The bread baking continues, this time an Italian bread that I’ve experienced in restaurants but never at home.
Ciabatta starts with a preferment, like so many other breads in this book. As always, that means that starting the day before is the better choice. Of course, I didn’t manage to do that. Still, I was able to give the preferment 5 hours to do its bubbly thing. After that, more flour, salt, and liquid is added. The recipe called for water, but the side comments said that buttermilk could be used for a more tender crumb, and since I had buttermilk available I thought, what the heck?
What results from the mixing of all the ingredients is, well, a wet, sloppy mess:
For 7 minutes or so, you mix this slop in the bowl, turning the bowl clockwise as you go along, dampening your hand to keep the dough from sticking, and then turning it counter-clockwise, all the time squishing the dough to form the gluten.
5-year-olds would love this.
You then take this wet mess, plop it onto a flour-covered counter, and engage in the “lift-and-fold” method of kneading. The idea is that dough too wet to be kneaded can be scooped, stretched, then folded in on itself. This dough was very wet, and the directions weren’t really clear enough on how many times, or for how long. So I did it for…a while? The dough rested for half an hour, then I had to do it again. And again, I wasn’t sure for how long. I think I probably should have done it for longer, in retrospect. But either way, the dough then rises on the counter, covered, for two hours.
Once it finishes rising, the dough is divided into two pieces, each of which will be a separate bread. The breads are to be set up in a couche, a cloth divider meant to hold the loaves in shape. Generally, this is done with a length of canvas impregnated with flour and used for this sole purpose.
I don’t happen to own such a length of canvas, so I had to find some other piece of smooth cloth that I could flour. The obvious choice was a pillowcase:
(Okay, for demonstration purposes I probably shouldn’t have chosen a black pillowcase.)
The dough was very sticky, so I sprinkled on lots of flour. The bread rose well, but then came the next step, which was getting the loaf onto the peel so that it could then be slipped onto the hearthstone where it would bake.
I must make a confession now: I’ve always used parchment paper on the peel and slid the whole shebang into the oven. But Reinhart makes it clear that while certain breads can be cooked with on parchment, others should not be. And ciabatta is one of the “should not be” breads. So I sprinkled the peel with cornmeal to give it a try.
This would have been easier if the loaf was a bit less like a non-Newtonian fluid. As it was, getting my hands under the loaf was like lifting a jellyfish. Not easy. Much swearing ensued. But I finally managed to get it there:
Then there was the setup for getting it into the oven:
The kettle was to fill a broiler pan with boiling water, the mister to further mist the bread in the first part of the baking. And the towel? To cover the glass door of the oven while pouring the water into the broiler. Because at 500 degrees, even tempered glass isn’t immune to cracking if water is dribbled on it.
All this, and we finally had bread:
The measure of success in ciabatta is large holes, so the proof was in the cutting:
We got some very good holes, but the crumb didn’t really taste like ciabatta — very tasty, but not quite ciabatta. But then by this morning the flavor had matured and it was very much ciabatta.Very good dipped in olive oil.
There are several variations on the ciabatta, and I will make others in the future. It’s not an easy bread, but it is very tasty.