Can anything be more satisfying and therapeutic than baking your own bread at home? I hope not, not at least for a home baker like me, who thrives more on simple cakes and tea bakes. You would see more cakes and cookies recipe here than of breads. But I love baking my own bread. Especially, when it is of rustic artisan nature. Baking a bread having crisp, chewy crust and a spongy big hole crumb is just a perfect way to spend one lazy Sunday afternoon. I have been in love with rustic loaves of artisan breads, ever since I baked my super easy artisan bread, from Artisan Bread In 5. I have baked that bread, I don’t know how many times now. And I have been wanting to bake bread, since it is becoming hotter day by day, which is quite yeast friendly, I would say.
Dough rising slowly, sitting on the kitchen counter top gives the confidence and the hope of triumph over the yeast monsters, and gives you a reason to believe that half the battle has already been won. And that is the reason that keeps me away from baking bread in winters, as I feel the weather is not conducive. May be some day, I would conquer over that too. I have been thinking of baking a bit more complex and time taking breads, which are in fact more flavorful than the quicker breads.
The long fermentation duration lets the yeast work slowly and lends the bread a unique whole bodied flavor, which definitely you’ll miss in a quick bread, which call for greater amount of yeast. Ciabatta is one such rustic bread. Ciabatta means slipper in Italian. It’s a stubby, short and relatively flat body is probably the reason, that it gets such name. It has got a lovely moist and porous interior with a crunchy and chewy crust. It’s a perfect bread for making sandwiches, garlic bread, or just for mopping the sauce off the plate.
This bread is slightly daunting to make, because of the excessively wet dough which calls for near equal amount of flour and water in it. It is easier to knead the dough in a stand mixer or food processor than by hand. Because of the extremely wet nature of the dough, you get tempted to add more flour, which is where you start to spoil the fermented dough.
Don’t worry, my intention in not at all to scare you all. As I said, you just need to follow the instruction carefully and try to knead the dough in a stand mixer or a food processor. Trust me all this fuss is worth doing for those lovely loaves of bread. A little bit of planning and some instructions to be followed and voila, life seems easier than ever.
Recipe adapted from LeitesCulinaria
For Biga or Pre-ferment
1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup plus 4 tsp water, at room temprature
300 gm all purpose flour
Vegetable oil, for the bowl
For Ciabatta Bread
1 tsp active dry yeast
5 tbsp warm milk
1 cup plus 3 tbsp water, at room temprature
1 tbsp olive oil, plus more for bowl
2 very full cups or 500 gm of biga, rested for 12 hours
500 gm all purpose flour
1 tbsp salt
- To make the Biga or pre-ferment, stir the yeast into warm water and let stand for about 10 minutes, until creamy. Mix in the remaining room temperature water, followed by flour. Mix with a wooden spoon, for about 3-4 minutes. Transfer the biga into a pre-oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at cool room temperature, for about 12 hours, until the starter has tripled in volume. You can store the biga in fridge covered, if you are planning to use it next day.
- To make the bread dough, stir the yeast into warm milk in a large bowl and let stand until creamy. Mix in the 1 cup plus 3 tbsp of water, oil and biga into the yeast mixture, squeezing the biga through your fingers to break it up. Place the flour and salt in the bowl of food processor, fitted with dough hook/attachment and pulse several times to sift the flour and salt together. With mixer running, add the biga mixture into the flour, until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky. Process more for about 2 minutes. Finish kneading on a well-floured surface until the dough is still sticky but beginning to show signs of being velvety, supple, moist, and springy. Take care at this time to not to get tempted to add more flour at this stage. Otherwise, your bread will be tough.
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature, until dough has doubled, for about 1 – 1 1/4 hours. Cut the dough into 3 equal pieces on a well-floured surface. Roll each piece into a cylinder and then stretch each cylinder into a rectangle, pulling with your fingers.
- Place the loaves onto generously floured parchment paper, cover loosely with damp kitchen towel and let rise, until puffy, but not doubled, for about 1 1/2 – 2 hours. At this stage, loaves might look flat, but don’t worry, they’ll rise in oven.
- Preheat the oven to 220 degree C with 2 baking trays/stone. Sprinkle the baking trays with enough cornmeal and place the loaves on to the preheated baking trays and bake for 20-25 minutes, spraying the oven 2/3 times during first 10 minutes of baking. Steam from water spray helps the formation of a chewy crust. Alternatively, to produce steam, place 2 ice cubes in another baking tray on lower rack beneath the baking tray with loaves. Once baked, place the loaves on to cooling rack and let cool completely before slicing.