Sunday 14 July 2013

Ciabatta - a traditional rustic bread

Today I'm sharing a traditional rustic bread recipe by Peter Reinhart with which I made my wholemeal ciabatta. There was a period of time when I used to make this bread quite often. I'm not sure why I stopped... must be the time factor,  because preparing & baking bread requires a long waiting time which, very often, is a luxury for me..

Last week, my eldest daughter suggested that I start baking the bread again because she said store-bought ones are unhealthy because of all the long list of ingredients, a lot of them we don't even recognise. Actually, there are healthy ones out there, but they tend to be very expensive. I used to buy ciabattas from Cedele & the ciabatta costs about $5 a piece!

This recipe uses the delayed cold fermentation method which Reinhart  discussed in great details in his book The Whole Grain. I can't remember why I bought this book, but I do remember that when I  first bought it, I could not stop reading it, especially the theoretical aspect where he explains his journey in developing & fine-tuning his recipes. This is definitely a must-buy book for those who are keen to bake breads using wholemeal & other healthy grain at home. In a nutshell, Reinhart concludes that his overnight cold delayed fermentation method of preparing bread fully develops the  flavour for the bread. It also helps the dough to develop a strong structure, which can be a problem when baking bread using a high concentration of whole grain using the  normal way of preparing bread. 

At first I thought that only my eldest daughter & I love eating the ciabatta but I was pleasantly surprised when my second daughter was also excited when she realised that I was baking it. She once commented that the ciabattas that she bought from the supermarket were normally quite tasteless. I was even more surprised when my son gave his thumps up after eating it.  So we finished eating the first batch within 3 days & yesterday, I made a second batch. Based on the response, I can definitely say that the ciabatta is very flavourful.  Besides, it is also  dense & chewy. So if you are looking for  the soft & fluffy kind of bread, then this is not the one.

Traditional Rustic Bread
Recipe by Peter Reinhart from Whole Grain Breads.
(I've simplified the method.)

283g (2 1/2 C) whole wheat flour - I used 300g.
283g (2 1/2 C) unbleached bread flour - I used 300g.
1 tsp (3g) instant yeast
2 C (454g) water (about 21 deg C)
1 1/2 tsp (11g) salt
2 tbsp (28.5g) olive oil


If mixing by hand:

  1. Mix flour, instant yeast & water in a bowl & mix for 2 – 3 mins. Use wet hands to mix, or if using a spoon, dip the spoon in a bowl of water from time to time to prevent dough from sticking. Dough will be sticky but smooth. Adjust the water or flour as needed.
  2. Add salt & mix for about 1 minute.
  3. Add olive oil & mix for about 15 seconds, just enough to coat the dough.
  4. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, uncovered. Then mix again for 1 minute.
If using a stand mixer (use a paddle attachment):

  1. Place flour, yeast & water & mix at low speed for 2 mins.
  2. Add salt & mix for 15 secs.
  3. With the machine off, add olive oil & mix for 15 secs.
  4. Let dough rest for 5 mins, uncovered. Mix again, on medium speed, for 30 secs to 1 min. The dough will be stronger but still sticky. If it feels like a batter and has no structure, adjust with flour. Dough should still be sticky.
At the end of the mixing, the dough should be smooth but sticky. If it is too wet, that is, if it feels like a batter & does not have enough structure to hold together, add some additional flour. Even though sticky, the dough should be able to pass the windowpane test. To do the test, cut a small piece of dough, & gently stretch, pull & turn it to see if it will hold a paper-thin, translucent membrane. This test will determine if the gluten has sufficiently developed. 
Just note that it is more difficult to achieve the windowpane membrane for dough that has whole wheat flour because of its high fiber content. (In total, I mixed my dough for about 15 minutes using a stand mixer to achieve the windowpane membrane.)
* This recipe can also be used to make focaccia or baguettes.

To form & bake ciabatta:
  1. Form the dough into a ball & place it in a lightly-oiled bowl. The bowl should be large enough to accommodate the dough when it rises to nearly double its size. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or place it in a plastic bag & refrigerate it immediately for an overnight, cold fermentation.
  2. Gently transfer the dough to a heavily floured work surface. Using a pastry blade, cut off a piece of dough for the first ciabatta. Loosely fold the floured dough piece into thirds. Gently roll the folded dough in the flour to coat it, but do not degas it. Transfer the shaped dough to a floured pan or proofing cloth, seam side down, for proofing. Leave dough to rise at room temperature for approximately 45 minutes, until nearly 1 1/2 times its original size.
  3. Place a baking stone or an inverted sheet pan on a shelf in the oven. Also place a cast iron baking pan or rimmed sheet pan on the shelf immediately above or below the baking shelf (I placed above.) before preheating the oven.  Then heat up the oven at 260 deg C for 1 hour.
  4. When the dough is ready to bake, place it, seam side up, in the oven (either with a peel or on a sheet pan) & pour 1 cup of hot water into the steam pan (or mist the oven three times at 1-minute intervals). Lower the temperature to 232 deg C & bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the bread 180 degrees & continue baking for another 15 to 30 minutes, until the bread is a golden brown on all sides, sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, & registers at least 93 deg C in the center. The crust should be hard though it will soften somewhat as it cools. If the crust is dark but the bread still feels soft, turn off the oven & leave the bread in for another 5 to 10 minutes. You can also cover the bread loosely with aluminium foil to prevent it from burning. 
  5. Transfer the bread to a cooling rack & allow it to cook for at least 1 hour before serving.

Tips for how to do hearth baking in a home oven:

Many professional bakeries use hearth or thick-stoned deck ovens to create their beautiful crusty loaves. Home bakers are at a disadvantage because most household ovens do not get as hot or hold heat as well as professional ovens. Fortunately, there are some things we can do to improve the performance of a home oven for hearth baking. The most obvious is to use a baking stone (the thicker the better), ceramic tiles, or an insert like the Hearth Kit, which replicates brick oven baking. These materials serve as thermal masses, absorbing heat & radiating it back into the bread, & need at least 1 hour to preheat, even if the oven appears to have reached the desired preheating temperature. They also act as insulators, reducing the recovery time an oven needs to return to the set-point after the door has been opened. (Loaves baked in loaf pans do not need to be baked on a stone, because the crust should be softer than that of a hearth bread.)

If you do not have a baking stone, tiles, or an insert, use an inverted sheet pan as a shelf; it may not hold as much heat but will provide a hotter baking platform. Do not use a nonstick pan for this purpose, as Teflon is not rated for hearth baking temperatures & the coating may volatize & turn into gas or go into the bread. Dough can also be raised & baked on the sheet pan (covered with baking parchment or a silicon pad) but it will take longer for the heat to penetrate through the bottom of the pan into the dough, so oven spring may be reduced.

To create steam (enhances oven spring & crisps the crust), place a cast iron baking pan or rimmed sheet pan on the shelf immediately above or below the baking shelf (the type & size of the oven will dictate where to best place the steam pan) before preheating the oven. Just after the dough is placed on the baking shelf (or stone), pour 1 cup of hot water into the pan, bearing careful to avoid getting splashed or steamed yourself. It is also a good idea to cover the oven window with a towel to protect it from backsplash, which can cause the glass to crack. As soon as the water hits the pan it will begin to turn to steam & should all evaporate within the first 5 to 10 minute of baking. If the steam pan is located under the baking shelf, carefully remove it after the water has evaporated. You can also mist the oven walls with water from a plant mister or spray bottle at 1 minute intervals (3 times), but avoid misting the glass window or oven's light bulb. Minimise the number of times you go in & out of the oven.

Use a flour-dusted peel, either wooden or metal, to load the dough onto the baking shelf. If you do not have a peel, use the back of a sheet pan, dusted generously with flour, to serve as the peel. Flour actually works better than cornmeal or semolina because it does not burn & smoke as easily. When done baking & the oven has cooled, sweep the pan or stone of all loose flour with a wire brush or cloth rag into an extra pan & discard.

You will have to do some practice baking to determine where best to place the baking shelf to achieve a balanced bake, but the center shelf, or perhaps one notch lower, is usually reliable. Convection ovens can also be used for hearth baking, but remember to lower the temperature anywhere from 25 to 50 degrees, as the breads will bake much faster. Also, not all oven bakes perfectly evenly, so rotate the loaves 180 deg at least once about mid-way through the bake. Sometimes it will take two or three rotations to achieve even browning of the crust.

Extracted from 'Whole Grain Breads'.

Watch the following video where Reinhart  illustrates how hearth baking is done at home.

I'm linking this post to Cook-Your-Books #2 organised by Kitchen Flavours.

1 comment:

kitchen flavours said...

Hi Faeez,
Wow, your ciabatta looks wonderful! No wonder it has thumbs up from your kids! Thank you for sharing. This book has always been on my list, and dozens of other books as well! I am really interested in his Artisan book, hopefully one of his books will appear on my bookshelf soon!
Thank you for linking to CYB!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...