Classic Ciabatta (via The New York Times)

My baking has gotten out of hand.  The last 3 days, I’ve burned through 2 new pizza crust recipes, an apple tart, and now this.  Bless flour for being so easy on the wallet.

Ciabatta bread is a delicacy to me.  European country breads have a certain appeal that can’t be matched. Really, anything bred from the Olive Oil Belt is appealing—anything.  So, when I crossed Carol Field’s groundbreaking ciabatta recipe while scrounging through Amanda Hesser’s New York Times Cookbook (my go to), I dove in on her vexing rendition of this timeless bread. 

If you’re a first time bread maker, this might be a good route to go.  Just take note: the longer a starter lies in wait, the better the bread.  So, if you really care about the bread making process, make the starter the day before to give it a nice overnight build.  

IMG_3129.JPG

Starter:

1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast

1/4 cup warm water

3/4 cup tepid water

2 1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour

Dough:

1 teaspoon active dry yeast

5 tablespoons warm water

1 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup + 3 tablespoons tepid water

3 3/4 cup unbleached flour 

1 tablespoon salt

cornmeal for dusting

Instructions:

For the starter, stir the yeast and warm water together in a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, and let stand for 10 minutes until foamy.  Stir in the tepid water, then add the flour one cup at a time (or in gentle increments), either by hand or in the mixer until it forms a sticky dough.  Next, place the dough mixture in a lightly oiled bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and a dry cloth, and set aside in a cool, preferably sunless area.  Over the next 6 to 24 hours, the dough will triple in volume.  It’s best to start this the night before, but 6 hours will be plenty.  

For the dough, stir the yeast and warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer fixed with a paddle.  Let stand for 10 minutes, or until the mixture foams.  Then, add in the oil, the starter, and a bit of your tepid water and start mixing on a low speed.  As it stirs, gradually add in the rest of your tepid water until the ingredients are blended smoothly.  Aside in a fitted bowl, mix the flour with the salt, and add this blend into your stand mixer.  Let it blend together for 2 to 3 minutes.  Next, attach a dough hook to your mixer and mix 2 more minutes on a low speed, then 2 more minutes on a medium speed.  While this is mixing, prepare a well-floured surface.  Once the dough is fully blended and seems moist, work it out of the stand mixer onto your floured surface and knead briefly.  In terms of kneading, less is definitely more.  

Place the finished dough in another oiled bowl.  The dough should have plenty of air bubbles, but maintain its somewhat sticky consistency.  Cover the dough in plastic wrap and set aside for another 2 hours, until it’s doubled in size.  

Next, you’ll bring the dough back to a well-floured surface.  It should be a pretty large ball.  Using a pasty knife, cut the dough into four sections.  If your middle two sections are slightly larger, that’s okay—you can bake those together. 

Now comes the baking part—the ultimate waiting game.  

If you’re using a baking stone

Get 4 pieces of parchment paper and flour each one generously, placing each individual loaf seam side up on its own sheet.  When it’s time, you’ll sprinkle flour and cornmeal on the baking stone, and gently roll the bread from the parchment to the stone so the seam are down and the floured side is up.  

If you’re using a baking sheet,

dust the sheet with flour and cornmeal and set the loaves squarely on the sheet.  

At this point, you can cover the breads in slightly damp towels and wait out 2 more hours for the breads to double, or you can wait 30 minutes and bake right away.  This will affect the size and density of the bread, but either works.  (It’s probably a poor quality of mine, being an impatient baker). 

Heat the oven to 425 F. Once ready, spritz (using a spray bottle) some warm water on the breads as you put them in the oven.  That will give them the ultimate crunch of ciabatta. However, if you’re satisfied with the slightly softer ciabatta texture (like me), skip this step.  Bake for 30 minutes, until the breads are golden brown.  Let them cool on a rack.