A Ciabatta Challenge

I enjoy a challenge almost as much as I enjoy bread.  To this end I decided to try myself with a bread based challenge.  Ciabatta is Italy’s answer to the French baguette and both are among my favourite breads.  I have spend a lot of time trying for the worlds best baguette, and although I may never achieve the perfection I seek, I am satisfied that it is at least very good.  Ciabatta, however, I have never tried.  In fact I don’t even have a recipe on hand.  I don’t know if I’ve even properly seen a recipe, so it could be said I have no clue as to how to make it.  Bread is complex enough that simply trying a new recipe for the first tome could be considered a challenge, but I feel like taking it a step further.  I’m going to try to recreate ciabatta from scratch, without consulting any recipes, based on my own bread knowledge alone.

Ingredients are of course the first step.  Flour, water, yeast and salt, obviously go in.  Because of the taste and texture of ciabatta, I can tell that there is little to no sugar and fat.  A lean dough, this is called.  Since this is an Italian loaf, I’m going to add just a little olive oil, though hopefully not enough to alter the final texture.  The starter will be the same as for my French bread:

125g Bread Flour
125g Water
1/4 tsp Instant Yeast

Mix, cover and leave at room temperature for eight to ten hours.  Next the dough proper.  This is also a good time to talk about some terminology.  In baking recipes are sometimes called “formulas.”  I don’t like that term, but where it does come in handy is in understanding how to alter ratios of ingredients.  Bakers percentage is another handy term.  In any baking recipe the total amount of flour is always equal to 100%.  Since I’m only using bread flour, then 100% is 275 grams.  As I was making the dough I had originally started with 265 grams, but found it just slightly too wet.  Anyway, with the baguette, the amount of liquid in the recipe is about 55%.  Both because of the final shape of ciabatta and the texture of the “crumb” (everything inside the crust) I figure that we need a higher percentage.  Call it 65%.  I’m going to try 150 grams of water and 25 grams of olive oil.  I’m going to go ahead and add the following to the sponge.

275g Bread Flour
5g Salt
1/2 tsp Instant Yeast
25g Olive Oil
150g Water

Mix and knead until the gluten is fully developed.  Put in a covered bowl and allow to rise until doubled in size, fold down and allow to rise once more.  Since what I’m after is bun sized ciabatta, roll out the dough and cut into roughly 10 cm squares.  Allow for final proof then bake for 20 minutes at 450° with steam.

So, the results?  The bread is good.  Not ciabatta, though, or at least not quite.  It is close and I certainly think I’m on the right track.  I suppose I could actually look up a recipe now, but instead I think I’ll try again at a later date.  After all, I do enjoy a challenge.

Bonus Music Thing:

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