I absolutely love a ciabatta loaf. It has a great open and airy crumb, perfect chewy texture, and a thin and crispy crust. It’s a perfect dinner or soup bread. Not really meant for making sandwiches or slicing for toast. It’s definitely a grab-a-hunk-and-stuff-it-in-your-mouth kind of bread.
And it’s incredibly simple to make at home. Ciabatta, by nature, is a very wet dough, which is why it has that revered open crumb. The hydration for ciabatta ranges from 75% to 80%, though I’ve seen some crazy people use 85% hydration. It is almost impossible to fully develop the gluten, especially in a home kitchenaid style mixer. Our countertop mixers, although versatile and fantastic, just aren’t optimized for bread mixing, and this is an example where that shows. A stiff preferment is necessary to help out with developing the gluten structure.
This dough benefits from extra folding. Which is good, because it also benefits from an extra hour of bulk fermentation. Ciabatta is such a simple bread to make, that it even skips some of the twelve steps of baking. It goes straight from the dividing step into the final proof, eliminating the pre-shape, bench rest, and final shape, as this rustic loaf is ready to rise as is.
This particular ciabatta recipe adds a small amount of whole wheat flour, which helps give it just a bit of extra complexity in the flavor, as well as a small amount of texture in the crumb. I stole the idea from a bakery I used to work at. Actually, this is pretty much the exact formulation. That being said, even with their formulation, it is virtually impossible to get a home ciabatta to match the magnificence of theirs, simply due to the lack of the right equipment.
For most of my bread making, I use King Arthur’s all-purpose flour. However, because of the hydration level of this dough, I would recommend stepping it up and getting their bread flour, which is a good and strong flour for this kind of application. In my bake, I had to settle for Gold Medal’s bread flour because the commissary didn’t have King Arthur’s. The result, while still a very nice loaf, was a flatter loaf that I was hoping for. Either way, I’m gonna devour the hell out of it.
So, here you will see one of my exceptions for autolysing. Technically speaking, only the water and flour should be combined. However, because of the limited capabilities of a home stand mixer, I always add my pre-ferment in with the autolyse. The reason I do this is because it can sometimes be difficult to add the pre-ferment after the initial incorporation, resulting in more time spent trying the mix it in. This negates the whole reason for an autolyse in the first place. In most cases, the yeast activity in a pre-ferment is minimal, as it has already reached peak activity, so it won’t affect the dough while it rests.
When the ciabiatta is in its final proof stage, I utilize the couche method for keeping its shape. Although a true couche is made from a type of linen, I easily achieve the same result by taking a large, thin dish towel and tossing it around in a bowl of flour. This gets the flour in the fibers of the cloth so that the ciabatta dough won’t stick to it. Just make sure to shake it off outside when you’re finished before you try to throw it in the washer 😉
here comes the formula
|Total Dough||Pre-Ferment||Final Dough|
|Ingredient||%||Weight (lbs)||%||Weight (lbs)||Weight (lbs)|
|Total||177%||2 lbs||165%||.71||2 lbs|
The amount of flavor that develops in the bread is kind of mind boggling
Hey, look! You have another awesome loaf of bread!
Appreciate it. Cut it open. Look at the crumb. Smell it. Place it against your tongue. Chew it. Now, that’s a nice bread!
Oh, and if you’re like me and cut off the ends to make the dough rectangular, you probably baked those little end pieces while you were waiting for your dough to rise. Also delicious 😉
When at the stage where you must transfer the ciabatta loaf from the couche to the oven peel to the stone in the oven, it is crucial to work quickly and gently. If you’re too rough or you take your time, it is easy to traumatize the dough and the air will escape, resulting in a flatter loaf. This is the reason why I don’t have any pictures detailing this particular process.