Woolworth’s sell the most delicious sourdough bread, and ciabatta rolls. Both breads are very similar; light and slightly chewy with a nice crust and enormous air bubbles in the texture. They are great with soup, and toast really well. But they cost a lot. Six dollars for a loaf that is half the size of a loaf of normal bread and about the same for just a few rolls.
How hard could it be to make at home?
I did a little research, and learned that ciabatta is also sourdough based. Ciabatta is made using Biga, a starter culture of sourdough that has been rested for a few days I started my biga yesterday, late in the morning. I made some more today, ready for next weekend. It should be good by then.
It appears from my reading that good ciabatta depends on using a dough that is fairly sloppy compared to other breads. Many recipes state it is important not to panic and add more flour because you think the dough is too wet. Handling the dough requires wet hands, because it is so sticky at first. It seems sticky dough won’t stick to wet hands. Just like sushi rice!
I read a few recipes, converted each from US, UK or European measurements to Australian and worked out the common factors. I also converted them to a single method of measurement – volume (one thing I hate is a recipe that mixes weights and volumes – for ingredients like flour in particular it can make it very difficult to get the right moisture content). Though it would probably be more sensible to go by weight, I do not have any kitchen scales. For this recipe, if there was any discrepancy in averaging and converting, I erred on the side of more moisture. When measuring out flour, shake it up in the container first, and do not pack it into the cup.
I think with a sticky dough like this you definitely need a Kenwood mixer or similar. I would hate to do this by hand!
You need to humidify the oven while baking the bread. Some recipes say to spray a mist of water in every three minutes for the first half of the cooking time, others recommended putting a few ice cubes in the bottom of the oven. I took the easy way of placing an oven-proof dish of water in. It seems to work. The crust was just as it should be. The bread texture was not quite the same as the bought stuff, but it is pretty good. Certainly the best I have done for a while.
Lastly, everyone agrees you will need a pizza stone or a large flat iron skillet to bake good ciabatta. I only have one baking stone, so I had to bake the loaves two at a time.
- 1 tsp dried yeast
- 6 Tblsp warm milk
- 1.25 cups tepid water
- 1 Tblsp olive oil
- 2 cups biga, (see below) preferably at least 18 hours old
- 3.75 cups all-purpose flour, or bread flour
- 1 Tblsp salt
- cornmeal (polenta) for scattering on the baking stone
- oil for oiling bowls
- extra flour for the bread board and for proving the loaves on baking paper
- Mix the yeast and the warm milk – stand for 10 minutes.
- Add the water, oil, and biga and mix with the K bar for two or three minutes
- Switch to a doughhook, add the flour and salt and knead on slow for about 5 minutes
- Turn the dough out onto a floured board, knead it briefly with wet hands adding as little extra flour as possible. The dough will be very sticky but will start to look and feel a bit more like the springy resilient dough you would expect.
- Put it in an oiled bowl, cover with Gladwrap, and leave it in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours, until it has doubled in volume. It should have a lot of big air bubbles.
- Divide the dough into four, roll each into a cylinder, then stretch it into a flat loaf about 25cm by 10 cm, pressing out any big bubbles.
- flour four separate pieces of non-stick oven paper on baking trays and put one loaf on each piece (I used two trays)
- cover the loaves with damp teatowels and leave to rise for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
- preheat the oven to 220 C
- put the pizza stone on the centre rack
- when ready to put the loaves into the oven, put a small bowl or tin of water in the bottom of the oven, and sprinkle some cornmeal on the baking stone
- Place the loaves on the cornmeal, paper side up, and remove the paper.
- Bake 20 -25 minutes until the bread crust is golden and sounds hollow when knocked.
- Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
- 1/4 tsp dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 3/4 cup tepid water
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- Vegetable oil, for the bowl
- Mix all the ingredients into a sticky dough.
- Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and leave it to rise at room temperature for 18 to 24 hours (up to 72 hours).
- It can be covered and refrigerated for a week, or frozen indefinitely, until used. (if frozen return it to room temperature first!)
I made a second batch the following weekend, using biga started the week before. It definitely came out better.