I was between Ciabatta and a savory Panettone (brioche-based cake of dried fruits and stuff for dessert), which I won’t name because I plan on doing it NEXT week. My final decision was based on something huge and monumental; someone else idly mentioning they liked ciabatta in a text. A sign! Or, more realistically, an easy excuse for me to make a choice.
Though I am very glad I went for it, been having the urge to do SOMETHING very classic, traditional, and, most importantly, exploring the use of starter-dough and some other fun techniques. Not sure how I feel about tackling baguettes, or similar breads, but ciabatta will act as a fun mediary to practice with early on. But more importantly, I get to try my hands on POOLISH. A pre-ferment along with Biga and Pate Fermentee, these are mixtures of flour, water, and yeast made at least a day in advance of working on the dough in question. The purpose is two-fold; firstly, it provides an element to help start and facilitate your bread’s fermentation process. Secondly, and even better, is flavor development; but simply, as bread ferments, chemical reactions develop flavor that affects the final taste of the bread. It’s not just THAT it ferments either, but HOW, or to be more specifically how fast. To put simply, based on a generally accepted decision by bakers everywhere, the best flavors usually come through long, slower fermentations that usually happen at cooler temperatures. One can apply this to your bread by ‘retarding’ the dough, or letting it sit in the fridge/cold environment during its bulk fermentation and proofing stages, which will extend the time it takes to prepare by many hours, but is also a good way to set it aside for the day/overnight while, even better, improving the flavor drastically. By having a pre-ferment, made the day beforehand and kept in the fridge, you can easily add this step into the final dough. Oh, it probably helps to create that distinctive structure we know about baguettes and ciabatta vs loaves.
Poolish happens to be the simplest of the three main pre-ferments, basically just making a thick yeast-foamy batter. I can’t wait to try it some of the others; speaking of trying other things, I really wanna see the affects of using milk instead of water, which quite a few recipes here give as a substitute. But let’s stick with basic for now, see the results before experimenting.
Poolish (day 1)
2 ½ cups/11.25 oz Bread Flour
1 ½ cups/12 oz Water, Room Temp
¼ tsp/.03 oz Dry Yeast
- Mix everything in large bowl/container until combined into a thick batter
- Cover with plastic wrap (or lid), sit room temp 3-4 hours, or until notably bubble/foamy
- Move to refrigerator until use, suggested next day but can last for 3 days (3 weeks if stored in freezer)
- Remove from fridge at least 1 hour before use so as to warm up
Directions (assuming Electric Mixer, otherwise use large spoon and hands)
- Combine Poolish, Flour, Salt, Yeast, and 6Tb of water in mixer bowl with paddle attachment, turning on low to combine into a sticky ball. If there’s any loose flour, add more water until absorbed
- Increase speed to medium for a couple minutes; once thick, switch to dough hook and beat for 2 minutes. It is very important to keep it moist; the final result should pull from the sides but still stick to the bottom of the bowl while mixing. Looking for soft and smooth yet sticky result. It should still pass the Windowpane Test
- Generously sprinkle counter work area with flour, transfer dough (suggested to use a rubber spatula/scraper briefly dipped in water). Note that from here on out, one should attempt to apply as little excess force and manipulation to the dough as possible
- Dust liberally with flour, pat into rectangle, let rest two minutes
- Grabbing each end with flour-dusted fingers, lift up, allowing the dough to naturally pull and stretch from gravity to twice its original length. Fold both ends, one over the other, back into a rectangular shape
- Mist with spray oil, dust flour, and cover plastic wrap or towel and rest half an hour
- Repeat stretching, fold, and covering and let ferment 1½ – 2 hours until notably swollen
- Cut into 2-3 (or in my case, 4) equal sections with water-dipped pastry cutter, taking care not to ‘de-gas’ the dough
- Generously sprinkle and roll (using pastry scraper) in more flour. Move onto Couche cloth (described below) and fold in part of the left and right sides to form an oblong shape
- Bunch cloth between pieces, spray with oil and dust flour one last time before covering with towel to proof 45-60 minutes
- Preheat oven, with Baking Stone/s and Metal Pan inside, to 500F and prepare 1 cup Hot Water and Mister/Sprayer (aka preparing Oven for Hearth Baking)
- Transfer dough to sheet pan or wooden peel that’s been generously dusted with Semolina/Cornmeal, using pastry scraper to delicately move
- Briefly lift dough from each ends, like with previous stretching technique, so it lengthens a couple inches. Pat gently to keep even top and smooth oblong shape
- Very quickly slide dough onto baking stone and dump the cup of hot water into the pan, close door
- Wait 30 seconds, open, and mist sides of oven with water. Close and repeat this two more times (thus you’ll have misted it 3 times 1½ minutes after having placed bread in oven)
- After third and final misting, turn oven down to 450 degrees, bake 15-20 minutes, turning loaves around after 10 minutes if baking is uneven
- When an even dark golden brown, crusty, and the inside reaches 205F, remove and transfer to rack for cooling until use
What Have I Learned This Time?
I learned that I did something WRONG making this Ciabatta; not sure what, the bread turned out very good and tasty actually, but the crumb feels too tight (like a baguette, there should be some notably bigger, random air pockets developed). My guess is it had to do with one, if not both, of two factors: unlike my last dough, where I had too much, I don’t think I had ENOUGH water here. If it were another regular dough, the structure would have been perfect for ideal, but my guess is that Ciabatta and similar need the lighter, moister structure to create more give when the air pockets try to expand while cooking (the firmer and less sticky doughs would be denser, heavier, and thus a tighter final crumb). Secondly, I think my hands may have played around and shaped the dough a BIT too much before the final transfer, letting out some of the trapped gas. I barely did anything, but it’s like with Biscuits; you want to mix until everything is combined, and then STOP, because anything after that just gives it more and more of that unwanted gluten. So it is that I know, now, I really need to stop being a clumsy explorative doof and LEAVE MY DOUGH ALONE. No wonder it doesn’t like me.
Found out how to make a Couche! Normally it’s just a heavy-duty linen cloth used to lay bread on, with layers bunched between each loaf, during its final proofing stage. But if you don’t have that kinda cloth, I’m too lazy to go out and find something proper, just take some sort of tablecloth or similar, LARGE cloth that you’re sure isn’t going to be used for anything, and spray down with oil before dusting with a bunch of flour. After a few uses and re-applying, should mold itself into a proper couche cloth for permanent use.
Got my first run at ‘hearth baking” at home, good thing I’ve got those baking stones. Really sucks trying to do it and take pictures at the same time though, so don’t expect me to do any of that in future posts! Simple ‘bread in oven’ views for you from now on. I got an awesome crust from it (gelatinization principle, I’ll maybe explain it another time), but it got just a bit burnt on the bottom (and top), so I need to focus on it more in the future…
Ummm, I reeaaaalllly liked it in a meatball sandwich. Sliced in half, baked with butter, and stuffed with those giant messy orbs… I have to say, despite how thick the bread was, and rather dense and chewy it is, I’m surprised how well it compressed around the large meatballs with pressure. They ate surprisingly well, and of course the bread tasted awesome.
I wish I could make this kind of bread a lot more often so that I could pull back a bit of fermented poolish or dough (forget at which stage you do that) to work into every new batch of poolish, over and over until I’ve developed one of those generation-developed ‘mother’ starters that’s just got so much flavor and personality to it.
Oh! Last thing, this was the first time I ever made a dough that passed the windowpane test by myself! I know it’s really sad, but ‘tis a big deal for me, I’m happy.
Does the Dough Like Me Yet?
It seems to be humoring my efforts but still shows little regard for working together with me perfectly to accomplish my ideal interests. Seems a bit cheeky