It’s ciabatta time! Interesting fact about ciabatta is that it was actually first produced in 1982. I don’t know about you but I’ve always thought it was much older than that. This is actually the first time I’ve ciabatta – but I was mega pleased with the results. It had a lovely thin, crackly crust and a good crumb. But beforehand I did do plenty of online research into what would help me to get that open crumb structure with the big holes. Of course, part of my research was also watching Great British Bake Off!
I’m going to write the method that I used here, but as this is my first try I’m aware that there are slight variations on the method which may be just as effective or not so effective. I used slightly less yeast but essentially followed the list of ingredients used by Paul Hollywood found on this link, but varied the method as I used a stretch and fold technique described by Mr Reinhart in this video, instead of using a stand aid. Reasons being are that firstly I don’t have a mixer, and secondly everyone is raving about stretching and folding for wet, high hydration doughs, like ciabatta. Anyway, it’s pretty impossible to knead ciabatta by hand in the same way as a bread with less hydration, and if you look at the how-to video on stretching and folding I just linked to, it shows that there is no knead (ha!) to be afraid of getting stuck elbow-deep in a sticky mass of dough.
I also chose to handle the dough as little as possible after the first rise, in order not to destroy all the lovely bubbles that had formed. But I have seen people advocate not being so scared of being a little rough, and to do one more stretch and fold followed by a longer second rise. This is because this is meant to help the ciabatta hold its shape a little more. I think there may be some truth in this so I may try it when I get round to making ciabatta again. I have seen pictures of ciabatta which seem to have more height than mine so perhaps this might help.
I also chose a quicker version of making ciabatta. Making a ‘biga’ the night before is the more authentic method, and greatly improves the flavour. So I would definitely forward plan next time I make this so I can incorporate the biga. The biga is essentially a starter dough, made by mixing a small portion of the flour and water with the yeast. This is left overnight until it is tripled in size and bubbling, then it is mixed in with the remaining ingredients. Also, obviously if you have a baking stone that would also help crisp the base of your ciabatta even more, although I didn’t have one and didn’t have a soggy bottom thankfully.
In light of all that, here is what I did. And the best thing is that this method is really not time consuming. Especially because the second rise is so short! Also there’s only ten minutes between each stretch and fold. I’ve seen some recipes ask for longer, say half an hour between each stretch and fold, but I just stuck with what Reinhart said, which is ten minutes.
- 500g strong white bread flour
- 10g salt
- 7g sachet fast action yeast
- 40ml olive oil
- 400ml tepid water
1) Mix together the dry ingredients. Ensure does not directly touch the yeast. Add the oil and water (gradually) and mix until it comes together. I.e. no visible pockets of flour.
2) Next comes the stretch and fold technique. Follow this video for a good demonstration, but essentially using wet hands scoop the dough on to an oiled surface. Fold the dough up like a parcel, using wet fingers. Leave the dough to rest for ten minutes, then repeat. This should be done for a total of four times. It should seem a little firmer and should spread out less each time you repeat this. Do not add any extra flour at this point, it’s meant to be sticky.
3) Place in an oiled, square plastic tub and cover with oiled cling film. Leave to rise for about 1 and a half to 2 hours at room temperature. It should at least double in size.
4) Flour your surface generously and carefully tip out the dough. Try to keep as much air in as possible. Coat the top of the dough with flour and/or semolina (as I’m a bumblebee I forgot to to this, but this touch gives an authentic look). Cut the dough into two pieces, stretch lengthways so that they’re rectangular in shape, and place on an oiled baking tray. Don’t worry if they’re slightly different sizes as fiddling about with them won’t help, but do ensure that there’s a good space between them.
5) Leave to rest at room temperature again for about ten minutes. I didn’t cover mine as they would stick to cling film, but this doesn’t matter as the dough is so moist and it’s only out out for ten minutes so it doesn’t run the risk of forming a skin. A little spritz of water on top before they go in the oven doesn’t hurt though. They won’t look like they have much height at this point, but don’t be disappointed as trust me they shoot up in the oven – so that’s when you see the most action.
6) Bake for about 25mins in an oven preheated to 220C. They should be nice and golden brown when they’re done.
Thanks for reading, hope it was useful!