Adventures with Ciabatta

CiabattaI get these daft ideas sometimes, whilst we're quite happy with the regular bread that I make, I've always wanted to produce something even better. The obvious choice would be a sourdough loaf, but last time I used a sourdough starter the bread was awful. This Ciabatta style loaf goes sort of half-way; it uses a starter, but one with dried yeast rather than relying on natural airborne yeasts.

This bread has a ratio of 75% water to flour and so the dough is very soft and not easy to handle. I wouldn't attempt to make it without a mixer, you'd end up with more dough stuck to your hands than in the bread!

The starter (properly called a poolish or biga) is made the day before the bread dough:

Mix 250gm of bread flour with 1.25gm fast acting yeast and then add 250gm tepid water. Cover loosely and leave.

The next day I put 250gm of this mixture into another bowl and added a further 125gm flour, 125gm water and 1.25gm yeast and put it aside for a couple of hours.

The mixture was then put into my Kenwood Chef mixer and mixed with a further 350gm flour, 200gm water, 3.25gm yeast and 9gm salt. I mixed for 5 minutes with the dough hook. Rested it for ten minutes, just to let the motor cool down, and then mixed for a further 5 minutes.

The dough is now left to rise until 3 times it's original size.

The mix is then tipped out onto a well-floured surface, and I mean well floured, not just a dusting - a fairly thick layer. It is not 'knocked back'; the idea is to keep as much air in it as possible.

At this stage it's a very soft dough. I cut pieces off about the rough shape I wanted and then sort of prodded and patted them to shape. They should get a nice coating of flour during this process. I transferred them, as best I could, to the baking sheet and left to prove until about doubled in size.

They were cooked at 200°C in the fan oven for 25 minutes with oven being sprayed with water 3 times during the first ten minutes of cooking.

The results: well I was very pleased with it, the bread had a very open texture that the photo doesn't really show. It was chewy with a slight crispness to the crust and was even still OK after a couple of days kept in a plastic bag - something that surprised me as it hasn't got any fat added to it. It was even good toasted 3 days after it was made.

...and the rest of the starter? Well I added 125gm flour and 125gm water to it and will use it for my next loaf. On the days I don't make bread I will tip 250gm away and add another 125gm each of flour and water. In time I hope I will be able to make regularly without adding any dried yeast. But, that's for another day...


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