A crisp and chewy loaf of rustic bread made from a very wet dough.
Ciabatta; just writing about this delicious bread is making me drool. This bread is made with a very wet dough and little kneading. The gluten is developed by using a stretch and fold method. You pour out the dough onto a square of flour (or oil). Then, you stretch the dough from each side until it is about double it's length then fold the dough like a letter over it's self returning it to it's original size. This is messy but as long as you use plenty of flour and flour your hands the dough won't stick to anything (you just have flour everywhere). All of the mess is well worth it because this is a great bread (the more you make this bread the better you will get and it won't be as messy). The crust is very crisp straight out of the oven, but once it cools it softens and becomes chewy.
Here is a video of the stretch and fold method by Peter Reinhart:
(This is different from the method I use because it does not add flour. My recipe comes from Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. One thing I love about Peter Reinhart is that he is always perfecting his recipes and methods to make better bread. I will try this flourless stretch and fold next time)
Ingredients (measured by weight):
Modified slightly from Peter Reinhart's Ciabatta, Poolish Version (The Bread Baker's Apprentice pg136)
22.75 oz Sourdough barm 100% hydration (equal parts flour and water)
13.5 oz bread flour
.44 oz salt
3-6 oz kefir (or milk or buttermilk), at room temperature
The night before you plan to make this bread feed about 4 oz of sourdough starter equal parts flour and water to equal 22.75 oz of barm. Leave at room temperature overnight until active and bubbly.
In the morning of the next day, add the barm, flour, salt, and kefir to the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir, using the paddle attachment until all ingredients are combined and you have a very wet and sticky dough. Continue mixing with the paddle attachment on medium speed for 5-7 minutes until The dough is smooth and sticky. It should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom and be very soft and sticky.
Sprinkle flour onto the counter to create a large square. Using a bowl scraper or spatula, scrape the dough out of the bowl and onto the bed of flour. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour and (with floured hands) stretch and fold the dough. Spray the top with oil and sprinkle with flour then cover with plastic wrap.
Let rest for 30 minutes and stretch and fold again. Spray with oil, sprinkle with flour and cover again. This time allow the dough to ferment on the counter for 3-4 hours until it swells (it won't necessarily double in size)
Prepare a couche (a thick linen cloth sprayed with cooking oil and with flour rubbed in to keep the dough from sticking. You can also use a large smooth white towel or table cloth).
Divide the dough into 3 or four pieces; sprinkle with flour and using a scrapper gently lift the dough from the counter. Roll each piece in flour (try not to degas it) and transfer it to the couche. Stretch and fold each piece to form an oblong about 4 or 5 inches long. Bunch the cloth between each piece to make a wall. Spray with oil, dust with flour then cover with a towel.
Proof at room temperature for about 2 hours.
Place a baking stone on the lowest rack of the oven and a cast iron skillet on the top rack and preheat the oven to 500F for at least 45 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a peel or cookie sheet (I use parchment paper under the dough so that it slides easily onto the stone just make sure to pull the parchment out from under the bread after about 5 minutes so that it doesn't burn) and gently stretch the dough to make a longer loaf. Slide the dough (I do one at a time because I have a small stone) onto the baking stone. Pour about 1 cup of hot water into the cast iron pan to create steam and close the oven door. After 30 seconds open the oven and spray the sides of the oven with water. Do this twice more at 30 second intervals. Then lower the oven temperature to 450F.
Bake the loaves for 15-20 minutes turning half way through for even baking.
Transfer to a cooling rack and cool for at least 45 minutes before slicing. Enjoy.