A few posts on the BBA Challenge Group and tips from fellow participants gave me the hankering to take another crack at ciabatta. The first time I made ciabatta, the bread tasted great but it did not have the hallmark crispy crust and large holes. At the end of that experience, I decided I would make several adjustments. After making the English Muffins and reading about others’ experiences, I also decided that I need to make wetter dough.
Try a lean (or leaner) version of bread. I am wondering if the level of enrichment affected both the crust and holes in the bread.
Last time, I used all milk instead of water and added oil. This time, I omitted the oil and used ¼ cup buttermilk and ½ + cup water.
Form dough with a very wet consistency
This concept didn’t click for me until I read the ciabatta entry on Living Graciously; another BBA blog:
"You then take this wet mess [dough], plop it onto a flour-covered counter, and engage in the “lift-and-fold” method of kneading. The idea is that dough too wet to be kneaded can be scooped, stretched, then folded in on itself.”
Last time, I used a biga preferment which is close to an Italian or French bread consistency. This time I used poolish which has the consistency of pancake batter.
Thawed Poolish Pouring Poolish
As I mixed the dough, I resisted the urge to add more flour. The dough was very stick but it did not stick to the sides of the bowel as it mixed.
Reduce the amount of salt since it actually kills the yeast. The less salt in the dough, the less restrained the effect of the yeast is.
To be honest, I forgot about this one when I was making the dough. However, by choosing the poolish version, I effectively tested this theory because the poolish version has 2% less salt (as compared to the flour) to the biga version.
During the folding stage, I will tightly seal all of the seams. This is not specified in BBA, but I suspect that I will get better looking loaves this way.
This is actually was not necessary with the very wet dough. During the rest periods of the stretch and fold method, the seams melted into the body of the dough. I presume this is why the book doesn’t indicate to seal the seams!
Dough Pre Fold (Right Out of the Bowl)
Last time, I struggled with the stretched and fold method – the dough ripped instead of stretched. I now realize it was because the dough was not wet enough. This time the dough easy stretched, although with each round, the resistance of the dough increased as the gluten formed. I also had to cover my board and hands with a lot of flour in order to handle the dough because it was so sticky.
Post Stretch/Fold (Round 1) Post Stretch/Fold (Round 2)
Use a baking stone in future attempts (I don’t own one yet). The baking stone should also help crisp up the crust.
My awesome brothers bought me a baking stone for Christmas and this was the first time I was able to use it! The instructions in BBA are to place the stone in the oven during preheating, cover the back of a cookie sheet with cornmeal, place the loaves onto the sheet and slide them onto the baking stone in the oven. This process turned into a complete debacle for me!
My loaves did not slide off the sheet, instead they stuck stubbornly in place. Ultimately, I had to lift the loaves off the sheet and place them on the stone. Given that the stone was in a 500 degree oven and the loaves had minimal structural integrity, I had little luxury to perfect the placement. As a result, I ended up with oddly shaped loaves and slightly singed knuckles.
The book indicated that the loaves would swell during the proofing stage, but double. However, I have to say that my loaves came close, if not doubled. But when handling the loaves to load them into the oven, they degassed a ton which I presume is not ideal when the object is to have large holes in the finished product.
Next time, I am going to take the stone out of the oven, load the loaves and place the stone back in the oven. I realize this is not advisable, but preferred over repeating this experience!
Spray the dough directly with water prior to baking. This is not in the instructions for this formula, but it was a recommendation in the Anadama formula and it did in fact create a crisp crust.
For this attempt, I still filled a water pan with hot water immediately after placing the dough in the oven. I did not spray the sides of the oven, but sprayed the tops of the loaves once. I did get a crispier crust, but still not as crispy as I was looking for. Next time I will spray the loaves every 30 seconds for the first 2 minutes (instead of spraying the sides of the oven as the instructions indicate).
I was very eager to cut into the loaves after they cooled. The crust was in fact crisper and I did have bigger holes, but it still wasn’t ciabatta. Next time I’ll maintain the changes made plus:
- Only use water – no oil, no milk
- Reduce salt to 1.5% - 2% (poolish version has 3.3%)
- Take the baking stone out of the oven when placing the loaves on the stone in order to reduce handling and degassing
- Spray the loaves with water prior to placing in the oven and every 30 seconds for the first 2 minutes
Despite, not achieving the ciabatta, the bread was damn good! I believe the buttermilk created a super tender, flavorful crumb that melted in our mouths! I served the bread with a stout beef stew and it was delicious!