BBA#7 – Ciabatta

On to the next recipe in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge. Ciabatta. I loved the ciabatta. I loved it so much that I have made it three times in one week!! It is amazing. I made one recipe using the left-over poolish from the Artos bread. Since I only had a portion of the poolish dough I had to calculate the percentages of the other ingredients in order to scale them down to for the amount of poolish I had. Math is hard but after crunching the numbers I think I figured it out. I was pretty concerned about handling a wet dough (had read from other folks on The Fresh Loaf how difficult it could be) so I was quite nervous to start, but in the end I figured -What’s the worse that could happen? rock hard bread?  dough on every surface of the kitchen? waste of good flour and yeast? Out of those options only the last one really made me pause. So the geek in me decided that I wanted to know what the cost of the ingredients would be if I messed this up and I made a spreadsheet. By calculating the cost of the bread flour, yeast and salt per oz. I figured out that I was risking about $2.16 worth of ingredients if the whole thing went down the tubes. That was a risk I was willing to take – since the upside promised to be yummy, chewy, tasty ciabatta. With all that business out of the way I got to work.  

The ingrediant line-up: 


 Salt, yeast, bread flour, poolish (frozen and then thawed in the refrigerator for about three days), and water.  


 My mise-en-place, for approximately 2/3 of a batch.

I started off adding all the ingredients in my mixer bowl and then used my dutch whisk to stir until a shaggy ball of dough formed – the dough was pretty dense and I really had to put some muscle into the mixing but it seemed to work. Then using the dough hook, I let the mixer knead it for about ten minutes.


 I scooped the wet dough onto my “bed” of flour on my work surface and then tried my best to follow the stretch and fold technique that PR describes in his book on page 138.


 After the first stretch and fold I set a plastic bin over the top to keep it from drying out while it fermented the first time. It took about 30 minutes before it doubled in size.


 I stretched and folded again…..


 And let it sit a for about 90 more minutes. While waiting for it to ferment the second time, I prepared my couche which I had ordered from King Arthur Flour when I started this project. It had never been used before, so used so I sprayed it with a little oil and heavily floured it to avoid any stick-age if possible. This is one baking tool that will get better over time (kinda like a well seasoned cast iron frying pan).


 Once the dough had doubled again, about 60 minutes later, I used my bench scraper to carefully divide the dough into four pieces. My goal was to make a sandwich type roll so Andrew could take them for lunch.

As soon as I transferred the dough to to couche I turned my oven to 500 degrees to preheat. This would allow time for my baking stone to get as hot as possible.


 I let the dough proof for the last time in the couche and then very, very gently (I didn’t want to deflate those air bubbles) picked up the dough pieces and laid them on a sheet of parchment paper. Each one was carefully streched and folded one last time before I slid them on to the preheated baking stone.  


 I used the same steam bath method that I used to steam the challah, and after about 15 minutes I rotated the loaves to make sure they were browning evenly.


 After about 25 minutes, I used my digital probe thermometer to see if they had reached 205 degrees and they were done! I pulled out the loaves with a pair of tongs and set them on a rack to cool. They looked really great!


 But would the crumb have those coveted holes????


 The next morning I sliced one open and took a look.


 Mostly small to medium holes, and one or two large ones, but that’s about it. The best part was the taste – it was amazing. The wheat was complex and it just tasted like really great bread should taste. The crust was crunchy but not so hard that it hurt to chew. Overall it was really satisfying. 



 I was hooked! I knew those four small loaves weren’t long for this world  and I was curious to see if I could notice the difference between the poolish version and the biga version listed in the BBA. There was only one way to find out – I started off a mixing a biga the very next day.

The biga is a portion of the total flour, water, and yeast that is mixed, kneaded,  and then allowed to ferment in the fridge for a few days. This allows the enzymes  a little more time to break down the sugars in the wheat and really helps develop the flavor.


 After about 48 hours, I took the biga out of the fridge and cut it into about 10 small pieces to help it come to room temp a little quicker. While this was happening I weighed out the additional flour, salt, yeast, oil and water for the second portion of bread.

I made one small change to the flour. Several of the other BBA’ers mentioned that using All Purpose (AP) flour would result in a slightly softer crumb. So in this batch I added half of my normal bread flour and half of all purpose flour, just to see if it made a difference.


 Just a quick reminder – oil and water do not mix. This picture sort of reminds me of one of those old lava lamps, yes?


 Ok, so here is the dough. So far I have mixed those biga pieces into the rest of the ingredients above, stretched and folded, and allowed to rise the first time.


 I had plans to take a loaf to a friends house for dinner and I wanted to take a loaf into work so I divided the dough into two pieces of somewhat equal weight – I had to eyeball this because weighing it on the scale would have deflated my dough for sure, and that was something I wanted to avoid at all costs. In to the oven on to the hot baking stone again and here is what they looked like when they came out of the oven….


 Real ciabatta – would you look at that!!!  And what about those holes?  Take a look….


That is a success if I’ve ever seen it! Yay for ciabatta!

Next up: Cinnamon Rolls (Sticky Buns/Rolls) or whateva they are called.

Note: Oh yeah, I’m headed off for a week on my grandparents houseboat at Lake Powell. I will be baking the next recipe on location – without my Kitchen Aid. Now that is the real challenge!


2 responses to this post.

  1. WOW that looks perfect. Love the crust and crumb. Great job,


  2. very nice bread, congrats


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