Yesterday, I was out at a concert (lovely Tori Amos on the last Gay Pride day in Stockholm) and I had this sudden craving for baking bread –how uncharacteristic of me…
Unfortunately, I did not have my sourdough starter ready. ‘She’ was sleeping in the fridge and it would have taken a whole day to wake her up. So, inspired by a conversation I just had with the Brasilian-Italian Master Baker Marcos Cerutti who makes amazing breads both with sourdough and yeast-based pre-ferments, once home I looked in the cupboard to see if by any chance I had some instant yeast. I was not sure as I generally don’t use brewer’s yeast, as accustomed as I am to bake with sourdough only. But I got lucky, and I found a half used package of yeast among some expired ones.
I then proceded to build a poolish. I had only some vague idea about it, because I never made a poolish before. But being at the same time lazy and stubborn, I went on doing it the way it seemed right at the moment, rather than opening my laptop or baking books and search for the most common formula.
It was already midnight and just before going to sleep I put the poolish on my 18 degrees (all temperatures are in Celsius here) cold balcony and went to sleep. In the morning the sun was shining on my poolish container (wrapped in a kitchen towel) so I moved it to the kitchen (about 21 degrees). At noon, I again followed my baking instinct and built my ciabatta dough. I intentionally used supermarket organic flour my family generally uses for non bready recipes. I wanted to see if I could get a good result even with a relatively weak flour (10% proteins) and one which has been on a shelf for quite some time.
The dough went quite fast. And I made sure to turn on the oven timely, in order for the stone to be very hot (it takes about two hours at full power) by the time I felt it was ready to be baked.
I wasn’t planning to write about this bread, but a bready pal asked me to describe the method in detail because, she thought, it would help her achieve the light crumb she is after. And I think it is interesting to write this down also to understand what it is, truly, which gives the “holey”, feathery, crumb. For a long time I thought it was all the result of an healthy starter. After this experiment I realized that having an eye for fermentation (rather than sticking to recipes), and for what is really going on in one’s kitchen, plus a careful and delicate handling of the dough are just as important as the help of healthy and cooperative fungi and bacteria.
1. The night before, combine a little less than 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast (2.5 grams) with 80 g water and 100 g all purpose flour (I use organic), to make an 80% hydration pre-ferment. Combine with a spoon and leave to ferment overnight in a container with a lid. I kept mine between 17 and 21 degrees for 12 hours. Adjust fermentation time according to your room temperature.
180 g poolish
500 g all purpose organic flour
370 g water
50 g water (to add later)
1 1/2 teaspoon salt (to add later)
2. Combine by hand the poolish with the flour and the 370 g water in a large bowl. Make sure the flour is well combined with the rest.
3. Let the dough rest, covered for 1/2 hour.
4. Add the salt and the remaining water to the dough. Squeeze the dough through your fingers, making sure the salt is well incorporated. Make several folds right away, in the bowl, to strengthen the dough.
5. Leave the dough untouched and covered for about 2 1/2 hours, but make sure to keep an eye on it. Speed of fermentation depends heavily of temperature. It was 21 degrees room temperature in my kitchen.
6. After 2 hours, turn on your oven, at maximum heath, with the stone in (if you have it). Make sure to leave a baking dish placed in the bottom, too.
7. After about 2 1/2 hours have passed, transfer the dough on a floured surface. Divide into 6 pieces and make every piece look like a rectangle, more or less, elongating the dough by pulling slightly with your hands and flattening slightly to make it larger.
8. Place the ciabattas on an heavily floured tray (and heavily flour they tops, too). Best is if you get yourself a breakfast wooden tray with medium high borders, I am very happy with mine (will post pictures at the earliest occasion).
9. Cover with plastic wrap –or with another breakfast wooden tray, if you have it– and let rest for an hour and a half. Again, check on your dough. When you see evident medium-large bubbles on the surface of your ciabattas, they are ready.
10. Take a baker’s peel and heavily flour it. Alternatively, place some baking paper over it. With your hands, gently lift each ciabatta from the tray and place it on the peel. In my small oven I could only bake 2 ciabattas at a time, if you have a larger oven you can bake more ciabattas at once, obviously.
11. Boil some water (about 1 cup) and transfer it to a small pot with an handle.
12. When placing the ciabattas in the oven, pour the water into the baking dish placed on the bottom of the oven.
13. Lower the heat to 250 degrees and bake until the ciabattas look slightly golden both on top and bottom.
Quite an easy recipe, isn’t it? I hope it will give you the crumb you are after. And if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment. Happy baking!
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