Daniel Catalaa

Ciabatta Bread

Ingredients

  • Water, room temperature, 3 cups
  • Yeast, active dry, 1 tsp
  • Starter, 2 cups
  • Flour, white, for bread (high gluten type), 5 1/2 cups
  • Flour, whole wheat, 1 cup
  • Salt, 1 Tbs + 1 tsp
  • Olive oil, 2 Tbs
  • Cornmeal-Semolina flour (1:1 mixture), 1/4 cup

Equipment

  • Measuring spoons
  • Measuring cup (1 cup size)
  • Flat knife, x1
  • Metal spatula
  • Electronic probe thermometer
  • Large flat pans, x3
  • Dough scrapes, x2
  • Large capacity stand mixer with dough hook attachments
  • Pan lid that fits over bowl
  • Pastry brush

Directions

  1. Add ingredients to mixer bowl: Place the mixer bowl in the sink to contain spillage and mess. Add all the ingredients to the mixer bowl in this exact order: water, yeast, starter, whole flour, white flour, and salt. Use the flat knife during flour measurements to scrape off the excess flour above the rim of the measuring cups. Add the water first so that none of the ingredients cakes to the bottom of the bowl. Add the salt last so that it is not in direct contact with the yeast. Note that, since I want a slow rise, I dispense with activating the yeast as is called for in other recipes.

  2. Knead with dough hook: Attach the dough hook to the mixer and mix at a medium-high speed (level 6 out of 10 on a KitchenAid mixer) until the ball of dough starts detaching from the sides of the bowl leaving the sides clean. This takes approximately 5 minutes. Continue passed this point and mix for 1 additional minute. Be vigilant of the mixer because it will shake and the strong vibrations will gradually make it inch it's way off the counter! As a precaution just rest an elbow on top of the machine to keep it in place.

  3. Let dough rise: At this point the dough will look wet and a little stringy, like a thick batter. If you dip your finger vertically into the dough and then slowly lift it, the dough will cling to your finger and form an unbroken strand ~1 inch long before trickling/breaking off. Cover the bowl with the pan cover (to minimize unnecessary use of plastic wrap) and allow to rise until doubled in volume (takes between 3-6 hours). The slow rise in the fridge will impart a more complex flavor to the bread compared to a faster room temperature rise.

  4. Prepare sheet pans and work surface: After the dough has risen, drizzle some olive oil over the surface of two sheet pans and spread it out using a pastry brush. Then sprinkle the sheet pans with the cornmeal & semolina mixture (1/8 cup = 2 Tbs. per pan).

  5. Divide the dough into 2 parts: Pour the dough onto a generously floured working surface - ideally a stone counter. Flip the mixer bowl upside down and let gravity pull the dough out. You will need to reach in with your hand and tease off some of the more clingy strands that stay attached to the side of the bowl. The dough should be centered on the working plane and it will be wet, runny, and sticky. With the scrapers, chop down the middle of the dough blob to yield two equal parts.

  6. Layer in the goodies: Roughly shape the dough blob into a rectangle. If you are opting for the walnuts+cranberries version of the recipe, this is the time to pour ~1/2 cup of this dry fruit and nuts mixture on top of the dough blobs.

  7. Shape dough into loaves: The dough will need to be very gently folded onto itself to give it a structure that will promote vertical rising. Using the scrapers lift and fold over 1/3 of the length onto the middle. Then fold the other 1/3 onto the middle also. In other words, fold the dough rectangle the same way you would a piece of paper before putting it in an envelope. Go all the way around 'pursing' it together. The dough is wet enough that it will stick to itself but, if need be, you can pinch the newly formed seam for good measure. Let the dough relax and recover from the folding for 10 minutes, then sprinkle another ~1/2 cup of walnuts+cranberries mixture over the top if you are doing this version of the recipe. Repeat the same folding sequence one more time.

  8. Transfer dough to sheet pans: Using two scrapers in a quick pincer maneuver, lift each runny loaf and gently flip it vertically onto the one of the semolina-coated sheet pan (so that all the seams are face down). After the blob falls into the pan, reshape as necessary though it is fun to let randomness dictate some things. The flipping redistributes the gas bubbles in the dough. Let rise further for another 30-45 minutes.

  9. Bake bread: Place a water pan at the bottom of the oven and preheat if to 550 F on the convection setting. Once the oven reaches the desired temperature, place the pans with the loaves onto separate racks, and pour 1 cup of water in the bottom pan to create steam. Bake for 10 minutes at this high temperature to get a nice crust, then lower the temperature to 350 F and bake for an additional 30 minutes. When the bread is done, the internal temperature should reach 212 F.

  10. Cool off the bread: Once removed from the oven, use a metal spatula to tease the loaves off the bottom of the sheet pan. Prop up each loaf on the corner of the sheet pan to create an air pocket beneath them. This step prevents steam condensation and hence sogginess of the bottom of the loaves.

  11. Serve the bread: Allow the bread to rest undisturbed for 20-30 minutes until it sets (I know how hard this can be...). Scrape the semolina off the bottom of the bread, then slice and serve.

Whole wheat variation: For a healthier version you can add more wheat flour (2 cups) and less white flour (4 cups). The total volume of combined flours should still come out to 6 cups. When I opt for this version I add 3 cups of nuts plus 2 cups of dry fruit in between layers when the dough is folded and shaped into a loaf. Some of my favorite combinations are walnuts with a little candied ginger, or almonds and unsweetened cranberries.

Sourdough variation 2: For a sourdough version, omit the yeast. This will allow the starter to be the primary leavening agent and a more sour flavor will result. The rise time however may be longer (12-16 hours at room temperature, vs. 8 hours in fridge when using active dry yeast).