Received an urgent request from a reader living in France for great ciabatta and focaccia recipes. It is hard to give a recipe because flour is all different and dough texture is everything. So, just reading a recipe you kind of have to feel your way. I lie, texture is not everything. With these two kinds of Italian bread, shaping is everything. So, persevere.
My guide, as always, is Carol Field’s The Italian Baker. So, with thanks to her and without further ado.
The number one thing to realise with ciabatta is that the dough is very very wet. You cannot succumb to temptation and add more flour. If you do you will have a great loaf of bread but it will not be ciabatta. Ciabatta loaves are very flat indeed and, when cut open, have great big air holes and a lovely wispy crumb. The following recipe makes four loaves.
3 grams dry yeast or 6 grams fresh yeast
230 mls warm water
1 big spoon of olive oil
500 grams of a biga that is at least 12 hours old*
500 grams of white 00 flour
15 grams of salt
Proof the yeast in the water and then add the oil and the biga and mix this until the water is white and the biga is as dissolved as it is going to get.
Add the flour and the salt and knead for a good 10 minutes.
Let the dough rest until it has doubled: 1-2 hrs. When it is done it will be full of air holes, and very elastic and sticky.
Turn the dough out onto the counter (avoid flouring) and cut into four pieces. Flour four pieces of greaseproof paper. Roll each piece into a sausage as best you can and the stretch the sausage out into a rectangle – as large as you want your loaf. Place the rectangles on the floured greaseproof papers and dimple them vigerously with your fingertips so that they don’t rise too much. Cover wtih damp towels and let rest for 1.5-2 hrs until they are puffy but not doubled. If you let them rise too much, the crumb will come away from the crust during the baking period. To that end, after and hour turn the oven on to 230 degrees C.
If you have a baking stone, great. Put it in and then pull it out, sprinkle cornmeal all over it and carefully invert the loaves onto the stone. Bake for 20-25 minutes. If you don’t have a stone, heat up a baking tray and sprinkle it with corn meal before placing the loaves on it. In both cases, spray the loaves with water before you put them in the oven.
* to make a biga:
3 grams dry yeast (6 grams fresh)
250 mls warm water
330 g 00 flour
Proof the yeast and then knead until a slightly sticky dough is formed. No requirement to knead thoroughly. Cover well and let sit for 12 hours until you use it. This makes 580 grams. Put the left over in an airtight container and pop it in the fridge. Use it within a few days to any loaf of bread to add flavour and character.
9 g dry yeast (18 g fresh)
575 ml warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 kg 00 flour
15 grams salt
Proof the yeast in a bit of the water and then add the rest of the water and the oil and blend well. Knead the dough for a good ten minutes. It should be velvety and elastic.
Let the dough rest for 1-2 hours until it has doubled.
Tip the dough out onto the (unfloured) counter and divide into two or three pieces depending on how big you want the focacce. Oil your containers well – round, square, or rectangular, shallow baking trays that are about 1.5-2 inches (5 cim) deep. Roll out our dough to fit the containers and then place them in the containers and cover with damp towels for 30 minutes.
Dimple the dough and let rise for 2 hours. After 90 minutes, pre heat the oven to 200 degrees C.
Top with olive oil and salt or fresh sage or tomatoes or whatever you want. Only 2-3 tablespoons of oil per focacce.
Place the baking trays with the bread in them on to a hot stone or hot baking tray (you have heated in the oven) and bake for 20-25 minutes. When they are done, immediately invert them onto cooling racks so they don’t get mushy. Eat them at room temperature the same day you bake. They don’t keep.