Recipe: Basic Ciabatta

The way I originally learned how to make ciabatta was with a poolish or a biga preferment that I’d start the night before baking. That is the real traditional way of making it. In fact, according to Carol Fields in her book “The Italian Baker,” many Italian bakers keep a biga on hand and use it much like a sourdough starter, breaking off pieces as needed. But this afternoon, knowing that I was going to be preparing spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, I wanted to have some Italian-style bread to accompany the meal. I mean… How could I not have bread with Italian food?!

The only problem was that I didn’t have a biga on hand and though I did have a sourdough starter that I could use, it was 3pm in the afternoon! Not nearly enough time to get a preferment going.

So I decided to make a real quick version of ciabatta that I’d make with basic ingredients and just use regular, old commercial yeast for rising the dough. This recipe is absolutely simple and straight-forward, and not only that, produces an incredible bread with a crunchy crust and light, fluffy interior. It’s also probably one of the only recipes where I will use nothing but all-purpose flour. The best part is that it’ll take less than an hour-and-a-half to make this bread!

Ingredients

Unbleached All-Purpose Flour*500 grams
Water375 grams
Milk**50 grams
Olive Oil20 grams
Salt10 grams
Yeast7 grams
*Preferably organic and definitely > 11% protein. You can use Bob’s Red Mill or King Arthur. I use Azure Market AP Flour.

**If you don’t want to use milk, that’s okay, just use all water, but milk will help with the fluffiness of the bread.
  1. Preheat your oven to 485° F / 250° C.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together with a whisk (yes, even the salt).
  3. In a separate vessel, combine the milk and the water.
    1. If your milk is cold, don’t worry. Just make sure your water is warm to offset the coolness of the milk.
  4. Create a well in the middle of the dry ingredients then pour the liquid into the well including the olive oil.
  5. Using a fork, with a quick circular motion within the well, gradually work the flour into the liquid, much like you’d incorporate egg yolks into semolina if you’ve ever made or seen pasta being made.
  6. Mix until no dry ingredients are present and the mixture is somewhat smooth (it may be a bit shaggy, but that’s okay).
  7. Cover the bowl with a cloth and let the mixture rest for 20 minutes in a warm place. I use my oven with door cracked to get some heat from the oven light.
  8. After the dough has rested, do a series of stretch and folds in the bowl. Feel free to wet your hand often to prevent sticking. Stretch and fold until you feel tension building in the dough. At the end of your stretch and fold session, the dough should be considerably smoother.
    1. At 89% hydration, you won’t feel that much tension, but you will be able to feel the dough strength building.
  9. Cover the bowl with a cloth and let rest for another 20 minutes.
  10. Pour the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Be generous with the flour because the dough’s really wet!
  11. Make sure to scrape your bowl out really well, then liberally spray or paint olive oil onto the inside of the bowl and set it aside.
  12. With floured hands, tug the dough into a rough rectangle, then starting from the long ends, letter fold the dough three times, alternating sides.
  13. Roll the dough onto the folds, then form the dough into a nice, round ball and place the dough seam side down into bowl.
  14. Cover again and let rest for 20 minutes.
  15. Slide the dough onto a well-floured surface; again being generous with the flour, and tug the dough into a rough rectangle.
  16. Using your bench scraper, cut the dough into four roughly equal pieces, and tug them into rough rectangles.
  17. Transfer each piece to a transfer board if using a baking stone, or just place on a baking sheet.
  18. With well-floured hands, dimple each piece to prevent the dough from over-puffing while baking.
  19. Place the dough in the oven, then bake with steam for 12 minutes at 485° F/250° C.
  20. Remove steaming container, then bake for another 8-10 minutes at 425° F/220° C.
  21. Remove from oven and let cool for at least 10-15 minutes. Yes, these are meant to be eaten while hot.

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