Ciabatta! For some reason it seems to me that the word “ciabatta” should be some sort of Italian insult. Here, I’ll use it in a sentence: “Hey Whole Foods, you ciabatta, why the ciabatta should a few bags of grains cost me almost fifty ciabatta dollars?” Has a certain ring to it doesn’t it?
“That’s right sucka, I called you ciabatta…whatcha gonna do about it?”
Seriously, I was in Whole Paycheck the other day and dropped close to $50 shopping for stuff I can’t get at my grocery store downtown. Stuff like quinoa, pearl barley, French lentils, etc. Which I had to scoop out of those bins and into bags … myself. And write the number on the little twisty-tie … myself. For the kind of money they charge for those bulk bin consumables I should get a neck massage while five employees bag up my jasmine rice for me. Sigh. I appear to be suffering from a serious case of FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS.
Anyways, while I was there I also picked up a loaf of ciabatta bread to have for lunch, and despite my somewhat mixed reactions to Whole Foods bread, this one was pretty good. And it got me thinking about how I haven’t tried any new bread recipes lately. I pretty much mastered my baguette recipe and have been making it pretty regularly. But I figured it was time to try something a little more challenging. I recently uncovered my copy of Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day which has been missing since the move in July and I also recently received a kick-ass KitchenAid mixeras a gift from Dr. Fiance’s parents, so all of the bread making planets were aligned. Ciabatta yeah!
I’ve made several of Reinhart’s recipes (both bread and soft pretzels) in the past and this recipe was pretty similar to the others I’ve tried. Reinhart’s recipes are defined by the slow and cold method for the rise, and (in the case of ciabatta) a long, slow and multi-staged proofing before baking. The biggest difference from my earlier attempts was the fact that I used the fancy-schmancy new mixer. In theory this made for a more even mixing and yeast distribution. It definitely made it easier to get the dough ready, although I’m not sure if it saved me any time when you account for the extra cleanup involved.
The flavor of this bread is very rich and the flavor is much more developed than any of the others that I’ve made to this point. The crumb was custardy, moist and soft, while the crust is crunchy and slightly chewy. If anything I’d want the crust to be more chewy and less crisp, but I’m pretty happy with how this turned out.
The recipe for this ciabatta bread is easy, it is fairly long-winded and has a lot of steps. Since I didn’t make any significant changes to the original or the method, I would urge you to pick up a copy of Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day for the recipe. However, here are few observations about the process this time around:
- I used active-dry yeast instead of instant yeast that the recipe calls for. I buy active-dry because apparently it will last longer in the freezer than the instant stuff. I go through about two-pounds of yeast per year (give or take) and it is helpful to buy in bulk. When replacing instant yeast with active dry yeast, you need to add about 25% more than the recipe calls for.
- Active-dry yeast needs to be activated before adding it to the flour. The recipe calls for two cups of chilled water (as part of the slow fermentation process) so to get around that, I used 1.5 cups of cold water and 1/2 cup of warm water with the yeast dissolved in it. This method seemed to work out pretty well.
- I used parchment paper under the dough instead of putting the dough directly on the peel, which was a huge improvement. The dough for this recipe is very wet, soft and pliable (like many of Reinhart’s doughs) and is a bitch to get off of the peel. The parchment makes it easy to slide onto your baking stone, with the added advantage that you can easily rotate the loaves halfway-through to ensure even baking.
And as a final note, check out the kick-ass bread cutting board my dad made for me in the photo above. It has a slotted top to allow the crumbs to fall down into the box, which has a sliding back panel to easily empty out. My days of breadcrumbs all over the studio are through! The cutting board also doubles as a lid for the bread box he made for me as well. Super cool. Thanks dad!