Bread Bonanza – Ciabatta Experiments

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I used to make bread and stuff like cinnamon rolls quite a lot in my younger years. Maybe I had more patience. Maybe I wanted to eat more bread. At some point dealing with temperamental yeast and waiting for all the rise and re-rise processes to finish became too much for my feverish self. I think in some ways my interest started to wane at the same time as bread machines became all the rage. It seemed like such a lazy shortcut to let a machine supersede the beauty of the long operation of making bread completely by hand.

Perhaps I am getting back to that calmer, more patient self because my interest in bread baking is rekindled.

Now after making the hell out of focaccia bread (about five times in the last month), it’s time to try out ciabatta. It’s more complicated and time consuming than focaccia so not sure when I will try it – but will naturally write about it when I do.

Ciabatta recipe
Starter

1/4 ounce fresh yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
3 cups regular flour

To make the starter
Cream the yeast with a small amount of water. Sift the flour into a bowl and gradually add in the yeast mixture and enough of the rest of the water to form a firm dough. Turn onto a floured surface and knead for five minutes. Return the smooth dough to the bowl and cover with a well-oiled plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place for 12 hours.

Dough
1/2 ounce fresh yeast
1 2/3 cups lukewarm water
4 tablespoons lukewarm milk
4 1/2 cups strong bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

To make the bread
When the starter has risen and started to collapse, it’s time for the next step.

Sprinkle three baking sheets with flour. Mix the yeast for dough with a bit of water until creamy. Mix in remaining water. Add this yeast mixture to the starter and mix well. Beat in the milk with a wooden spoon. Mix in the flour by hand for about 15 minutes, forming a very wet mixture.

Beat in the salt and oil. Cover with a piece of oiled plastic wrap and let rise for two hours (or until doubled).

Once risen, turn one-third of the dough at a time out onto the prepared pans (trying not to deflate the remaining dough in the process). Flour your hands and shape each bit of dough into oblong loaves about 1 inche (2.5 cm) thick and flatten slightly. Sprinkle the dough lightly with flour and let rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425F/220C and bake for 30 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

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