Ever since Giacobazzi’s introduced me to the pleasures of good Parma ham, buffalo mozzarella and pesto on ciabatta, I have wondered how this light and crusty bread was made.
You see, the problem with ciabatta dough is that it is too wet. With about 70% water to flour, this dough isn’t knead able in the conventional sense. When I tried, simply spent the best part of an hour smearing it across my worktop.
The secret to ciabatta is not the recipe, it’s the dough handling technique. Researching how to make it, most of the recipes say approximately the same thing, with minor variations on ratios, rising time and whether you mak an overnight sponge.
The enigma for the amateur baker has always been, how do you handle such a wet and sticky dough?
Enter Richard Bertinet. This video gives you all you need to know on how to work a dough that’s sticky and wet. The slam, fold, scoop method like all l33t skills takes a bit of practise, but it really works well.
The recipe I used was based on Monsieur Bertinet’s, which I found on A Canadian Foodie. A couple of changes were made to adapt it to the ingredients I was using (8 have no access to Italian bread flour) and with a bit of experimentation I fiddled with the quantities to adapt it to the amount of bread the kungfoodie family eats every week. I also don’t use fresh yeast so the quantities of that had to change.
The Overnight Sponge
400g strong white flour
1/4 tsp of yeast
250 ml water
The Ciabatta Dough
600g strong white flour
1/2 tsp yeast
5 tbsp olive oil
Mix all of the above into the overnight sponge. Keep mixing it up with your hands until it starts to come together. You’ll get something really sticky, but that’s ok.
Start using the slam, fold, scoop method shown in the video. Keep working it and eventually it’ll start to get much more smooth and silky, and a lot less sticky too. By the time I was through with it it was starting to look decidedly ciabatta-like.
Stick it back in the mixng bowl and cover with a shower cap or put it in a clean bin bag. Leave it to rise till about doubled in size. Now, this doubled in sizes business is just a guide. From what I can gather, it’s more of a “till it looks right” sort of thing. What I was looking for was the dough to get lighter and fluffier
When it’s ready, tip it onto a well floured worktop. The dough should come out of the bowl fairly easily. Just like in the video it shouldn’t stick.
Cut the dough into strips of about the same size. If your rolls are all of the same size, they’ll all take the same amount of time to bake. That’s nota very good example in that picture, I’ve made these of slightly different sizes, because this ciabatta bake was also an experiment to see how large and small rolls baked in the oven.
Flour a tea towel in a tray or baking sheet. Imagine lines dividing each strip into thirds, and fold each third in towards the centre. Place on the floured tea towel and leave to prove until it’s light and fluffy again. Note Godzilla in the corner, the extra large ciabatta I thought I’d experiment with.
About 20 minutes before I thought they were going to be ready for baking, the oven went on at 250C to give it time to heat up. A roasting tin went into the bottom, and I had about 500ml of water in the kettle, boiled and ready.
Working fast, the ciabatta were placed on an oiled (not floured) baking sheet, shoved in the oven and the hot water was poured into the roasting. Oven door shut the temperature was turned down to 220C. When the oven is opened a lot of heat is lost, so preheating it to a higher temperature before you put the rolls in helps compensate for this heat loss.
The rolls were baked for about 15-20 minutes. I had to pull the smaller ones out at about 15 minutes and 20 for Godzilla.
Things I’ve found
Ciabatta rolls are better made small. Godzilla came out like a loaf, and it was difficult to get it cooked all the way through without burning the crust.
Ciabatta really needs a crunchy crust. Large ciabatta rolls need a bit longer in the oven to get that and they go decidedly loaf-like rather than roll-like, so smaller is nicer.
When you bake on a baking sheet, use olive oil to stop the dough from sticking, you have to use a lot of flour and I for one, didn’t like the floury taste that too much flour gave the roll.