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BBA #7: Ciabatta

July 1, 2009
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Ciabatta! Mmm, tasty. My favorite bread for dipping in olive oil, and it’s not too shabby as a sandwich bread, either. Ciabatta was the name of the game for me last weekend, as the latest bread in the BBA challenge. Let’s get right down to business as I’m already late to my self-imposed posting deadline (oh well) and my stomach is growling for dinner. Looking at these pictures won’t help much. πŸ™‚

I was excited to make this bread because it seemed like it would be one of the more complicated ones we’ve done so far in the BBA Challenge. The main issue is hydration: ciabatta dough has a much higher hydration level than other bread doughs, and the hydration level is what produces (hopefully) the nice big open holes in the crumb. As you can see from my picture above, my holes weren’t as hole-y as they could have been, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

The process for making this dough starts with a pre-ferment: either a poolish or a biga. I chose to make a biga, as the other BBA participants seemed to have good results using this method. To make the biga, I mixed AP flour, yeast and water together in a bowl, then kneaded it until it came together in a ball.






I then let the ball of dough rise until doubled in size, which took about 2 hours.


After degassing the risen biga, I then stored it in the fridge for a long, slow fermentation. I ended up storing it in the fridge for two days, which could only help in developing a good flavor with the bread. When I took the biga out to warm up to room temperature on the third day, here’s how nice and bubbly it looked:


When I was ready to make the ciabatta dough, I cut the biga up into 10 pieces. These were then added to my electric stand mixer along with more water, olive oil, and bread flour (I chose to mix AP and bread flours, between the biga and dough, as other BBA participants said using some portion of AP flour seemed to give better results as far as size of holes.)



I mixed this dough up until it came together in a sticky mass — this is much stickier than a traditional bread dough, due to the level of liquid.


I then gathered the mass and turned it out onto a bed of flour, patting it into an 8-inch long rectangle.

NOTE: you do NOT need to use this much flour. I was being cautious but, well, let’s just say I didn’t need my end result to be so floury.


Each side of the rectangle is then stretched out, lengthwise, and folded back over the dough, envelope style.


I let the dough rest for 30Β  minutes, then repeated the stretch-and-fold process. That dough then fermented at room temperature for about 2 hours, after which it had grown quite significantly in size.


Using my dough scraper, I carefully cut this mass of dough into two smaller rectangles, trying not to degas the dough as I cut it.


I then repeated the same stretch-and-fold process with each loaf. Reinhart then instructs readers to proof the dough in a couche, which is traditionally a sturdy canvas cloth that can be folded around the proofing dough to give it support on the sides. I do not own a couche, so I crafted a makeshift one with a dishtowel (just be sure not to use a terrycloth dishtowel – this one was a flat weave and as you can see, very well-floured – so it wouldn’t stick to the dough.)

Again, NOTE: you do NOT need to use this much flour. I was just being overly cautious.


After another hour or so, my ciabattas had swelled up nicely and it was time to transfer them to my pizza peel so that I could transfer them into the oven (which had been preheated to 500 degrees F.)



The next part of the process is lacking pictures, mainly because it was a little too tricky to perform and document simultaneously. To simulate a professional steam-injected baker’s oven, I placed a heavy metal sheet pan on the bottom rack of the oven. On the second rack of the oven, placed in the middle, I put my baking stone. When I transferred the dough to the baking stone (which gives it a nice crust), I poured hot water into the metal sheet pan on the bottom of the oven, creating a big burst of steam. I then sprayed the walls of the oven every 30 seconds, 3 times, to create periodic bursts of steam and moisture. After the third spray, I turned the oven down to 450 degrees and baked for about 15 minutes.

Here’s what emerged:




Not too bad, although as I’ve mentioned before, I think I could really have gotten away with using less flour. I had to tap off the loaves to get rid of some of the excess flour.

And here was the moment of truth: the crumb shot —


Hrm. Not nearly the holes I was looking for. It tasted great — believe me — we devoured a whole loaf on the spot with some olive oil and herbs from our garden. I’d like to make this bread again, though, and increase the amount of water in the dough formula. I’ve been reading through some of the other BBA bakers’ experiences with this dough, and the consensus seems to be that the recipe could use an even higher level of hydration. So, all in all, this was a good challenge and a challenge in the exact sense of the word: something to go back to and try again and work towards perfecting.

Because good ciabatta, dipped in nice olive oil, is a hard thing to beat.

You can find this ciabatta recipe online here.

Previous BBA bread: Challah

Up next: Cinnamon Rolls (growl, growl goes my stomach!)

12 Comments leave one →
  1. July 1, 2009 6:27 pm

    Loved your pictures, I did mine with a poolish, and was curious to see if your biga version would produce bigger holes.

    Mine, like yours, tasted great too, but…. pretty tight crumb.

  2. July 1, 2009 7:31 pm

    Wow, that’s gorgeous! I think I’ll up the hydration of this one – it seems like no one got quite the holes that they wanted.

  3. July 1, 2009 8:10 pm

    I love Ciabatta and this looks lovely.

  4. July 1, 2009 11:02 pm

    Great post, well documented. I’m a ciabatta fan and have not had good luck with PR’s BBA formula. I have found a different recipe that I think produces much better results and is faster and easier. How often does that happen? I did a side by side comparison recently and you can see the results.

  5. Mona permalink
    July 1, 2009 11:52 pm

    That looks amazing. I’ve only made soda bread before, but that looks very much worth the effort.

  6. July 2, 2009 3:39 am

    I know I’ll be making this again. I loved the taste.
    You did great and as always nice baking along with you,

  7. July 2, 2009 8:19 am

    You make the most amazing looking breads.

    I wanted you to know that I’m giving you a blog award. Please stop by my site to pick it up.

  8. July 2, 2009 9:40 am

    these look amazing, Amy! Cinnamon rolls next? Oh wow. πŸ™‚

  9. July 2, 2009 10:31 am

    Ah, okay! Yeah, I’ve always loved Ciabatta for its mild taste, soft texture, and plenty and plenty of holes πŸ™‚ Maybe the addition of too much flour into the process contributed, too. Well, it’ll still be great with olive oil/sandwiches regardless πŸ™‚

  10. July 2, 2009 5:39 pm

    I’ve always loved ciabatta, and like you said, with olive oil and fresh herbs it’s to die for! Great post!

  11. July 9, 2009 7:45 pm

    sallybr – yes; I’d like to try this again with a higher hydration level…I think that could help open up the crumb.

    Caitlin – good call; I’ll have to pop over and see yours!

    Whitney – thanks πŸ™‚

    Ethan – great to know! I may give that version a try, or up the percentage of water in the BBA version as an experiment.

    Mona – it was definitely delicious, even if the holes weren’t as big as I’d like!

    Susie – thanks! Nice baking with you too. πŸ™‚

    Jamie – thanks very much!

    Jessie – oh yes. I was looking forward to them. πŸ™‚

    Manggy – yes! I forgot to say that – that was another factor I thought of, as well. I think I overloaded my bed of flour a bit too much. πŸ™‚ Oh well…there’s always a next time, right?

    Faith – thanks!

  12. June 17, 2010 11:08 pm

    I love this! I gave up on recipes using ciabatta because I’ve never been able to find it in the stores (you can’t rely on mid-western supermarkets).
    I’ve looked through this and it’s no more complicated that the other breads I’ve taken a kick at.
    haha, going to have to run to the store this weekend.

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