It’s a gorgeous sunny Sunday afternoon and I’ve been catching up on episodes of The Great British Bake-off.  For those of you who may not know the program, it’s a contest broadcast on BBC2 where a field of 12 home bakers face off against each other each week in different types of baking challenges, with the field narrowing as one is sent off every week.  And the challenges are amazing.  The first episode of this season was to make a celebration cake – but, not just any celebration cake – the cake should have a pattern on the inside when you cut it, as well as one decorated on the outside.

The second episode was bread baking, so that got me thinking about one of my favorite kinds of sandwich bread, ciabatta, so I thought I’d make that for today’s post.

Ciabatta is Italian “slipper bread”, named after it’s long, oval shape – it has a nice crisp crust and big air holes on the inside.  While this is a bread that you can make by hand, I really recommend a standing mixer because it is a very wet, sticky dough.  It is equally lovely as a plain dough as it would be if you added a tsp of freshly chopped rosemary and a handful of chopped olives.

As always, because this is a bread recipe, all measurements are by weight and in metric.

Ciabatta

  • 500 g bread flour (it has a higher gluten level, so don’t substitute all-purpose flour)
  • 7 g salt
  • 10 g instant yeast
  • 400 ml water (divided)
  • 30 ml olive oil

Place the flour, salt and yeast the bowl of your mixer, fitted with a dough hook.  Start the machine on the lowest speed to mix them together while you measure the liquid.  Mix the 30 ml of olive oil with 300 ml of warm water, then slowly add to the flour.  Let the dough come together, then continue to mix on low speed for another five minutes.

Now, the dough at this stage is going to be exactly what you think bread dough should be – a nice ball shape that is smooth and soft to touch – so, adding the last 100 ml of water probably doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.  But, that’s exactly what you’re going to do.  And here’s the thing – you need to add it very … VERY … slowly.  The dough is going to be resistant to absorbing the water, so you should add it a little at a time or it will slop over the sides.  Trust me, I learned this from experience.  The final dough will not be formed and it will be massively sticky, which is why doing this by hand would be a nightmare.  Once all the water has been added, let it continue to run on the low speed for another eight minutes and this is the resulting batter (if you want to add rosemary and olives, add them now):

Once the eight minutes of kneading is finished, tip the batter into a large plastic tupperware container that’s been oiled with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, scraping the bowl thoroughly.  Let it rise for 90 minutes until doubled in size.

About now, you need to preheat the oven to 450 F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Unlike other breads, you don’t want to punch this dough down – you want to retain as much air as possible.  So very gently, tip out the dough onto a well-dusted work surface, then gently, turn over so that both sides are coated in flour.  Divide the dough into four equal pieces, and place onto a the lined baking sheets, gently pulling the dough into a rectangular shape.  Dust lightly with a last bit of flour, then let them rise for a final 15 minutes before popping into the hot oven to bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

They come out golden and totally yum!  Perfect for steak sammiches with a little grain mustard and arugula!!  Or, split and toast or grill it and serve with tomatoes and goats cheese.

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