Ciabatta. Old Italien baking tradition. Did you think so?
Well, I did. But to my surprise, I could read a few days ago, that it was invented as late as 1982 by a gentleman called Francesco Favaron.
He thought that the shape reminded about his wife’s slippers. Therefore, he baptized the bread to the Ciabatta, slipper in Italian.
Despite the low age, the bread has been very successful. You can find it almost all around the world.
And that is not so strange. It is a real crowd pleaser with its thin crispy crust and soft crumb filled with oversized air pockets.
It’s the number one choice for all sorts of grilled sandwiches. After reading this, I realized that It was quite som time since I baked Ciabatta. I couldn’t understand why.
A “real” ciabatta always begins with a Biga. A Biga is a starter based on flour, water, and yeast that is left to ferment for at least 12 hours. Some recipes use commercial yeast, but I don’t. I prefer to use a mature and lively sourdough starter instead.
Making a Biga is easy. You just mix water with flour and starter in a kitchen bowl. Be sure that all flour is hydrated.
Cover it with clingfilm and let it ferment for 12 hours at room temperature.
When it’s ready, it should look something like this.
Now it’s time to add the rest of the ingredients, except salt.
Mix everything thoroughly and let the dough rest for an hour.
There is one thing you should know before you start baking this Ciabatta.
The dough is wet. Very wet. If you hate dealing with wet sticky doughs, you should probably try something else.
The easiest way to deal with it is probably with a dough mixer, which I recommend.
But not everybody has a dough mixer. Therefore I decided to use the stretch and fold technique.
It worked pretty well. Just dip your hands in some water now and then. It will prevent the dough sticking to your fingers.
I repeated the stretching and folding once an hour during the bulk fermentation process. I added the salt during the first stretch and folding session.
After the last session, I let the dough ferment for an additional hour.
Now it’s time to stretch out the dough. Spread flour on your working surface. Don’t make the same mistake as I did. Don’t skimp with the flour. You will regret that later. I thought I had spread out tons of flour. But it was still not enough. I’ll come back to that later.
Stretch out the dough to a flat rectangular shape. Be careful not to pressure out too much gas out of the dough.
Let it rise for an hour.
Now it’s time to cut the dough into pieces. Cut the dough in half lengthways and divide each half into stripes.
It was at this point I started to face some problems. The dough was sticking to the surface despite all the flour I had spread on it. It also stuck to the bench knife I was using. The first Ciabattas looked like something made by an ape. And suddenly I remembered why it was so long ago since I baked Ciabatta.
But I didn’t give up. I cut the rest of the Ciabattas with a knife dipped in water while I scraped them loose with the bench knife. The last ones looked pretty decent.
Next time I will use a bread mixer. The stretch and folding worked pretty well, but I think the structure of the dough will improve if you run it in a mixer.
Use more flour on the working surface.
The hydration of this dough is about 70%. That may not sound like much for some of you readers. Especially if you’re living in US or Canada. Remember that your bread flour is stronger than what we are used to here in Europe. The flour I used has 11.5 % protein. You may have to increase the water amount to get the same result if you are using a much stronger flour. I have found recipes from the US with 80% hydration.