Ciabatta

Italian slipper bread

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes

    1

    loaf

Appears in

Making Bread at Home

Making Bread at Home

By Tom Jaine

Published 2005

  • About

One of the great successes of British breadmaking in the last ten years has been the overwhelming acceptance of this Italian loaf! The dough and the method come from the north of Italy, around the city of Como at the edge of the great Alpine lake, though it has perhaps travelled further in mind and technological process than actual miles on the road. What appeals especially to the English is the cakey tenderness that comes from olive oil in the dough and the soft yet flavorous crust.

It is not an easy loaf to make at home. There are perhaps two things which set trade bakeries apart from home production. The first is the nature of the ovens, the second is the willingness and ability of the professional to handle moist and difficult doughs.

Ciabatta is one of the wettest and the temptation to add more flour is almost irresistible, even though that would change the nature of the loaf itself. The dough is kneaded in the bowl rather than on the table, which helps combat the temptation. It is unfortunate that different flours need different amounts of water. No recipe, therefore, can get it exactly right. Another temptation for the home cook is to disbelieve the cookery book.

The flour I use every day is a stoneground organic unbleached white flour of breadmaking quality. It absorbs less water than a finely roller-milled North American hard spring wheat, but rather more than a soft flour suitable for general kitchen purposes.

A ciabatta made according to this recipe may have better flavour than a commercial loaf inasmuch as it uses the Italian yeasted starter, biga, which is ripened for 12 hours or more, to add flavour.

You can also control the quality of olive oil in the dough, trying to find something fresh and fruity to give that added pungency, though this recipe does not rely on oil to the extent of some English interpretations.

Ingredients

  • 225 g/8 oz biga
  • 15 g/½ oz fresh yeast
  • 200 ml/7 fl oz warm water
  • 300 g/10 oz unbleached white bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried milk powder
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Method

  1. Put the biga in a large bowl and crumble in the yeast. Pour in the water and mix to a soup, squeezing the dough through your fingers to break it up. Mix the flour with the salt and the milk powder, then add to the liquid in the bowl handful by handful, mixing vigorously all the while.
  2. When you have added all the flour, pour in the olive oil and continue mixing with circular sweeps of the cupped hand, lifting the dough and stretching it at each beat. Without using a machine, you are conditioning the flour and stretching the gluten.
  3. Although it will continue impossibly wet, all the time you work it, the flour is absorbing the moisture and taking on more of the character of a normal dough.
  4. Eventually change the movement to something more like kneading - bringing the hand round in a sweeping motion, then punching the fist right into the dough. Count on performing at least 1,000 mixing or kneading movements. Pause occasionally, to wipe your brow.
  5. Leave the dough to rise in a bowl covered with clingfim in a warm place (26°C/80°F) for about 2½ hours. It will grow considerably. The consistency of the dough makes it unlikely that you will want to knock it back and shape it on the work surface.
  6. The simpler procedure is to prepare a warmed baking sheet with a heavy dusting of flour. Pour the risen dough over the centre of the baking sheet, then tease this rough pile into an oblong shape measuring about 30 × 15 cm/12 × 6 inches. Either use the edge of a dough scraper to push round the edges, or well floured fingertips to push and tuck the edge into shape.
  7. Shake flour over the top of the loaf, cover it with oiled clingfilm and leave it to prove at 26°C/80° F for about 45 minutes. It will spread as well as rise. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 230°C/450°F/gas 8.
  8. Bake the bread in the centre of the oven for about 20-25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.