Ciabatta is a rustic Italian bread shaped like a slipper. I made a ciabatta loaf with kalamata olives, as requested by my good friend Julia, who almost took a part in the making of this bread. I looked at several recipes and combined them as I pleased. I like doing this to see what I could improve in each recipe. The first was from the Cook's Illustrated magazine, where they have a team of chefs that take about 25 tries until they find the best recipe. The other is from Richard Bertinet's Dough, a book that shows simple recipes for beautiful breads, but it's so simple that it is sometimes difficult to know exactly, what he wants you to do.
By the way, my ciabatta was much too "springy," because I added too much flour as I was kneading it. Remember that the dough must be wet!
Wet and very sticky dough is the key to making good ciabatta. The key to manipulating the dough is working quickly and gently. When possible, use a large rubber spatula or dough scraper to move the dough. If you have to use your hands, make sure they are well floured. If you don’t have a baking stone, bake the bread on an overturned and preheated rimmed baking sheet set on the lowest oven rack.
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp dry active yeast
1/2 cup water, at room temperature
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 tsp table salt
3/4 cup water, at room temperature
1/4 cup milk, at room temperature
2 Tbsp black olives (optional)
FOR THE BIGA: Combine flour, yeast, and water in medium bowl and stir with wooden spoon until uniform mass forms, about 1 minute. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature (about 70 degrees) overnight (at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours).
Remember to preheat your oven to 475 F (250 C) at least one hour before you start making the dough. This is important for ensuring a beautiful crunchy crust.
FOR THE DOUGH: Preferably make the dough by hand. Put the flour in a mixing bowl and rub in the yeast. Scoop the ferment into the bowl, then add the water, and salt, mixing well until all combined (if desired, add olives now). Once the dough is no longer sticking to the bowl, transfer it to your counter with the help of a dough scraper or spatula, and knead the dough until it looks shiny and elastic. Remove the dough from the bowl, transfer to a lightly oiled surface and mold into a ball (see future post for how to knead and form dough into a ball).
Lightly oil a bowl, place the dough in it, and let rest for 1 1/2 hours, covered with plastic wrap, until it has risen and feels bubbly and light (so when you poke it the dough doesn't come back up).
Flour your work surface generously with white flour or cornmeal, and with the help of a dough scraper or spatula, turn the dough out in one piece. Flour the top. Press the dough lightly and gently, dimpling it slightly with your fingers. Divide the dough into four roughly equal strips, and fold into three. Do this by folding one side of your flattened dough into the middle and press it down and seal. Bring the other side over to the middle and again press down to seal. Finally fold in half lengthwise and seal the edges.
Place the pieces of dough onto well-floured lint-free dishtowels. Cover with another towel and let rise for 30-45 minutes.
Flour a baking tray (turned upside down) or wooden peel, pick up one ciabatta at a time, turn it over, stretch it lengthwise a little at the same time, and lay it on the peel or tray (This stretch is what gives the bread its characteristic "slipper" shape.) Spray the loaf with water and then quickly slide the ciabatta onto the baking stone or tray. Turn down the heat to 435 F and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Recipe from Cook's Illustrated and Richard Bertinet's Dough