The Elusive Endeavour …

It’s all the Doc’s fault.  (Maus says I always have to blame someone and this time it’s the Doc’s turn.)  Not that long ago, he put up a post entitled ‘Ciabatta, the Magic Bread’. That was the start of me trying to make a good-looking sourdough ciabatta.  I have posted on my five previous attempts.

Not to be deterred, I got out The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.  Many argue that this is the finest bread book there is for the home baker.  I haven’t used it much but I was looking for answers.  Peter Reinhart has several ciabatta recipes.  I was attracted to his Ciabatta, Poolish Version.  The photo of the finished loaf was to die for.  It had massive big holes and someone was dunking it in olive oil.  The poolish in the recipe is made with instant yeast but Peter does say, in his sourdough section, that you can substitute an equal amount of starter for the poolish, which is what I decided to do.  I also converted the recipe to metric which is why some of the quantities seem a bit strange.

For those who don’t know, poolish is a French word meaning a wet sponge.  It is usually made with equal weights of water and flour and 0.25% fresh yeast to flour.

Day 1 morning:

(This is based on a 100% hydration starter.  If yours is different, you will need to adjust the recipe).

  • 100g starter
  • 100g bread flour
  • 100g rain or filtered water

Mix together and set aside.

Day 1 evening:

Take 50g of the starter, add 50g bread flour and 50g rain or filtered water, mix together and put in fridge for later use.

For the bread, mix together:

  • 212g starter
  • 212g bread flour
  • 234g rain or filtered water

Day 2 when starter is all light and bubbly:

  • All of starter from the previous day
  • 384g bread flour
  • 1¾ tsp salt
  • 1½ tsp instant yeast
  • ½ to ¾ cup water
  • semolina flour for dusting
  1. Mix the starter, flour, salt and yeast together in the bowl of your mixer. Add about ½ cup of water.
  2. Mix on medium speed for 5-7 minutes until you get a smooth, stretchy dough.  The dough should, eventually, clear the side of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl.  If it clears the bottom of the bowl, add more water.  If it does not clear the side of the bowl, add a tiny bit more flour.
    Alternatively, mix by hand until you get a smooth, stretchy dough.
  3. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured bench and do a stretch and fold.
  4. Lightly oil a bowl and put your dough into it.  Spray the top of the dough with water and cover with Glad Wrap that has been sprayed with water. Set aside for 30 minutes.
  5. Repeat steps 3 & 4 but this time set aside for 1½ hours.
  6. Put a tray (a Swiss roll tray is ideal) on the bottom shelf of your oven and two unglazed tiles (side by side) about a third of the way up from the bottom.  We have a 60cm oven in Perth so only 1½ x 30cm tiles fit.  Maus cut one in half for me.  Turn oven to 250°C.
  7. Carefully pour your dough onto floured bench.  Try not to deflate it.  Using a pastry cutter that has been dunked in flour, cut the dough into 2, 3 or 4 rectangles.  I made 4 little loaves.
  8. Gently fold each piece of dough as follows: stretch the left third and fold it over the centre third; then stretch the right third and fold over centre third.
  9. Generously flour loaves with semolina flour.
  10. Put on floured tea towel which is folded to separate the loaves.  Cover with Glad Wrap which has been sprayed with water.
  11. Set aside for 45 minutes.
  12. With two pastry cutters:  in one quick movement, lift up one of the loaves and place it onto your peel.  Gently stretch the loaf a little.
  13. Generously flour the loaf.
  14. Pour boiling water into the tray in the bottom of your oven.
  15. Slide the loaf onto the unglazed tiles. Do the same with the remaining loaves.  They all fitted in my small oven.
  16. Get your water spray bottle, quickly open the door and spray your bread and around the oven with water.  Close the door.   About 2 minutes later, do it again and, after another 2 minutes, do it again.
  17. Turn your oven down to 220°C and bake for 30 minutes.
  18. Turn oven off and leave bread in oven for extra 10 minutes.
  19. Remove bread from oven.

Now, as you can see from the above three photos, I got some nice looking (and tasting) bread but it didn’t look or taste like ciabatta.

Not to be deterred, I decided to have one last try.  This time I decided to bake it in my cast iron pot.  Check out my post Italian Country Bread Mark II for the reasons why home bakers often cook their bread in a cast iron pot.  The only problem with cooking in the pot was I had to have a round loaf rather than the typical slipper shape of ciabatta.  If I could get the texture and taste of a ciabatta, I was willing to forgo the shape.

Proceed as above up to point 6, ie, points 1 – 5, then:

  1. Put your cast iron or similar pot in oven.
  2. Turn oven to 250°C.
  3. Carefully pour your dough onto floured bench. Gently, without deflating dough, make a rough ball.  Generously sprinkle your dough with Semolina flour.
  4. Put two long sheets of baking paper cross ways into a bowl and then gently place your dough right side up into the bowl. (Make sure you have enough excess paper to lift the dough into and out of the pot without burning yourself.)
  5. Cover with Glad Wrap which has been sprayed with water.
  6. Set aside for 45 minutes.
  7. Take the pot out of the oven, remove the lid, lift up your dough by the baking paper and put it in the pot.  Spray your dough with water, put the lid back on and return it to the oven.
  8. Turn the temperature down to 220˚C.  Bake for 20 minutes.
  9. After 20 minutes, take the lid off the pot and bake for another 20 minutes.
  10. Turn the oven off and leave your bread in it for an additional 10 minutes.

Ok, I admit failure.  I got another nice looking loaf that looks and tastes nothing like ciabatta.  I am officially giving up.  I may try a commercial yeast version but, otherwise, it’s time to let go and move on.


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