the bottom rack while preheating.

Once the oven is preheated, place the cookie sheet with the ciabatta loaves directly on the rack above the pan with water. Bake for 25 minutes or until the loaves are golden-brown and the bottom sounds hollow then tapped.

Cool thoroughly on a rack. Slice and dip in olive oil and garlic for a delicious treat!


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