Ciabatta - I

Rhinehart's ciabatta

The summer heat is getting to me. I have started entering my kitchen less and cooking less. I make only what is required for survival which explains why I hardly seem to have anything to blog about. Besides we also have load shedding and water shortage problems and they do not offer me any encouragement to venture into hi-fi cooking! How could I forget the heavy traffic on the net that prevents me from logging on??? But, is good:):D!! I am not living in a war torn country nor do I need to wonder about my next meal - some realities are worse! I still have my AC on at night, still watch 'F.r.i.e.n.d.s' and 'Dance India Dance', I still have my kids right next to me and I know tomorrow will be a good day - so there!!

After the hard crust french bread I made last year I was a little disappointed as the baguette turned into a baton and could not be used for anything other than spanking - or so I thought until I realised that what I made was the genuine thing! The interior had been soft but the exterior was cracking hard, and then I came to understand from a well-traveled cousin that it was the right texture! Imagine my surprise - in India we always were given the impression that good breads have to be soft and fall into neat spineless slices when cut. Oh yes! a baguette or a ciabatta does have a spine, if you don't feel so - meri aankhon se dekho zara;).

Thanks to a more open economy and more people homing away from the Country, we now have access to French baguettes, good doughnuts and a few other multigrain breads in chains like Shoprite or Daily Breads. I was driven to make my own because I found that these stores really make you dole out huge amounts for breads that have been adapted to suit the 'Indian' palate and having discovered what is authentic these versions no longer appeal to me.

The French baguettes we find here are nothing but a farm fresh loaf shaped into long baguettes with a soft crust and lovely cuts and no holes. You do get the genuine ones but only at high end outlets which means traveling all the way to Bombay from Thane which is rather unrealistic! For something that is pretty basic it pinches me to pay extra and so I decided to bake these at home even if it means a few 'starter' problems! Once again thanks to so many motivating professional bread bakers who inspire me through their blogs. Don't be surprised if you find me venturing into sourdoughs soon! I am already making them in my mind - only, I don't get to bite them as they are just crusty visions:(!

I announced the other day that I was going to make a ciabatta (cha-bah-tah).

"A what?" asked Jr.H.

"A slipper bread," I said.

"Ah! The 'bata' makes sense," she said.

"So does a 'chaantah'." I replied. Doesn't the pronunciation feel like that:)?

"But why is it cha-bah-tah when it can be called see-ya-bah-tah?" She queries when I spell it.

"It is Italian." I say.

"I will still say 'see-ya-bah-tah' - sounds nicer." "I will call it a cha-bah-tah when I go to Italy!" She says. So long as I understand and our communication is effective, I do not have an objection, and so rests the case! OK! The truth is I said you get a 'chaantah' if you say 'see-ya-bah-tah':):D:D.

There! She had my curiosity going. I could not make a ciabatta now without the etymology. Not that the knowledge will help the formation of a perfect crust or not knowing the etymology will prevent the dough from rising but then, that is me!

I was soon googling for possible answers and was led to this very interesting page on "name analysis", where you enter your first name, and a report is generated giving you the general characteristics. My own report was so much 'me' that I was pretty impressed! Do try it once:), and yes google is great!! Are you still here? You were supposed to click that link only after you finished reading my page!

There is nothing much to the origin. These loaves are oval, flat and shaped somewhat like old shoes. Come to think of it they actually look like those closed canvas shoes we get at 'Bata', hence the name 'ciabatta'. I also tried many variations - herbed and rolled. All of them tasted great. Texture wise the first one was the best. I tried different techniques each time but realised that the slightest dimpling or pressing releases the gas and came to the conclusion that ciabatta is best made without any kneading at all - just stretching and folding!

This is one fussy baby and yes you do have to handle it like one!

Coming to today's bread, I gather it has to have the following characteristics:
A moist crumb and a cracking crisp crust. (+)
Its outward appearance - short wide long. (+)
Herbs, oils and olives may be added to give it a focaccia like appearance (Did that when I turned them into panini breads).
Panini sandwiches are generally made with ciabatta bread (Tasted great this way - I made the herbed ones next day, see attempt II!).
The test - large uneven holes (-) - I think I dimpled the dough too much and ended up degassing it!

My results:
Absolutely crunchy and crisp on the outside, soft and airy on the inside but I did not get those uneven holes that characterize a ciabatta. I got them in the first attempt but not in my other two attempts, and no, it is not at all rock hard or anywhere close to a chaantah:)!

Here are some of the links I found to the best ciabattas on the net. Do check up these links - it really helps to know what lies in store.

Hamelman's Ciabatta recipe
Susan of Wild Yeast.

Diana's Desserts
Jude at Apple, pies and pate
Susan at Wild Yeast.

Attempt 1:
King Arthur Flour's recipe for ciabatta: (The best so far)

King Arthur flour ciabatta

The first one was the one that got over in minutes when I opened them at my workplace. I took it along with white sauce and a simple medley of tomato, green pepper and onions seasoned with oregano and basil. I am reproducing the recipe below from the site only for my reference. Kindly look up the original site for some more wonderful recipes - i.e., if you haven't been there before:)

I have adapted the recipe slightly to suit my needs:

The starter (poolish)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon yeast (I used 7g fresh yeast)
1 1/2 cups cool water (I used boiled and cooled water)

The dough:
1 1/2 cups APF (I used 1 cup APF + 1/2 cup maize starch)
1 teaspoon instant yeast (7g fresh yeast)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt(I used 1 tsp.)

The night before:

Stir the water, 2 cups of the flour, and 1 teaspoon of the yeast together, cover and let rest at room temperature for several hours, or overnight.

Next morning:

Add the remaining flour, yeast, and salt, mixing vigorously until the dough begins to hold together. This is a very sticky dough; add more flour only if it's "soupy."

My mistake:

I mixed all the flour, yeast, water and salt the previous night. Since the mistake was doen and could not be corrected, I left it as it was and followed the proper procedure from here on. So in effect I did not have a starter but actually fermented the dough itself and did noly the proofing parts the next day!!

Place the dough in a lightly floured bowl. Let it rise for 1 hour, then gently deflate it.

Let it rise another hour, then turn it out onto a liberally floured work surface and sprinkle lots of flour on top. Flatten the dough to an 8" x 10" rectangle, about 3/4" thick, and cut it into two pieces, each about 4" x 10" inches.

Transfer the loaves onto a piece of parchment, leaving about 6" between them. Cover with a proof cover or heavily oiled plastic wrap, and let rise till they're very puffy, about 2 hours.

While the dough is rising, heat your tray or stone and set the temperature to 250deg. Cel. Allow the oven to heat for 30 minutes. Spritz the dough with water, then transfer the bread to the tray, parchment and all, and lower the oven temperature to 200 deg. cel. Bake the ciabatta until it's golden brown, approximately 22 to 25 minutes.

Turn the oven off, place ciabatta on the oven's middle rack, crack the door open about 2", and allow ciabatta to cool completely in the turned-off oven.

Yield: 2 ciabatta - Mine became three and two were pretty lean!!

Here it is for you to see:

Since the rest were eaten up soon, I do not have any pictures of the first attempt with toppings:

Align CenterKing Arthur flour ciabatta

Attempt II:

I did this as per Video 2: Hamelman's Ciabatta recipe

This time I used the starter and then the dough as per the king arthur recipe above. Next I placed in a well oiled large food grade plastic box measuring nearly 10 inches by 12 inches, and 5 inches deep. I sprinkled a lot of chopped garlic, coriander (nearly a cup), rosemary on the dough the first time I proofed it. I gave it three proofs before it went into the oven at 200 deg. Cel. I folded it exactly as shown in the video:

Here is the proof:

Panini bread

and this is now the paninis were:

Result - very very tasty. Perfect for panini, and the flavours were awesome:)

Panini bread

Attempt III: Peter Rhinehart's recipe as seen here:

I found the water very less and dipped my fingers in cold water often and spread the dough by dimpling it carefully but though the end result was very very tasty it wasn't the bread I wanted:(!! My daughter insists this was the best!!

Rhinehart's ciabatta

I expected something more holey and uneven, still the taste was great and with the toppings it was definitely better than what you find at good outlets too:))

Rhinehart's ciabatta

There is something about those big uneven holes, the crusty top, the sticky dough - very earthy - and if you need an excuse to being a kid and play with sticky fingers this is just the thing for you! Oh!! The proofed dough is softer than a baby's cheeks - so all that handling like a baby does not go in vain:)

Some pointers for first timers like me!
Don't panic if your dough is ooey, gooey and puddingy sticky - you are close to perfection:). In fact if you dip your fingers you should end up with dough on your fingers and stretchy films.

A few precautions:
Does it sound intimidating?
Stay calm! It is quite easy - all you need is a little bit of patience. If your spouse is going to cook the rest of the meals for the day like mine - the experience is cakewalk!

Hey! I forgot to mention so many things in the past few posts!

Do you recall Pritya hosting "Cooking for Kids - love" sometime back?
Pedatha's sister, Sarala Athaiyya chose three winners, and I was one of them, the others being Linda and Radhika Mohan. I was thrilled when the courier delivery man brought me a rectangular parcel because I knew what was inside - Jigyasa and Pratibha had offered a choice between two of their cookbooks. I chose their second book 'Sukham Ayu' as I really needed to know more about ayurvedic cooking. What thrilled me more was that my daily cooking conforms to most principles while also being low calorie and nutritious. But then, I guess most people do that as we have so many portals to get the right information!

Its a lovely book, designed well and has extrememly simple instructions. I received a request from 'Simply Innocence' to cook a few recipes from the book. I have got the necessary permission from Pratibha so you will soon find one coming up on this blog soon!!

That was the first one:). The second good news involves spending:D

I also replaced my existing small oven with a 34L oven from Optima a few days back!! The bread you saw is made in the new oven:). I also bought a small coffee grinder basically to act as a spice grinder, and so many little things like cutters, ice cream scoops.......- was such a bliss shopping away for my oven kitchen!!

We are running 40 deg. Cel. already and it is only April yet - yes! it is as hot as an oven. I sometimes have visions of my bread baked and browned even before I have put it inside the oven:)! Am I glad I will be escaping the May heat!!

Phewwww...... this turns out the longest rant yet, I guess:D

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