A Trembling Trough of Ciabatta

Another December bread for Mellow Bakers – I was going to leave this one for another time but found myself doing it anyway, encouraged as always by the enthusiasm of my friends!

I freely admit to having massive dough anxiety about high hydration doughs full of bubbles, heaving and slithering around the worktop, it reminds me of the fear I felt when I first watched Mickey playing The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia on the big screen in Leicester Square at the age of four, just makes me want to close my eyes and wish hard that it will all go away.

The first time I tried this at home, it all fell apart when I tried to shape the dough, tucking the sides under and ending up with enormous seams of raw flour in the middle of the loaves. So I knew not to do that this time, whatever else I did.

The trick is somehow to find a balance between having enough flour  on the bench to control the dough, yet at the same time not letting that new flour get inside the dough pieces.  I think it’s something you almost have to do wrong a few times before you can figure out how to do it right.  A good soft paintbrush  is very useful in this context,  as are a couple of flipping boards. Flipping boards are easy enough to improvise from a piece of sturdy cardboard, ideally they  have an angled lip on one side.

This is what I did:

I made a poolish the night before with

300 grams bread flour
300 grams water
a tiny weeny bit of fresh yeast about half a gram, maybe less)

Left it to bubble and heave till the next morning and as the sun luridly lit up the winter sky…

… dissolved 10 grams of fresh yeast in 430 grams of warm water,  added that to 700 grams of flour, 19 grams of sea salt and started to mix. My flour is pretty thirsty so I added more water, which I didn’t measure, until the dough was loose and soft, no point in making something like a baguette, which is how the dough felt when I first mixed it, far too tight. So sorry Mr Hamelman but my hydration was considerably higher than you suggest, at least  another 50 – 150 grams of water on top of what was in the formula and maybe I should have done more.

Oiled an Ikea box, poured the dough in and put in the airing cupboard. Folded after half an hour, bubble bubble, and again after a half an hour, then left it for an hour, another fold, and then after one more hour  (three hours in total) the fun began.

The dough was heaving and frothing like an underwater whirlpool full of giant jellyfish. After heavily dusting my board I poured the dough out, sprinkled more flour on the top and cut it with a dough cutter into pieces. I narrowly escaped the whole lot flowing onto the floor and making a run for the door at one point. Life can be too exciting in the kitchen sometimes.

Calmly throwing flour everywhere, including all over my shoes, I got the situation under control though.

Given that one is trying to preserve the bubbles to get that open and airy crumb that one associates with ciabatta, I decided not to scale the dough.  (That’s what I tell myself now anyway as I write)

I  cut the dough into rectangular pieces and handling them as lightly as possible, tried to straighten them up a little. I like ciabatta to look casual, I don’t expect to have perfect rectangles which is just as well as I don’t think I could make them!

They got proofed where they were, I wasn’t crazy enough to push my luck, and plopped more plastic boxes over the boards and then after an hour or so, having heated the oven to 240 C I used my little flipping boards to get them onto floured parchment paper on trays with a flip and a flop as fast as I could and into the oven.

Baked for about 35 – 40 minutes with steam. I cracked the oven door after about 25 minutes to let the steam out.

ciabatta with poolish

The crumb definitely has that ciabatta mouthfeel, open and airy, the crust thin and crispy.  The holes could be bigger, but given that my objective was just to get through this formula in the first place, I was quite content. The damson jam fell deliciously through the holes when I had a little toasted for breakfast.  The ciabatta is perfect with cream cheese and beetroot relish. Happy again!

I do think the bread would have benefited from going in on a hot tray or stone as there is a heaviness along the bottom edge of the crumb which you can see clearly,  but that would have involved more moving of the dough and I wasn’t up for that. I could maybe have extended the final proof by half an hour or more. All things to consider next time!

Anyway I feel less like Mickey and more like someone who can handle wet dough,  nothing like facing up to your demons.  Now I really want to make this again using a softer flour; I have some T55 in the garage which could come out to play next time!

A little bit of sidetracking here ….. I am not a huge Queen fan normally, but Tipsy Mcboozerton (what a great name Tipsy) has done a fantastic job on the original cartoon posted on YouTube… and if you want to see the magic in the skies this winter, have a quick peek at this totally beautiful diamond dust sundog extravagansa on Les Cowley’s wonderful site. Another kind of magic!

20 thoughts on “A Trembling Trough of Ciabatta

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      I often make breads with a lot less water, they are almost too exciting. I have to psych myself up to do them….. thanks for visiting again Deeba :)

  1. Abby

    I’m so glad you decided to make the ciabatta, Joanna….The loaves look perfect and delicious! (I never try to scale my ciabatta, either…always figure it’s better they’re a little off than that I totally deflate them in trying to make them even.)

  2. Choclette

    As usual, your bread looks lovely and I’m sure is very tasty. Andrew Whitley scared all of us on his bread making course last year – all of his doughs are very wet. As they were too wet too knead traditionally, he uses an air kneading method – tricky to begin with and we all had dough falling all over the work benches, but we sort of got the hang of it in the end!

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Thanks for the compliment :) How interesting Choclette, what sort of hydration were the doughs you were working with, it must be quite tiring to airknead large pieces of dough, or were you working with small chunks. I like this method of using a plastic tub and a light coating of oil to stretch and fold. I suspect the dough I made for this ciabatta would have flowed through my fingers if I had tried to air knead it. I hope one day that someone will do a scientifically rigorous comparative study of the different kneading methods currently being recommended to us all. It is overdue.

  3. cityhippyfarmgirl

    Wet doughs intrigue me, but every time I have made the dough with a higher hydration, it all gets just a little bit messy, sloppy and no increase in holes in my crumb. So there has been a little bit of frowning with concentration while reading your post. (Am however, LOVING a stiff dough at the moment and have discovered the joys of getting a tight crust…so smooth.)
    That ciabatta looks perfect with a little prosciutto, back yard tomatoes and perhaps a little red onion?
    …beautiful winter skies too.

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Thanks Brydie :) Try folding the dough with lightly oiled hands on an oiled board or better in a plastic tub. You gently pat the dough out, pick up the edge with your finger tips, lift it out and up and then fold it back over the main part of the dough. Repeat at the other end. If you can, turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat. The dough shouldn’t stick to your hands and by doing this you are stretching and preserving the aeration and doing some mysterious thing to the gluten and structure of the dough. You can do this with any dough, but it works its magic best on the wetter doughs.

  4. bagnidilucca

    I will appreciate the next ciabatta ( which means slipper) I eat even more now. I love Queen. We sort of found Freddie’s house in Zanzibar a few years ago. And I really love Mickey in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice – thanks!

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      I am sure they don’t make such a song and dance of it as I do in Lucca. Hee hee. I loved this clip when I found it on YouTube. I hope it is OK to link to it here. How fab to go to Zanzibar – lucky you :)

  5. azélias kitchen

    I need to come back and read through your details properly but they truly look wonderful! The crumb looks as if it has a chewy texture that I love…perfect for dipping into 1st grade extra virgin and sticky thick aged balsamic that I get myself for birthday treats! Now you need to figure out how to email me some…ok? It’s one of my top 5 breads ciabatta…well done!

    You should now be over your wet dough fear…are you?

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Virtual food – the next great tech advance that will revolutionize blogging. Didn’t Willie Wonka do that in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory? Thanks Azélia ;)

  6. drfugawe

    Oh, I’m glad you decided to do the ciabatta – and those loaves look wonderful. I agree it’s silly to even think of scaling the pieces; I laughed when I read that – in truth, the trick to keeping those veins of flour out of your finished loaf is to handle them as little as possible once they hit the flour – yeah, final proof on the board – Absolutely!

  7. heidiannie

    You brave woman – the reward you get for trying is that beautiful bread!
    I have been vacationing and eating at tea houses in the southern part of Maryland and Virginia- some of the best and worst food I’ve ever eaten. And then I look at your ciabatta and I realize that what I really want is some good chewy, holey bread with jam dripping through the holes.
    I think I need to go home to my starter. (and my husband, of course!)

  8. Anne Marie

    They look wonderful. The worst burn that I have received was when some ciabatta took on a life of their own while getting into the oven! I remain a little afraid of them.

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