Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Monday, December 5, 2011

You Betcha Want This Ciabatta !

‘Bout time we make some darned bread around these parts, isn’t it?  I mean, there’s that pesky title of the place, about “Yeast” and all, and we haven’t seen bread in months !  Literally MONTHS I tells ya !

Bad Roberta.  Bad baker.

Well….it’s not that bread *hasn’t* been being made in the little kitchen (OWWWW, grammatically massacred, much?), it’s just that they’ve all been recipes/techniques I’ve shared with all y’all before.  Like a loaf of my sourdough or two, and some cornbread (no need to share that one, who can’t make cornbread??) and some of that M. Grill knock-off rosemary-olive oil bread.

And this ciabatta.  I actually baked this a few weeks ago, but got sidetracked telling you about it with the surprise that was that cranberry jelly (still loving that, by the way) and the gnocchi.  See, I get easily distracted…..EWW, Pretty !  SHINY !!  GLITTERY !!!!!!!!

And bread, bread….bread is not pretty, shiny nor glittery.  Bread is humble, bread is plain, bread is modest and unassuming.  Well, not really, but you get the idea.  Compared to the flash and dazzle of homemade gnocchi, bread is pretty unpretentious.  But then you pull a fresh-baked loaf out of the oven, and schmeer (highly technical cooking term alert) it with good, sweet butter, and sprinkle it with coarse salt, and of course you remember how sublime good bread is, for all its simplicity.

So, now’s the time to revisit bread, and a damn fine bread this is.

And considering how wet (slack is another term you’ll hear for wet, soft doughs) this dough is, pretty easy to work with, and get an acceptable result from (good heavens, my internal Grammar Police must’ve taken the night off….).  Just take a deep breath, read the technique through, and follow the internal Zen that is working with a slack dough.

Uhhhhhh, yeah.  I’m still working on finding that Zen.  Sometimes the dogs get a little worried when Mazzie’s trying to shape an artisan loaf.

This one, though, because of the signature shape of ciabatta, is pretty much a breeze.  You “plour” (that’s a combination of plunk and pour) the dough onto a parchment, and then gently prod and coax the edges into that “slipper” shape.  Gentle, careful coaxing.  Don’t even try to “shape” the dough into a loaf, it’s so slack that ain’t gunna happen with this dough, and you’ll just get frustrated and yell and scare the little dogs.  We don’t want to scare the little dogs.  Plus, you’ll be tempted to use too much flour to get the dough to a manageable state, and then your bread will be too tough and hard, and well, you’ll get frustrated and yell and scare the dogs.  See caveat about not scaring the dogs, above.  Trust the inner Zen that the little yeastie bugs will do grand things with that blob of ploured dough.

Don’t ask me how I know that yelling scares little dogs.  Nothing that a few doggie treetz won’t cure, though.  Usually.

BTW, Lulu still has a Mohawk…..but I digress.

No class picture/line-up shot.  Come on, we all know what’s in basic bread, right?  That deal’s getting a little boring.  You gots your flour, water, yeast, salt and magic (heeee heee).  Seriously, that those four ingredients can come together and make something so wonderful never, ever, ceases to amaze me.  I will always be blown away by the magic of bread making.  But again, I digress….not to mention stray and ramble.

All rightie then.  Like most really “hole-y”, airy doughs, this starts with a preferment/starter/biga/poolish, so you need to plan ahead to make this.  The biga needs to ferment at least 8 hours at room temperature, or overnight if you don’t feel like getting up at 4:00 a.m. to start it.

The biga needs water, yeast and flour.  Duh.  Dissolve the yeast in the water, and then add the flour.  You want to get a thick “gloppy” (no lie, that’s the precise word from the recipe) paste.

As you stir it around, you will literally see the gluten strands starting to develop in the biga.  It’s sooo cool to watch.

Here it is pretty early in the stirring process:

And here it is after mixing it for a bit.  It’s tough to see (mental note, grow a third, coordinated hand/arm to take pictures while cooking), but the mix has become very stretchy and rubbery, almost like Silly Putty.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter, happily fermenting away.

By the next morning, the surface will be full of big, gassy (buuuuuurp) bubbles, which means that the beautiful little yeastie bugs have been digesting and disgorging (sorry….) overnight.

And the gluten strands will be even more pronounced.

Weigh out more water and yeast, and dump them into the bowl of your KA.  Let the yeast dissolve.  Scrape in the biga, and break it up with a spatula.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t completely dissolve, but make sure to break up the big chunks into smaller blobs.

Then weigh out some flour (yes, this recipe calls for weights, most good ones do)

and dump that into the bowl with some salt.  Stir around with the dough hook for a bit to form a very thick, wet dough.  Let that sit for 10-20 minutes to let the flour fully hydrate.

Then knead at medium speed for about 15 minutes.  DO NOT leave the machine unattended during the kneading (not just for this bread, for all doughs you knead with a KA).  They have a tendency to “walk” when the dough balls up, and will travel right off your counter onto the floor with a huge KAAA-THUDDDD.

Don’t ask me how I know this.  Or about that dent in my floor by the utility cart the KA used to sit on….(gotta say though, those machines, especially the older ones, are beasts, it was still kneading while it was laying sideways on the floor……ruined the outlet in the wall though).  I also use a piece of one of those “grippy” shelf-liners under it when I’m making bread.  But I still hang onto it.  I wouldn’t be a happy girl without my KA.

Back on track.  After 15 minutes, the dough will be smooth and creamy and glossy.  It will “clear the bowl” on the sides.  BUT…..it’s a wet dough.  When you lift the mixer head, it will do this

puddling back into the bowl from the bottom of the hook.  No worries.  Mainly because we’re not going to to manipulate it much from this point on.

Take the bowl off the machine, cover it with plastic, and let the dough rise for 2 to 3 hours, or until tripled in bulk.

Whoa.  WAY different from most breads, where you scrape the dough out into another, oiled bowl and let it double.  Believe me when I tell you, you could not, at this point, get this dough out of the mixer bowl into another one without much tearing of hair and rending of clothes.  It’s that wet.  And we want to triple because a) we’re building flavor, b) we’re building those lovely air bubbles so characteristic of ciabatta and c) it doesn’t get a very long second rise.

After the initial rise, scrape it out of the bowl onto a heavily floured surface.  Full disclosure….half recipe for me as usual, so I put it right on my parchment, since I didn’t have to futz with dividing the dough into two loaves.  Proceed from here as appropriate to the quantity of bread you’re making.  Go gently so that you don’t deflate all those lovely air bubblies too much.  Divide the dough in half using a pizza cutter or a bench knife.  With floured hands, transfer each to some lightly floured parchment.  Gently coax the blobs of dough into a rough slipper-shaped loaf.  Don’t worry too much about traditional “shaping” techniques, they won’t work.

Sprinkle the top of the loaf with flour.  Gently press your fingertips halfway into the dough to dimple the surface and slightly flatten the loaf.

Let the loaf rise, uncovered for 30-40 minutes.  Preheat the oven and baking stone while the loaf is rising.  Put a “scrap” baking pan on a lower rack and boil some water.

When the bread is ready to bake, it should look pillowy and you should be able to see big bubbles just below the surface.

Next time, I’ll re-dimple a bit at this point, since they all went away.  Them yeastie bugs just blow me away, sometimes you can literally see them working in front of your eyes !

Slide the loaf, on the parchment, onto a peel or the back of a flat baking sheet, and transfer to the pre-heated stone.  Pour the boiling water into the scrap pan and close the door.  After a minute or two, spritz the inside walls of the oven with some water from a spray bottle.  Repeat after another couple of minutes, then bake for 20-30 minutes, until the loaf is puffed and golden brown.

I was AMAZED at the amount of oven spring I got from this loaf.  Wowzers, it like doubled in height.

I didn’t absolutely *love* that huge hole right in the top, I wished that it had been a bit smaller, but this is the first successful ciabatta I’ve made, and the taste was spot on.  Spot.  On.  And aside from that one gi-mo-jo hole, the rest of the crumb was great.

Ciabatta.  It’s what goes with dinner.

Here’s the proportions and condensed instructions.  Oh, and if you’re brave, you can cut the dough into 16 portions, and shape rolls.  Maybe I’ll do that in a few years…..

Homemade Ciabatta
Adapted from “The Kitchn”, web published 11/3/11
Makes 2 loaves or 16 rolls

4 ounces (1/2 cup) water
1/2 teaspoon active-dry yeast
5 ounces (1 cup) all-purpose flour

Dissolve the yeast in the water.  Add the flour and stir to form a thick, sticky paste.  Stir briskly for a good 50 or 60 strokes to build the gluten.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for at least 8 hours, or overnight.

The next day, the biga will look soupy and be covered with big bubbles on the surface.

17 ounces (2 cups PLUS 2 tablespoons) water
1 teaspoon active-dry yeast
Biga from above
20 ounces (4 cups) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Dissolve the yeast in the water in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Scrape in the biga, and stir to dissolve in the water.  Break the biga up as much as you can, you’re going to want (and will get) “stringy blobs”.

Add all of the flour and the salt, and stir gently to form a thick, very wet dough.  Let rest for 10-20 minutes to give the flour time to hydrate and absorb the water.

Knead with a dough hook on medium speed (KA #5) for 15 minutes.  About halfway through, it will start actually looking like a dough.  After the full time, it will clear the sides, and be smooth and creamy with a “glossy” shine.  It will, however, pool back into the bowl when you lift the hook.

Remove the hook and the bowl from the mixer, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours, or until tripled in bulk.

Dust your board heavily with flour and lay out two sheets of parchment near by.  Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto the flour, being gentle so you don’t deflate the dough too much.  Dust the top with more flour.  Using a bench knife or pizza cutter, divide the dough in half or into 16 pieces for rolls.

Dust your hands heavily with flour.  Working gently but swiftly, scoop the loaves, or the rolls, one at a time, to the parchment sheets.  Press your floured fingertips halfway into the dough to dimple the surface, and slightly flatten the loaves or rolls, while gently coaxing the edges into the desired shape.  Leave the dough, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes.

While the dough is rising, preheat your oven and your baking stone to 475°F.  Put a “scrap” baking pan on a shelf below the baking stone and bring a pot of water to the boil.

When the dough is ready to bake, it should look pillowy and have a lot of big bubbles just below the surface.  Slide the loaves (rolls), still on the parchment, onto a peel or the back of a flat baking sheet.  Transfer them to the hot stone, and pour the boiling water into the scrap pan.  After a couple of minutes, quickly open the oven door and spritz the sides of the oven with water from a spray bottle.  Close the door quickly, and repeat after another 2-3 minutes.  Then bake for a total of 20-30 minutes, until the loaves (rolls) are puffed and golden brown.  Remove from the oven, slip the parchment out from under the bread and cool completely on a rack before eating.  (If you can…..I cheated….)

If it's bread (or made with yeast), the cool place to be is Yeastspotting !


  1. Kinda scimpy with the water?

  2. Ohhhhhhh, Lord Matt ! Glad someone has that eagle eye that clearly *I* didn't have when I was proofing that post. AAACCKKK !

    It should be 17 ounces (2 cups PLUS 2 tablespoons) water in the 2nd (bread) step, along with the additional flour, yeast, salt and biga. It's been corrected now.

    Thanks again for the catch !

  3. Roberta, what a great ciabatta you made. Delicious!

  4. Awesome loaf. I have only used the double hydration method in the past. Will have to give this a go as it looks so much easier, and I must say the results look so much better than mine!