Third from the Italian Bread Project: Sourdough ciabatta

This was loaf three from the Italian Bread Project.  The Italian Baker, by Carol Field (see it at the bottom of this post) describes ciabatta as “slipper shaped bread from Lake Como”.  I always thought it looked like a pillow and am not sure what “slipper shaped” means.  Nevertheless, thankfully I have seen and eaten ciabatta before so I knew what I was aiming for.

In the book, Field tells the reader not to try to knead this dough by hand and that is good advice unless you have no choice.  The dough (sour or not) is extremely wet – almost like thick cream (but stickier) and I cannot think of anything it resembles.  If you are trying to make it by hand, knead it in a bowl or a deep plastic box because if you knead it on the country it may be tempting to add more flour and that means that you won’t have ciabatta anymore (although you will have very nice bread).  It does stiffen up if you follow the instructions and it does (amazingly) rise when you put it in the oven.  The crumb of my sourdough ciabatta was chewy and, to be honest, I don’ t know whether a yeasted ciabatta is meant to be moist and chewy or rather dryer.  I live in England, who knows what ciabatta is like around Lake Como.  If you know, please let me know.

Sourdough Ciabatta

Day 1

250 g biga (I used 250 grams of sourdough bread that I had made the day before, pinched off that loaf and put in an airtight container in the fridge)
100 g white wheat flour
2.5 tablespoons of warm milk
125 g warm water

Mix this up.  Cover and leave overnight.

Day 2

The mixture from Day 1
150 g white wheat flour
125 g warm water
1/2 tablespoon of olive oil
1/2 tablespoon of salt

Knead this for 10 minutes in a machine with a dough hook or in a bowl or box by hand.  Don’t be tempted to add more flour.  Let it rest for 60 minutes and then turn it out onto a floured surface. 

Do some “pull and stretch” (you will need a spatula or a scraper to pick up the dough” for 10 good “pulls and stretches” and then pop it into a well oiled bowl and leave it for 60 minutes.

Turn it out on a floured surface again and divide into two pieces.  “Pull and stretch” and form into two fat, sausagey rectangle.  Then pull the sausages gently and make them into a flattish rectangles and place them on baking parchment on the tray on which you will bake them.  Flour the tops a bit and then poke them repeatedly with your finger tips or knuckles so that they don’t rise too much. Cover them and leave them to rest for 2-3 hours or until they have grown in size by 50 percent.  I did not dimple them enough and then probably let them rise too much.  Hence the big gap between the crust and the crumb in the photo.

Preheat the oven to 210 C/425 F, dust the loaves with flour and put them in the oven.  Spray them with a plant sprayer three times in the first 10 minutes.  Then bake them a further 15 minutes.  You will be amazed that they rise.  They do.  Cool and eat.

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