A few weeks ago, when someone posted a picture of a Ciabatta loaf on one of the social media forums I follow, I was very upset to see a tall, industrial looking loaf that evoked no recall of the Ciabattas as I had seen earlier. What made it worse was the fact that this was a loaf made by the bakery of a popular 5-star hotel in the South. I took it up as a challenge to make the real Ciabatta. But here I am, with a few changes here and there to suit the weather and my baking conditions albeit with a very very satisfying little loaf of bread.
From what I had read and eaten thus far, a Ciabatta is a flat, slipper-shaped Italian bread made using just flour, water, yeast, and salt. Like the Brun that we get here in Mumbai, the crust is supposed to be chewy and the interior should expose large airy holes and should be sponge-soft. It contains no fat at all, so for those of you who’re bothered by things like that, here you go! A classic Ciabatta needs loads of resting–up to 24 hours, even. But in the hot and humid city I live in, a couple of hours and a bit of sugar did the trick.
I’m going to make myself a large bowl of chunky Minestrone to go with it for dinner–and hope that it pours down while I eat so I can get all warm and cozy with my bowl of soup and perfect Ciabatta.
My Ciabatta tips:
- Rest the dough for 4 hours if you live in a hot place like Mumbai; more if it is cooler. I kept my dough in a cold oven with just the light on. This helped me to get a nice, slow rise.
- Don’t worry about the consistency of the batter–it will be quite loose, almost like a batter. If it is too runny, add a little bit of flour but keep it as loose and sticky as possible.
- Go ahead and do this in a mixer if you like, but with a bowl and spoon, it is minimally messy.
- Cool the Ciabatta completely before slicing.
- 5 cups all purpose flour
- 2 cups lukewarm (not hot) water
- 2 and 1/2 tsp. fresh yeast (or 3 tsp. dried yeast)
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- In 1 cup of lukewarm water, add sugar and yeast and leave in a warm spot until the yeast froths.
- Place the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and mix.
- Add the yeast mixture and the remaining cup of lukewarm water to the flour and mix with a wooden spatula or spoon until combined and no lumps are formed.
- At this stage, the dough will look more like a batter, but that is what we want; so don’t worry. Continue to exert muscle power and beat with all your anger for at least 5-10 minutes.
- Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rest in a warm spot for about 4 hours.
- Grease and dust a baking tray with flour.
- Beat the dough once again for a minute or two and tip onto the floured tray into two longish, slipper-like shapes. Do one at a time if your oven is small; the batter is runny so it runs the risk of mingling into one loaf.
- Leave to rest in a warm spot for about 30 minutes.
- Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200 degrees centigrade until evenly colored. When tapped, the loaf should sound hollow and feel light.
- Cool completely and slice before serving.