The “and bread” bit has been sadly missing from my blog recently – posting less frequently, plus Spring busyess and the allotment have somehow meant I never quite get around to it. But I am still avidly baking – and eating – bread, so thought it was high time for another bread post.
We have our normal every day bread – typically wholemeal 5-seeded and crusty white, but we also have what I call “weekend bread”, stuff that I don’t keep going all the time but which we all enjoy. I like to make something “extra” for weekend lunches, and Ciabatta is a household favourite. It is, I have to be honest, a bit of a pain – and very messy – to make, but it is so delicious, it is worth the hassle. I just wish it didn’t disappear so quickly.
So, if you like ciabatta – the real stuff, not the part-baked plastic version you get in the local corner shop – and are up for a bit of a kitchen adventure, this is for you. I use the recipe from Dan Steven’s ‘Bread’ book:
750g Strong white bread flour
250g fine semolina plus (lots!) extra for dusting
10g dried yeast
25g fine sea salt
800ml warm water
A generous Tbsp olive oil plus extra for drizzling
Prepare yourself, this is messy and a little involved, but well worthwhile. And although you are supposed to use fine semolina, I often can’t get it and course works just as well.
- Mix the dry ingredients together and then add the water and mix to form a very wet dough, and add the olive oil. If you have a mixer with a dough hook, this might be a good time to use it – I just use my hand, with fingers splayed. Mix until the dough is smooth, which takes about 5 minutes. This isn’t a dough you knead in a conventional manner!
- Put the bowl with the dough in a clean bin liner.
- Every half hour for three hours do the following:
- Uncover the bowl and slug some olive oil in.
- Massage the oil over and under the dough.
- Do your best to fold the dough over in half, then in three the other way. The first couple of times this won’t really work, but after a while it gets easier, the dough becomes silkier and bouncy, and you start to see the large air bubbles or blisters so characteristic of good ciabatta.
- By now the dough will have a lot more structure to it. Now the really messy bit. Tip the dough out onto a surface liberally dusted with semolina, and put a pile of semolina to one side where you can grab handfuls easily. Have a couple of boards liberally sprinkled with more semolina to hand.
- Divide the dough into 6 equal sized pieces – easy to say, tricky to do. I use a sharp knife and sort of chop and separate.
- Take each piece, sprinkling the work surface with enough semolina to prevent it sticking, and flatten it out. Fold the edges in to make a rough rectangle, and then roll up lengthways, pressing on the seam to seal it. Pick it up and place it on a semolina-sprinkled board, stretching out slightly as you do so. Sprinkle with more semolina, which by this point has got everywhere. Repeat until you have 6 roughly equal long thin loaves. As you can see, I’m not terribly good at making the pieces equal in size…
- Cover the shaped loaves with a bin liner and leave to double in size. I find this tends to happen quite quickly, probably within an hour.
- Put the oven on its highest setting and put a couple of baking trays in to heat up. I never have room for a steam tray as well, so don’t bother – not sure you are meant to anway…
- Once the oven is up to temperature, remove the hot trays and one at a time (as if you would do it any other way – sorry) lift each shaped loaf and gently place it on a tray, stretching it again slightly lengthwise as you do.
- Bake at the highest temperature for 10 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200C/390F and bake for a further 15 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool, drizzling with a little olive oil. Heave a sigh of relief and do some tidying up, the kitchen will now look as if there has been a semolina fight in it…
That’s it! Lovely, crusty ciabatta with huge blisters which will be promptly devoured in the blink of an eye. Good luck hanging on to enough to try panino (posh toasted sandwich) – I’ve still not managed to get that far. I sometimes shape at least some of the dough into large rolls, they make fabulous wrappings for home made burgers.