Ciabatta: The Delicate Dough

I have a new favorite bread: ciabatta. I’ve had it before (never fear), but not fresh out of the oven, piping hot and ready for me to eat.

It was a boring Saturday when I found the recipe on Flipboard. It looked too good to pass up, even if tons of steps were involved. So, I gave myself a few hours to play with this new dough and see what would come of it.

A few things I learned: ciabatta is a wet dough. I’ve never made a yeast bread with this much water! Also, ciabatta is delicate. You don’t knead the dough at all, merely fold it. Even then I was worried I was being too rough! Lastly, even though I am too lazy to do all the steps the recipe outlined, I can still get a pretty delicious ciabatta.

Ciabatta
Yields: 1 large or 4 small loaves | Time: 3-5 hours
Adapted from The Baker’s Apprentice

Ingredients

  • 450g bread flour
  • 400g room temperature water
  • 6g active dry yeast
  • 8g salt
  • Vegetable oil (not in dough)
  • Cornmeal (optional)

Directions

  1. Warm 50g of the water to about 110-115 degrees and mix in the yeast. Let the mixture sit until the yeast dissolves and starts to bubble a bit, about five minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the flour and salt. Add the remaining 350g water and yeast water. Mix until all ingredients are incorporated and a sticky dough forms.
  3. Cover the dough and let it sit for 30 minutes.
  4. Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a floured work surface. Trust me when I say you need a LOT of flour. This is a sticky dough. (I found that using a flour sifter worked great for flouring my dough through the entire process. It made sure I didn’t get large clumps of flour and was easy to use with sticky hands.)
  5. Gently stretch or press the dough into a rectangle. Be as gentle as you can because you don’t want to deflate too many of the holes in the dough. (It doesn’t really matter how big your rectangle ends up being, as long as it’s large enough to do the next step. I did mine about 20″x16″.)
  6. Using a bench scraper, fold the dough in thirds width wise (as you would a piece of paper you’re trying to fit into an envelope). With your newly made rectangle, fold in thirds width wise again.
  7. Place the folded dough in an oiled bowl. Cover and let it sit for another 30 minutes.
  8. Upend the dough on your floured work surface. Stretch and fold the dough again as you did in step six. Return the dough to the oiled bowl and cover it. Let it sit for an hour or two until it doubles in size.
  9. Gently remove your dough from the bowl onto your floured work surface. Stretch the dough until it’s about 1″ thick all around.  At this time, you can decide if you want to make two or four smaller loaves or one big loaf. I’m lazy and so I kept mine as one large loaf. If you decide you want to have more than one loaf, merely cut the dough into equal-sized pieces.
  10. Fold each piece of dough in thirds twice as you did before in step 6.
  11. Oil (and maybe sprinkle cornmeal on) your baking pan (I used metal). Gently place the folded dough onto the pan for its final rise and cover it. Let the dough rise 30-60 minutes, or until doubled.
  12. When your bread is close to doubled, preheat your oven to 475°. Put about two cups of hot water in a spare cake or loaf pan and insert into oven while it heats up.
  13. Leaving the water pan in the oven, bake the risen dough for about 30 minutes, or until a dark brown. (I took mine out a bit early. Oops.)
  14. Eat it like it’s about to disappear, especially if you don’t live alone.
Notes
  • The original recipe calls for about 12 grams of salt, but I’ve been trying to cut down on my sodium so I lowered it to eight and used kosher salt. If you want a bit more flavor, you can increase the amount.

Ok, so even with my cheater way there are still TONS of steps. Yet, it’s really not that much work. You only mess with the dough a bit every half an hour or so. I promise it’s all worth it in the end.

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