There’s something so delicious about fresh baked rustic loaves of bread. Ciabatta bread is one of my favorite eating breads. It has that perfect texture for dipping or spreading butter on. It’s only out of the oven long enough to cool down for slicing. You cut into it and see those big beautiful air pockets showing that it was done naturally. The crust is crispy and the inside is chewy.
One thing is universal that everybody loves and that’s the smell of fresh bread. It’s welcoming, warming, and to me says home. I think of my grandmother and how no matter what event we had going on or how many people, there had to be fresh bread.
Anybody can bake a loaf of bread in a loaf pan. There’s just something so much more rewarding about free forming it and doing it by hand. Don’t get me wrong, we are still going to use a mixer, but only the paddle attachment. This will allow enough gluten to be developed to give it structure. But the air bubbles and delicate chewiness come from the benching by hand and letting the yeast develop.
Everything should be weighed when making bread. It makes things more accurate and helps to really control the end product.
We start by making what’s called the Poolish. This is the first half of making most bread. It rests overnight to develop strength and flavor by allowing the yeast to become happy and gassy!
12 oz Warm Water
8g dry yeast
12 oz Bread Flour
Put the warm water in the mixing bowl and add the dry yeast. Give it about 5 minutes to allow the yeast to become active.
Add your bread flour. Using the paddle attachment, mix the ingredients until a smooth loose dough is formed. Cover the bowl and place it in the refrigerator to rest overnight.
The next day, bring the poolish out and allow it to temper at room temperature for about an hour.
8 oz Warm Water
1 lb Bread Flour
8 g Kosher Salt
Add the warm water to the poolish. Mix it on low with the paddle for about 5 minutes. This loosens the poolish up and makes it easier to incorporate the bread flour.
Add the bread flour and continue to mix on low until the flour is incorporated. Once all the flour is incorporated, turn the mixer up to medium high speed. Mix at this speed until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Once the dough has pulled away from the side of the bowl, we add the salt. If you add it in the beginning, there’s a strong chance you’ll kill the yeast. Then you’ll have to start again.
There are different factors that will change this recipe slightly. depending on where you live or the time of year, you may need to add a dusting more of bread flour to the dough while mixing. The key is to have the dough just pulling away from the bowl.
Now, take a small amount of dough between your fingers and stretch it out nice and thin. It should be strong enough to form a “window” that you can almost see through. This stage is called window stage. If it’s not quite there, and the dough is pulling apart, it means that it hasn’t been mixed long enough to develop enough gluten. Continue mixing for another few minutes until you’ve achieved window stage.
Now comes the hard part…waiting. Cover the mixing bowl and make a note of where the dough is at now on the bowl…a dry erase marker is great for this. Let the dough rest in a warm place until it has doubled in size. Don’t try to rush it by putting it in a place like a warm oven unless it’s too cold in any room of your house. This has to happen on it’s own to develop the beautiful air pockets that we’re looking for. There is no set amount of time for this, but it should take between 3 and 4 hours.
Once it’s doubled in size, we do what’s known as “Benching”. We’re going to dump the dough out onto a well floured surface, and divide it into two equal portions. Now we stretch each piece and fold it in on itself.
Take each piece and stretch it out about three times it’s current length and fold it in on itself. Flip it over so it’s seam side is down. Let the dough rest until it’s flattened out again. When you press it lightly with your finger, it should leave an indent that slowly pushes back out.
Once it’s reached this point, you’re going to bench the dough again. As before, folding it on itself again, and placing it seam side down again to rest. Once it’s flattened out again and your finger indent pushes back out, you’re going to bench the dough again.
This time, before you bench the dough, you’re going to take a sheet tray, and lightly sprinkle a small amount of cornmeal on the bottom. This is what keeps your bread from sticking.
When you bench the bread this time, place it seam side down on the cornmeal. Leave enough room between them to rise quite a bit while baking.
Turn your oven up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Once your oven is preheated, take a metal pan and place it on a burner getting it to the point of almost smoking. Place this pan in the bottom of the oven. Put your sheet tray of soon to be Ciabatta glory in the oven on the bottom rack. Add about a cup of ice to the hot pan on the bottom of the oven. This creates a large amount of humidity to allow the bread to rise and get that artisanal holey interior.
Set a timer for about 20 minutes. After that 20 minutes, turn your pan. Set your timer for another 15 minutes, and keep an eye on the bread. Once the outside has become deep golden brown, take the bread out and check it for doneness by tapping the outside. It should sound hollow and the crust should be very solid. If it’s not quite there, give it another 10 minutes.
Once the bread is done, place it on a cooling rack and let it cool down at least half way before slicing. I know it’s hard, but if you don’t do this, you’ll compress the beautiful interior making it slightly gummy.
Slice it, and eat it with what ever you like! Slice it thin and make sandwiches…grilled cheese are great on this. Slice it thick and tear it apart for dipping in olive oil. What ever you do, eat it and enjoy it for what it really is; delicious, home made, artisanal bread.
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