What on earth did we do before Pinterest? Pinners have supplied solutions to household mini-disasters, inspiration for our kitchen and bath remodels, and most often, great recipe suggestions.
I found this ciabatta recipe from Traci Cooks in Austin and decided to give it a try. I am not by any means a bread maker, but her directions were very clear. My first loaf was just slightly overbaked but pretty darned fabulous: a crisp, chewy crust and moist, flavorful interior with an airy texture. I’ve made it several times since then, and it’s only gotten better.
Then, lo and behold, the technical challenge on The Great British Baking Show (my current binge-watching obsession) was … ciabatta! The method they used was slightly different, but I still picked up some helpful tips. I still use Traci’s directions, but watch to make sure that the bread doesn’t overproof.
Ciabatta does require a few special tools. Because a cup of flour can vary by weight by several ounces depending on humidity and measuring techniques, weighing is the only way to go. You can get a reliable scale for not much cash; I’ve been using this beauty for a few years now. You also do need a stand mixer. Those are not cheap, but this dough is just too wet to knead by hand.
I switch out 50 to 75 grams of the bread flour for whole wheat, without compromising the texture. I also like the texture of the crust better if I skip the oil that Traci uses. The cornmeal adds crunch to the bottom crust and keeps the dough from sticking. The dough is so moist that the salt and sesame seeds stick just fine.
I’ve doubled the recipe to make two loaves so I could send one home with Luke. The bread is so moist and the crust is so firm that it lasts at least two days before you cut into it. Next I’ll try making rolls with the dough, and see how it freezes.
Sesame Seed Ciabatta
makes 1 loaf
250 grams bread flour
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. yeast
1 cup water
1 large pinch coarse salt
1 heaping tbs. sesame seeds
If it’s a chilly day, set your oven on the lowest temperature, then turn it off after a few minutes. You’re looking for the oven to be no more than 75 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a stand mixer on high, fitted with a paddle. (I keep my flour and yeast in the fridge, so I heat my water for 45 seconds in the microwave.) Mix until the dough climbs up the paddle; this will take about 2-4 minutes. Be patient; it really does completely leave the bowl and wrap itself around that paddle.
Wet your hands with water and slide the dough off the paddle. Insert the dough hook and mix on high for another 3-6 minutes until the dough mostly comes off the sides of the bowl and looks shiny. It will still be wet. Scrape into a large oiled bowl and set aside in your oven for 2-3 hours until TRIPLED in size. If it’s a hot day, this may happen faster.
Dampen your countertop lightly with water. Dampen your hands as well. Scrape the dough out onto the wet counter. Gently flatten a bit; fold into thirds like a letter. Repeat 3 times, rotating 90 degrees each time. Treat the dough gently. Place a very large bowl over the dough and let sit for 45 minutes right on the counter.
Flatten dough slightly and gently, fold in thirds 4 times once again, and let the dough sit for another 30 minutes, covered by the bowl.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment and sprinkle with cornmeal. Very gently form the dough into a long loaf. Gently move the dough to the parchment. The dough will be soft, sticky, shiny, and filled with large holes. Set the oven on 450 degrees F, letting the dough rest for 20 minutes while the oven heats.
Sprinkle the top of the dough with one large pinch of coarse salt and then the sesame seeds. Place the bread into the oven and immediately toss a handful of ice cubes into the bottom of the oven. Shut the door quickly to keep the steam in. Bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and bake for 15 minutes longer. Insert an instant-read thermometer in the bottom of the bread; you’re looking for any temp. over 205 degrees, with a deep brown crust. Put the bread back in the oven if it’s not hot enough.
Cool the loaf on a rack for at least 45 minutes before cutting into it. Once cut, lay the loaf cut-side down on a clean kitchen towel and leave uncovered. This will delay the cut side from drying out, and leaving it unwrapped will keep the crust crisp.