During Chinese New Year, I fed my cousin a couple of slices of toasted home-made bread with smoked ham, gouda cheese and a squirt of honey mustard. He complained that it was too holey and light – hardly filling at all. It was good, he said, but the lobangs were too big. And that’s all the feedback I got, not that I expected or wanted any.
You would probably infer then, that I don’t take feedback well.
If anything, I would seem to do the exact opposite with unrestrained vigor, refusing to consider kind advice, or perhaps intentionally mocking constructive criticism.
I see you frowning in confusion. Let’s clear up some things shall we?
1. I respond well to feedback.
2. While I absolutely adore feedback, I don’t care what you say, and I sure won’t give a flying rat’s ass if you tell me you don’t like your bread to resemble the remnants of a thoroughly pilfered, eroded excavation site.
You want holes the size of single-celled organisms? Grab the loaf of Gardenia from the supermarket next time.
Anyone who eats my bread will observe, with deep reverence, the First Commandment of Christine’s Home-made Bread:
Honour the lobangs of thy holey bread, for it is them which contain heavenly reservoirs of salted butter, melted cheese, golden olive oil and smoky ham, and you will receive the gift of gastronomic paradise.
You have no idea how thrilled I was when I sliced the loaves open. *Squeeee!!*
Makes 2 loaves.
Special equipment: Stand mixer/ bread machine
Ingredients for Poolish:
- 190g bread flour
- 190g water
- 1/8 tsp instant yeast (a pinch)
Ingredients for Bread:
- 310g bread flour
- 160g water
- 15g olive oil
- 12g salt
- 1/4 tsp instant yeast
- All of the poolish
1. Make the poolish by mixing all the ingredients together in a bowl the night before making the ciabatta. The ingredients should be mixed well enough for there to be no more visible traces of flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to stand at room temperature (about 25C or 77F) overnight for at least 8 hours, for a maximum of 12 hours.
2. The next day, combine all of the poolish, olive oil and water in the bowl of your stand mixer or bread machine. Mix on slow speed till the wet mixture is completely homogenous. If using a stand mixer: Increase the mixing speed slowly till 3 and add 155g of the flour (half of the total amount) gradually and continue to mix until a thick batter-like consistency is reached. If using a bread maker: Add 155g of the flour (half of the total amount) and allow the bread maker to mix at it’s fixed speed for however long a duration of time required to reach a thick batter-like consistency. Once that is reached, add in the rest of the flour (155g) and continue to mix for another 2-3 minutes to fully incorporate the flour. Once done, cover the bowl and allow the wet dough to rest* for 30 minutes.
3. After 30 minutes, add the salt and mix (at speed 3 for stand mixers), for about 10-15 minutes until the dough is a smooth, glossy sheen but still very wet and sticky.
4. With the help of a spatula pour the wet dough into a container or bowl that has been oiled well, cover and allow to rise for 2 hours until tripled in volume. Do not use your hands to handle the dough yet for sanity’s sake.
5. Flour your worksurface generously (and I mean very generously) because the flour will act as a barrier against the wet dough and your hands. Pour out the expanded dough with the help of a dough scraper or spatula onto the floured surface and do a series of stretch and folds**. Let the dough rest, covered with a floured cloth, for 1 hour.
6. Using a dough cutter or knife, divide the dough into half, forming two, roughly shaped loaves, touching the dough with your hands very lightly and minimally, if not at all. Have more flour near you for sprinkling liberally just in case. Gently stretch the doughs into a characteristic ciabatta’s long, oblong shape and place them on a well-floured couche/cloth, pinching up the section of cloth between them to act as a divide to prevent them from sticking to each other. Cover and rest for 1 hour.
7. Preheat the oven to 250C or 480F with a metal oven tray or pizza stone in the middle rack and an additional tray on the bottom.
8. Flour your peel*** very generously to prevent sticking and carefully transfer the puffed up loaves from the cloth to the peels. Slide the loaves into the oven and quickly and pour a cup of water onto the bottom tray****. Shut the oven door and bake for about 20 minutes.
9. Cool the loaves on a rack once baked.
Ciabattas are relatively easy to make, in that not a lot of physical work is required and the bulk of the duration required to make them lies in letting the dough rest. However, that being said, the large, open holes that are characteristic of ciabattas are developed due to the high hydration (water content) of the dough – more than 70% the weight in flour. Expect the dough to be soupy at times, very sticky, fluid and requiring a lot of additional flour to work with. It is not your usual bread dough which can be kneaded by hand, and handling the dough should be done with a gentle, light touch to minimise contact with the wet dough. Make full use of the equipment you have in moving the dough around (your dough cutters, scrapers, knives..). That being said, do not be discouraged if your dough ends up a puddle and unable to resemble an actual loaf. Try, try again. I’m still experimenting with the techniques in making ciabatta myself, and perhaps I’ll include pictures and a step-by-step tutorial in a future post once I’m confident that you’ll achieve the same results.
*Resting the dough is also known as autolysing, during which the gluten in the flour is allowed to react with the water and form bonds before the actual kneading that make the actual kneading process easier and less tedious.
**A series of stretch and folds would comprise of this: Starting from the right portion of the flattened dough, grab and stretch it towards the right gently till you feel the dough resisting, then folding the stretched portion to the middle of the dough. Proceed to do the same for the left side, folding the dough into thirds like a sheet of paper. Do likewise for the top and the bottom. Your dough should now be more rounded and tight than when you started folding. This helps to re-align the gluten strands in the dough so that it becomes stronger and holds its shape better.
***A peel is essentially a wooden board, much like those with handles that are used to slide pizzas into the oven. It allows for quick and easy transfer of bread into and out of the oven. Home-made peels can simply be a long piece of plywood (cleaned), lightweight and large enough to fit your loaves. Loaves are slid into the oven onto a preheated surface so that the bread begins rising immediately and quickly. If you don’t have a peel, don’t worry. Skip this step. Just transfer your unbaked loaves onto an overturned oven tray (to act as a completely flat surface) and load into your preheated oven. It will not alter the taste or appearance of your loaves drastically.
****Pouring a cup of water into the oven (on a lower tray) creates a burst of steam that should last for 10 minutes during the baking of bread. What this does is to create a humid environment that prevents the rapid formation of the crust of your bread, thereby allowing your bread to rise better (because if a crust is formed too soon, further rising is hindered) and creating a thicker, crisper, more rustic crust. A word of caution regarding steaming your oven though. I have heard of people’s ovens malfunctioning, the light bulbs blowing and the digital display going crazy because of the addition of steam in the oven. Do so at your own discretion and be very, very careful when pouring in the water. Steam is formed immediately in a burst, so be sure to keep your face at a safe distance. If unconfident of this procedure, do not attempt it.
There you go. This may sound terribly confusing and wordy, but I hope it makes sense enough for you to attempt this lovely bread.