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Ciabatta, the famous Italian "slipper bread," is a lovely, rustic, oval-shaped loaf, full of large, irregular holes. We like to make a flat version of this, really focaccia-like, which becomes the perfect base for all kinds of toppings. In addition to being flat to begin with, we cut it in half horizontally after it's baked, so it's even thinner. Fresh out of the oven, it's crisp and delicious. Toasted the next morning, it's just as good. It's a wonderful vehicle for a whole variety of things: salmon in any guise; olive oil spiked with garlic, hot peppers, rosemary, mustard… whatever. Ginger marmalade is a delight; or orange marmalade and sliced Havarti. In summer, try pesto, tomatoes and mozzarella, or a wonderful local goat cheese.
This recipe will make two loaves. A large-capacity bread machine or mixer is almost a necessity here, because the dough is so slack it's almost unkneadable by hand. And remember (this is a soapbox we'll never desert), a scale makes measuring a cinch.
3/4 cup (6 ounces) water
3/4 cup (3 ounces) pumpernickel
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon instant yeast
all of the biga
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) water
3 3/4 cups (15 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
a splash of olive oil
The Biga: In the bucket of a bread machine, or in the bowl of an electric mixer, combine and mix the ingredients just until everything is well-blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl or bucket if necessary. Cancel the machine. Cover the bucket or bowl with plastic wrap, and let it rest on the counter overnight.
The Dough: Combine all of the dough ingredients and knead, in a bread machine or mixer, until the dough is elastic. This should take about 15 minutes in a bread machine, or 10 minutes in a mixer. Allow the dough to rise, covered, until it's very puffy, 1 to 2 hours, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.
Transfer the dough to a well-floured kneading surface and, using a bench knife, fold the outside edges into the center, gently pressing out the gas as you do. Slide the bench knife under the dough to make sure it's not sticking (throw a little flour onto the counter if it is), turn it over, and cut it in half. Cover the two pieces and give them a 5-minute rest, to make sure they're good and relaxed.
Drizzle 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil onto the bottom of an 18 x 13-inch half-sheet pan, or similar-sized cookie sheet with sides. Place one piece of dough on the pan, flip it over (so its top surface is coated with olive oil), and slowly spread the dough out until it covers most of the bottom of the pan. Don't be compulsive about this. The olive oil will make everything slippery, and the dough will want to fight back; you may need to let it rest a couple of times for it to cooperate. After making this bread a couple of times, you'll discover how thick you like it, and then you can go with whatever process produces that result. Repeat with the remaining piece of dough. Cover with well-greased plastic wrap, and let the incipient ciabattas relax and begin to get puffy, which will take about 60 to 90 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 450°F. Bake the ciabattas for about 15 to 18 minutes, or until they're a light, golden brown; switch the baking sheets on the shelves (top to bottom, bottom to top) midway through the baking time.
Remove the bread from the oven, and cool it on a rack. The best way to cut it horizontally is to cut it up crosswise into whatever size you want (it can easily make 12 pieces), and then cut each of these pieces horizontally to make very thin slices. Yield: about 4 dozen thin 4-inch pieces.
Nutrition information per serving (1/24 of one loaf, 32g): 71cal, 1.2g fat, 3g protein, 13g complex carbohydrates, 1g dietary fiber, 84mg sodium, 82mg potassium, 1mg iron, 24mg calcium, 53mg phosphorus.
This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. XI, No. 5, Summer 2000 issue.