Author Notes: I recently learned that ciabatta was first introduced in Italy in the 1980s.
This is remarkable when you think of ciabattas and focaccias are now common throughout the world.
Its name comes from its shape, with ciabatta translating from the Italian as “slipper,” describing the flat, wide, and relatively long free-form shape of the traditional bread. I love to cut it in half horizontally, build a sandwich with the ingredients piled high, and then cut it, crosswise, into individual sandwiches. You can also cut holes in the top and fill them with different dips.
Ciabatta is most often used to make small sandwiches called panini. Throughout Italy, ciabatta comes in many forms, all depending upon the region in which it is made. It can be slightly crisp with a very soft, moist crumb; very crisp with a dense crumb; or extremely crisp with an open crumb. It can be flavored with herbs and olive oil, with milk, with salt, or with bits of savory ingredients. This is my version of the classic. —Lionel Vatinet
Makes: 2 small loaves or 1 large loaf
cups (16 ounces) unbleached, unbromated white bread flour
teaspoons (.31 ounces) fine sea salt
teaspoon (.12 ounces) instant dry yeast
cups (13.76 ounces) water, plus 2 teaspoons water
tablespoon (.32 ounces) extra-virgin olive oil, plus about 2 tablespoons to coat the bowl
- MEASURING: Scale all of the ingredients. Place the flour in a large bowl and add the salt and yeast, making sure they do not touch each other. If they do, it will cause a reaction that decreases the yeast’s ability to develop. Take the temperature of the water -- it should be 65° F to 70° F.
- MIXING AND KNEADING: Pour half of the water into the bowl of the mixer; then, add the dry ingredients. Attach the bowl and dough hook to the mixer and begin mixing on low speed ("1" on most mixers). Quickly add enough of the remaining water in a slow, steady stream to make a soft, moist dough that slightly sticks to the sides of the bowl. Take care to add the remaining water immediately; if the water is added too late in the mixing process, the dough will become too firm to mix easily. Stop the mixer often and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the hook and sides of the bowl to ensure that all of the ingredients have been well incorporated.
- When all of the water has been added, set a timer and mix for 5 minutes. Your dough should be soft and pliable. Increase the speed to medium-low (setting "2") and mix for 4 minutes, gradually adding 1 tablespoon olive oil. Continue to mix until the oil is thoroughly incorporated, about 1 more minute. The dough should be soft and smooth, with a moist, tacky surface.
- FIRST FERMENTATION: Using an instant-read thermometer, take the temperature of the dough. It should be between 72° F and 80° F. This dough will be in first fermentation for 3 hours, with a fold after each hour.
- Using your fingertips, coat the inside of a large bowl with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Using a bench scraper, scrape the dough into the oil-coated bowl. Using your hands, pull one edge of the dough and fold it into the center and press down slightly. Give the bowl a quarter turn and continue to fold the dough in and press for 4 additional turns. The dough should begin to form a ball. Roll the ball around in the bowl to coat all sides with olive oil, turning it so that the smooth side is up. The dough does not need to be covered, as the oil prevents dryness. Place the dough in a warm (75° F to 80° F), draft-free place for 3 hours, folding as above after the first and second hour.
- DIVIDING AND SHAPING: Generously coat a clean work surface with flour. Flour the top of the dough and, using a bowl scraper, scrape the dough onto the floured work surface. Lightly dust the exterior of the dough with flour and allow the dough to rest for 30 seconds. If the dough is very sticky, lightly flour your hands and add more flour to the work surface. If the dough sticks to the table, use your bench scraper to lift it up; do not pull or stretch the dough.
- If you are making two small loaves, lightly press down on the dough with a flat hand, forming the dough into a square. Using a bench scraper, cut the dough in half to form two rectangles. For one large loaf, lightly press down on the dough with a flat hand, forming the dough into a large rectangle. This is a rather free-form bread, so the shape does not have to be perfect. Place the dough in a lightly floured couche (or a strong linen towel). It does not matter whether you have the smooth side up or down for the final proofing as long as you bake it smooth side up. (If making 2 loaves, make a second ridge in the couche to separate them.) Fold the remaining couche over the top.
- SECOND FERMENTATION: Place the couche in a warm (75° F to 80° F), draft-free place. It should take from 45 minutes to 1 hour for the final proofing; however, you should keep a close eye on the dough, because if it is overproofed it will be unusable. To determine whether the dough is ready to be baked, uncover it and gently make a small indentation in the center of the dough with your fingertip. If the indentation slowly and evenly disappears, the bread is ready to bake.
- About 30 minutes before you are ready to bake, move one oven rack to the lowest rung and remove the other. Place a large baking stone on the rack and preheat the oven to 450° F.
- BAKING: Cover a bread peel with a sheet of parchment paper. Using your hands, gently remove the loaf from the couche and transfer it to the peel, top side up. Carefully slide the loaf on the parchment paper onto the center of the stone, taking care not to touch the hot surface. If you are baking two loaves together, take care that they don’t “kiss” (touch and get stuck together while baking).
- Quickly cover the loaf with a large stainless-steel mixing bowl and immediately close the oven door (if you are making two loaves, and both won’t fit under the bowl, cover one with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator, then bake after the first loaf comes out of the oven). Bake for 10 minutes; then, lift the edge of the bowl with the tip of a small knife and use oven mitts to carefully remove the hot bowl.
- Continue to bake until the bread is a pale golden brown with a lightly floured crust, about 15 minutes more. If you are concerned about the bread’s doneness, insert an instant-read thermometer from the bottom of the bread into the center. If it reads 185 °F to 210 °F the bread is fully baked. Transfer the loaf to a cooling rack and let it cool for at least 1 hour before cutting with a serrated knife or wrapping for storage.
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