This bread was my nemesis up until recently, there is a long history in this house of me trying many ciabatta recipes. The finished result would taste beautiful, but the signature look of a proper ciabatta loaf was missing. While browsing my local library, I would make a beeline for the latest bread baking book, search out their ciabatta recipe, test it and then fail miserably. My mistake all along was...wait for it...the YEAST!!! I used the only yeast made available to me, the fast acting yeast sachets, they work perfectly on all my other recipes but alas never really work for me on this one. I was beginning to think that it would always evade my humble baking abilities to produce a home baked "proper" ciabatta loaf.
While doing my weekly shopping in SuperValu in Cavan a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that they were selling Doves Farm Original Dry Yeast, thought, what the heck, I need some more so this will do the trick. Well was I in for a surprise, this stuff is completely different than the sachet stuff, you have to dissolve it in tepid water where you can watch it come to life, oh and the smell, it's so beautiful and homely. So the first recipe I tried was Ballymaloe Brown Bread, it was a great success and the second...you guessed it...Ciabatta.
Now I know my loaf is not the perfect porous loaf (too much handling at the shaping stage took care of that!!) but to me it is wonderful, much more importantly it has given me hope for the future of my yeast baking endeavour. So now with renewed gusto I will be baking with my beloved Bread cookbook (by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno) and knocking out more loaves than a French boulangerie, well almost!
I'll wrap this up by saying that if you can buy it (online or on the shelf), I suggest that you try some dry yeast and have a go, if for nothing more than the occasional Saturday baking session so that you can enjoy beautiful fresh bread that you made yourself!!
Eric and Ursula say:
Ciabatta was given it name because the bread resembles a well-worn slipper. Prolonged rising and plenty of liquid produce a very light bread with a uniquely open and porous texture. An authentic Ciabatta requires a very wet dough that can be tricky to handle and must be started a day in advance. Do not add extra flour to make the dough more manageable and avoid overhanding the dough at all costs (I should have read this bit more carefully!!). After it's long rise, the dough must be handled with a light touch ("like a baby", as they say in Italy), so that none of the precious air bubbles are knocked out.
Recipe taken from Bread, by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno
Yield 2 Loaves
for the starter
½ tsp Dried yeast (such as Doves Farm Original Dry Yeast)
3 tbsp Tepid milk
¼ tsp Honey or granulated sugar
150g Strong white flour
for the dough
½ tsp Dried yeast
½ tbsp Olive oil
350g Strong white flour
1½ tsp Salt
To make the starter
Sprinkle the yeast into water and milk in a (very) large bowl. Leave for 5 minutes, then add the honey or sugar and stir to dissolved.
Mix in the flour to form a loose batter. Cover the bowl with a tea towel (I prefer to use cling film) and leave to rise overnight (pictured below after 14 hours).
To make the dough
Sprinkle the yeast into the water in a small bowl. Leave for 5 minutes, then stir to dissolve. Add the yeasted water and olive oil to the starter and mix well.
Mix in the flour and salt to form a wet sticky dough. Beat steadily with a wooden spoon for 5 minutes; the dough will become springy and start to pull away from the sides of the bowl, but will remain too soft to knead.
Cover the dough with a tea towel (I used oiled cling film). Leave to rise until trebled in size and full of air bubbles, about 3 hours (I left it for over 4 hours).
Do not knock the dough back. Generously flour two baking sheets and have extra flour to dip you hands in (this is really important use lot and lots of flour) Use a dough scraper (if like me you don't have a dough scraper the I personally recommend a floured spatula for this job) to divide the dough in half while in the bowl. Scoop half of the dough out of the bowl on to one of the heavily floured baking sheets (the less handling at this stage the more air bubbles the finished loaf will have).
Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/Gas Mark 7 (if you want a to use the option of steam, throw 5-6 ice-cubes into the oven now, steam allows the loaves to continue rising before the final crust forms).
Use well-floured hands to pull and stretch the dough to form a roughly rectangular loaf, about 30cm (12in) long. Dust the loaf and your hands again with the flour. Neaten and plump up the loaf by running your fingers down each side and gently tucking the edges of the dough under.
Repeat with the other half of the dough. Leave the two loaves uncovered to prove, about 20 minutes; the loaves will spread out as well as rise.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes until risen, golden, and hollow-sounding when tapped underneath. Leave to cool on a wire rack.