My hubris may be high, but it is warranted and here is the "proof." Pun intended, my apologies. This may be my claim to fame--my ciabatta recipe. And sadly, it is too easy. I adapted this recipe from a friend and mentor of mine--Emer Fitzgerald from Ballymaloe Cookery School. —Matthew Bounous
8 loaves or 16 buns or 24 rolls
Dried yeast (about 1/2 of a packet) or 7g Fresh
Dried yeast (about 1/2 of a packet) or another 7g Fresh
Warm Skim milk
Extra Virgin Olive Oil--good quality
The night before: make the biga. Warm 400ml of unchlorinated water in a pot or in the microwave until it is comfortable on the fingertips and not stinging. If it is stinging to the touch, it is too hot for the yeast. Place the yeast in the warm water, stir and allow to sit for 5-10mins--until it is foamy on top.
While waiting for the yeast to bloom, measure out the 500g of AP Flour in a bowl twice the size that you think you need.
Mix until the flour is well-incorporated. If it is lumpy, do not worry! This is only the pre-ferment. Cover tightly with clingfilm and leave in a dark corner of your kitchen overnight--at least 12 hours.
The next morning--or 12 hours later--the biga should be near the top of the bowl and almost bursting at the seams of the plastic wrap. When you peel back the plastic wrap, it should smell a touch pungent and sour.
Now, warm the 100ml milk in a saucepan or in the microwave until it is comfortable to the touch and pour into the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix in the rest of the yeast and allow to bloom for 5-10 minutes. Do not worry if this yeast is not foamy on top. After 5-10 minutes, add the 300ml of warm water, 1.5 tbsp of oil and measured biga. Mix with paddle attachment of stand mixer until blended.
Slowly add the mixture of AP flour and bread flour with salt into the stand mixer. Continue with paddle attachment on low speed until the flour is incorporated.
Stop the mixer, move it near a power outlet on the floor, switch to the dough hook and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Turn the mixer to power level 5 or 6. The mixing/kneading will be vigorous and your stand mixer will "walk," hence why we took it off of the counter. Allow to knead at this high speed until it comes away cleanly from the bottom of the bowl--approx. 10-20mins.
Lightly oil a large glass bowl and transfer the dough. It should be soft and wet, but not overly sticky. Cover with clingfilm. Allow to rise for 1-1.5 hours. In the meantime, prepare two baking trays, by covering them with parchment paper.
When doubled in size, turn the dough out onto a generously floured cutting board. Be gentle! You want to reserve as much air in the dough as possible. That is what makes these loaves so ethereal and light. Now, dust the top with flour.
Using two dough scrapers, divide the dough in half. Make the first half into 4 loaves. And the second half into 8 buns or 12 rolls. With each loaf/bun/roll cut, carefully tuck the edges underneath while lifting with your dough scrapers and place gently onto one of your prepared trays. This process creates those beautiful rolled edges on the ciabattas.
Cover the trays with light kitchen towels and allow to rise for 30mins. And preheat your oven to 425f.
When the loaves have risen enough, you should be able to poke them with your fingertip and the indentation does not bounce back. If you are at this point, put your buns/rolls into the oven first (because the larger loaves will most likely need an extra 20 minutes of rising). And before you close the oven door, toss a single ice cube into the bottom of your oven--this will provide enough steam to create a delicate crust. Set your timer for 20-25 minutes.
Check on your bread, once they are golden brown on top, remove from the oven. They should feel light for their size and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. If you are satisfied, remove from the tray to a cooling rack. And repeat.
Here is the hard part. Allow to cool completely before indulging. The slightly sour flavor really develops as they cool and it is better if you wait! Trust me.