Artisan Bread: Ciabatta

CiabattaWhat happens when you step outside of your comfort zone? For some, there’s a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction and pride. For others, there’s the fetal position. I’m somewhere in the middle… I took an artisan bread class.

You see, I decided to leave my comfort zone about a month ago, making the final jump shortly afterward. I left my job, my steady paycheck, my lovely office away from home and my marketing expertise to pursue my passion for writing, editing and cooking. Yup, I did it. Mmm hmm. Yup. (It’s still sinking in.)

My first day of working from home was fabulous. A little work here, a little laundry there – I felt so productive! But as the week progressed, I had many what-have-I-done moments.

I found myself talking to my pets as if they actually understood what I was saying.  I was making lists like they were going out of style, giving myself an unfathomable amount of to-dos. I felt myself pivoting in this new lifestyle and I was a little worried about my decision – I thought I had taken this leap of faith to choose a direction!

So, that’s what I did. I picked myself up and I chose a direction. Instead of just curling my knees to my chest and rocking back and forth like psycho from Psycho, I decided to invest in my passion and enroll in an artisan bread class. (Go me!) In this first installment, I’m sharing a very easy recipe for Ciabatta. (It looks lengthy, but I promise, it’s easy and so worth it!) Though I should warn you: It does require patience!

A couple of notes before we get started:

Yeast: I will be using active dry yeast in this post and many others. Don’t mistake this for rapid rise yeast or instant – active dry yeast is what we’re looking for and you can find it in any grocery store. I recommend reaching to the back of the shelf for the yeast that is furthest from expiration. Trust me, you’ll be happier with you bread in the end!

Preferment: A pre-ferment is a fermentation starter that is used in many artisan breads to develop more complex flavor and improve the overall quality of the final bread product. The preferment provides more time for yeast, enzyme and/or bacterial actions to work their magic on the starch and proteins in the dough. (Translation: Yummy!) For Ciabatta, we’ll be making “Biga.”

All right, here we go… (Quite honestly, I can’t believe I’m trying to tackle artisan bread on a blog. But again, it’s all about stepping out of your comfort zone, right?!)

 

Homemade Ciabatta

Start by making your preferment, Biga:

½ teaspoon active dry yeast

½ cup warm (NOT HOT) water

3 ½ cups bread flour

1 ¼ cup cool water

In a small bowl, dissolve the active dry yeast in warm water. Set it aside for a few minutes until it is creamy. Measure the flour into a large bowl. Using a sturdy wooden spoon, form a well in the center of the flour and add the yeast mixture and the cool water to the well. Stir all the ingredients together until sticky and thoroughly combined. Cover tightly and ferment slowly in the refrigerator for 24 hours or at room temperature for 6 to 12 hours.

 

The next day, you’re ready to make your Ciabatta:

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 ¼ cup warm (NOT HOT) water

3 cups bread flour

2 ½ teaspoons salt

2 cups Biga

Dissolve the yeast in warm water; set aside for a couple of minutes until the mixture feels silky. Combine proofed yeast with flour and biga in a stand mixer and mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until well blended. Allow the mixture to rest in the mixer bowl for about 10 minutes.

After the dough has rested, switch to the dough hook attachment, add the salt to the dough and mix on medium speed until a smooth, soft, wet dough has formed, about five minutes. Transfer the dough to a large bowl generously sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise for one hour, or until it has doubled in size.

Spray a spatula with non-stick spray and fold each edge (one at a time) of the risen dough toward the center, creating a total of eight folds.  Recover the bowl and let the dough rise a second time, about 30 minutes. Repeat the folding process one last time, recover and let rise again until the dough has doubled in volume, about 30 minutes longer.

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Liberally flour your counter and gently transfer the dough to it, being very careful not to deflate the dough. Flour the top of the dough and divide it in half. Take one of the halves and, with well-floured hands, gently spread the dough into a rectangle. Then fold the short sides in like a letter fold. Repeat with the second half.

Gently and carefully transfer each loaf, seam side down, to the parchment-lined baking sheet and lightly dimple the tops of the loaves with your fingertips. Cover the loaves with a dish towel and allow them to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

Spray the loaves lightly with water and bake at 475 degrees Fahrenheit until the crust is golden brown, about 25 minutes. (It is a good idea to spray the loaves with water a second time within the first 10 minutes of baking. However, this step is not imperative.)

 

*That’s it! Leave your questions here – I’ll either have the answer or I’ll take the questions to class and find out.*

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