Saturday, January 15, 2011


 In the town where I grew up, there were two grocery stores:  IGA and Gateway.  And sometimes, if you were very, very lucky, Gateway sold freshly baked bread.  It was right there on the counter in this miniscule bakery they had right by the meat section.  And when we smelled that heavenly smell, my sister and I made a bee line to see if there was any bread left.  Maybe that's where I first fell in love with homemade bread.  If so, thus began a lifelong love affair.  Since I fell in love with cooking and eating, I naturally decided to master bread baking.  I'm still working on that mastery.

Baking bread is an art.  It takes knowledge and skill, imagination and faith.  Ciabatta is a prime example.  The dough is so wet that you are certain there is no way that is every going to make anything other than a re-creation of Jabba the Hut.  Well, I'm here to tell you that ciabatta is possible, if you just have faith.

Ciabatta (from America's Text Kitchen Television Show 10th Anniversary Best Recipes 2001-2010)

1 cup (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1/2 cup water, room temperature

2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for the dough and work surface
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1/2 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1/4 cup milk, room temperature
3/4 cup water, room temperature

Number of servings:  2 loaves x 8 slices per loaf (this is a generously sized slice!  so 16 servings)
KCal:  88
Total fat: 0g
Carbs: 18g Dietary fiber: 1g
Protein: 3g
Weight Watchers Points Plus:  2

Mix the sponge in a medium bowl until a uniform mass forms, about 1 minute.  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for at least 8 hours but up to 24 hours.  Over this 24 hours, the yeast will begin to ferment the bread, bubbles will form on the surface, and the sponge will begin to look very wet.  Like so.

Honestly, it reminds me of a pancake ready to flip.  When the sponge is done, ready the dry ingredients.

Then the wet ingredients.  A little tip: if you are lactose intolerant, you needn't worry about that these days.  This stuff will do.

Put the sponge and the wet and dry ingredients in the Kitchenaid mixer and using the paddle, let her rip.  Did I mention that sponge would be VERY wet?

Takes about 6-8 minutes til the dough comes together as a single mass.  You must have faith.  It takes that long for the gluten to develop.  You will doubt yourself at this point because SURELY no bread dough was ever this wet.

Then you switch to the dough hook.  Another 10 minutes.  I just set a timer and let it go.  Sometimes the dough will come together as a mass.  Today, mine never did.  I was fearless.

Now you must let the dough rise.  (Cover with plastic.)  When it has doubled in size, you take a bench scraper to the sides of the bowl and draw the dough over onto itself 8 times (turning the bowl a quarter turn as you work).  Cover again with the plastic wrap and let it rise again until doubled or tripled in size.  My kitchen was cold, so this took a while.  Maybe two hours.

Lots o' bubbles at this point.  Now, you want to cut out two pieces of parchment about 6"x12".  Dust them liberally with flour and spill out that very wet dough onto them. You will want to liberally dust all sides of the dough right away so you can work with it because it is seriously very Jabba-the-Hut-like at this point.  Take your bench knife and divide it in two, putting each piece on its own parchment. Do not forget to liberally dust the parchment before you attempt this.  You'll spend the next 20 minute of your life trying to detach the bread from the paper.  When you can handle it, stretch each dough piece into a very long rectangle.  You want to pick the dough up (with well floured hands), stretching it to about 3 feet in length and fold it like a business letter in thirds.  It will shrink up a little bit.  Then form it into a rough rectangle and let it rise for at least 30 minutes while your oven preheats to 450 degrees.

Although they are hard to see in this pic, there will be little air bubbles forming all over the surface of the dough.  This is good. 

Bake 22-27 minutes on a baking stone (opening oven to spray dough with water twice during the first 5 minutes.  So, ok.  I don't have a water sprayer or an oil sprayer.  So I flick a generous amount of water onto the dough.  It doesn't seem to matter.  Because look!  Voila!  Perfect ciabatta!

I can't even describe the smell, but you are going to have a hard time holding off from slicing it right away.  The crust is chewy, the airy interior is tender.  This stuff is dangerous.  Dogs must be locked in another room.  I take this bread and I slather it with a lovely jalapeno-infused honey that I made back in the summer.

Man, life is good.  Isn't it?

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  1. Ooh this looks awesome! I may have to try this soon. The gooey dough intrigues me, and would've totally panicked me as an inexperienced ciabatta-maker.

  2. You know, Mama Bee, this is one of the pluses of America's Test Kitchen recipes. They've already done all the mistake making. You just have to go with it and trust they know what they are talking about. They've never steered me wrong yet.

  3. That looks like it ought to be illegal! Yum! I have great admiration for your efforts. One thing I don't do or ever care to master is bread making. I even get sweaty palms imagining making a scratch pie crust. Don't know why....just not interested in learning.

  4. And I never have any interest in visiting Australia. Who's to say why we have these massive lacks of interest in people who are insanely curious otherwise!

  5. And I don't have a Kitchen Aid Mixer... This makes my arm tired to think about. Ten minutes with Kitchen Aid is 15 minutes at least by hand! I tried baguettes last weekend. No joke, the kneading time was 25 minutes of HARD kneading to get it to the satiny smooth texture the recommended. Ugh. I thought Mediterranean cultures were known for their laziness? Apparently the bakers are a different breed.

  6. Well, you could casually mention to D-ennis what it is going to take for you to GET a Kitchen Aid mixer. Perhaps the promise of freshly made bread will put him over the hump. LOL!!!!

  7. You have inspired me to try this... maybe this weekend at camp when I have lots of downtime and little technology :-)


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