Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ciabatta with Biga

Saturday, July 12, 2009

This ciabatta turned out to have one of the most successful crusts I've ever made. It actually shattered when I cut into it. And it was delicious too. It's from Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread, from which, after making 4 or 5 different breads, I still can't decide whether I like or not. It's filled with information, but it's written in a way that's hard for me to decipher.
Jim looked at the cookbook and asked me if I was making ciabatta with poolish. "No," I said, "I'm making the one with the biga." "What's the difference between biga and poolish?" he asked. "Ummm," I said, "well, you know." "No, I don't," he said. I didn't want to admit I really didn't know the difference myself. I searched my memory. "Well, you ferment them ahead of time and add them to the dough. And poolish means Polish. I think." I finally looked it up, and there's not a huge difference, except that a biga is a more generic term for a pre-ferment and can be soft or stiff in texture, and can be refrigerated up to three days, whereas a poolish is never refrigerated. Got that?

This is the biga after it's been fermenting for about 14 hours.

It's stiff, and very, very sticky. You add it to the dough while it's mixing, and the biga definitely resists leaving your fingers.

It's an extremely wet and sticky dough. As with all of Hamelman's recipes, he gives two different quantities: one for professionals (that one uses 20 pounds of flour and makes 31 loaves) and one for home use (two pounds of flour, makes three small loaves). I decided to make only one large loaf, and so I divided the "home recipe" in half, using a total of one pound of bread flour.
Here's where I had trouble with the recipe. It tells you to fold the dough twice during the three-hour period of its first rising. It says, "Spread a considerable amount of flour on the work surface for the folds, and fold quickly and assertively. Be sure no extra flour is incorporated into the dough as it is folded." I must have read this 20 times. First, I couldn't picture in my mind what constituted "assertive" folding. I finally did a self-affirmation: "I am quick! I am assertive!" and hoped the bread would understand. Second, I couldn't figure out how I was going to do the folding without getting some of the flour on the counter mixed in with the bread dough.

As it turned out, it worked pretty well, and I managed to brush off most of the flour that wanted to incorporate itself, but I'm still not satisfied with those instructions. I think my hands look quite assertive.

You can see how much more the gluten has developed by the second folding, an hour later.

The bread takes very little shaping. If I had made the three loaves, they'd be narrower than this. But I wanted to use my bread steamer, and I can't make two, much less three, loaves at a time using the steamer.

I don't have a picture of the steamer process because it takes four hands to slide the bread on the hot stone, put the steamer lid on top, and actually steam with the hot steamer contraption. The word "hot" is in there twice, because we've rarely managed to use the steamer without getting at least a little burned. This time it went very smoothly, and we gave each other a congratulatory little fist bump. But not so fast.
The steamer lid stuck to one end of the bread, and the poor loaf got malformed.

But when I sliced the bread, I cut into that end first, so then it looked just about perfect. The crust is a rich mahogany brown--I probably would have taken it out of the oven a little earlier, but Hamelman warns that doing so would "greatly impair eating quality."

The eating quality of this bread was not impaired at all. It came out of the oven around 4:00, and we had it for a simple supper, with Italian dry salami, Morbier cheese, sweet cherries, and a crisp Chilean sauvignon blanc. If I had made the small loaves, we would probably have polished off one of them.
This morning, it was still fresh enough to be the star of a yogurt, fruit, and bread breakfast.
It's an exceptionally delicious bread, but I can't imagine what I would have done with this recipe if it had been the first bread I'd ever tried.
I'm going to give the recipe as it is in the book, but feel free to cut it in half, as I did.

Ciabatta with Stiff Biga
--From Bread, by Jeffrey Hamelman

6.4 oz. (1 1/2 cups) bread flour
3.8 oz. (1/2 cup) water
1/8 tsp. instant dry yeast

1 lb. 9.6 oz. (5 3/4 cups) bread flour
1 lb, 3.6 oz. (2 1/2 cups) water
.6 oz. (1 T.) salt
.13 oz. (1 1/4 tsp)instant dry yeast

1. BIGA. Mix the yeast, flour and water until just smooth. The biga will be stiff and dense, and may need a few more drops of water to mix entirely. Cover the bowl and plastic and leave for 12 to 16 hours at room temperature.

2. MIXING. Add all the ingredients to the mixing bowl except the biga. In a stand mixer using a dough hook, mix on low speed for 3 minutes. As the dough comes together, add the biga in chunks. The dough will be quite sticky and slack. Finish mixing on medium for 3 1/2 to4 minutes. The dough will still be sticky.

3. FERMENTATION AND FOLDING. Put the dough in a mixing bowl sprayed with baker's spray. Fold the dough twice, after one hour and again after two hours. This is where you fold quickly and assertively, adding no extra flour.

4. DIVIDING AND SHAPING. Flour the work surface copiously. Invert the dough onto the work surface and pat out the larger air bubbles. Lightly flour the top surface of the dough. Cut the dough into 3 rectangles, weighing about 18 ounces each. Gently shape into rectangles. Place the dough piece onto floured bread boards (I used floured parchment paper). Cover the shaped dough with baker's linen and then plastic.

5. FINAL FERMENTATION. About 1 1/2 hours.

6. BAKING: Preheat oven to 460 degrees.
To transfer the proofed dough to a baker's peel, spread the fingers of both your hands. With a quick, deft stroke, invert the dough piece so that the side that was touching the bread board is now on top. Place one hyand at each end of the dough piece, bring your fingers underneath, and pick it up. Here you will slightly punch the dough for easier transport; there should be wrinkles in the center of the loaf as the transfer it to the peel. [I just picked up the parchment paper and put it on top of a pre-heated baking stone--I'm using his instructions here just to show why I think they're hard to understand.) Fill the oven with steam, load the ciabattas, steam again, and bake for 34-38 minutes. (I used the steam machine; otherwise you can use either an ice cube or boiling water method to get steam. Hamelmans thinks you should use all three: ice cubes on a heated skillet before the bread goes in, boiling water on a heated pan when the bread goes in, and spritzing with water too). Lower the oven temperature by 10 or 20 degrees if bread is taking on too much color, but be sure not to underbake.
Remove the bread from the oven and let cool on a baking rack.


Anonymous said...

Somewhere on my bread baking/learning journey I read that it is more of a european style to bake the bread longer. This is to get a darker richer flavor in the crust, than we Americans might favor.
Your book seems to bear this out.

I find that I like my breads with great crust expectations done a bit longer like that, mmmmmmmmmmmm


doughadear said...

You know you have a good crust when it shatters and your ciabatta looks really good. Although I've had success working with wet doughs I still find them a bit unnerving. It's so much easier to manipulate a stiffer dough.

Marie said...

It's hard to argue with results, and since this crust was exceptionally good, I might want to start adding a few extra minutes to my baking time routinely and see what happens.

Yes, they're very unnerving, and it's hard to have any confidence that they'll work out, even if, as you say, you've had luck in the past. But those wet doughs do make good bread!

evil cake lady said...

you know, store bought ciabatta never impresses me but the photos alone of yours look very tempting. it must have been all those assertive affirmations!
thanks for explaining what a biga and a poolish are; i've always wondered!

Marie said...

I bought ciabatta at Whole Foods once--it was terrible! I don't think it's a bread that can be successfully mass-produced, unless the bakers use a LOT of affirmations.

Melinda said...

Doesn't it look good? I think it looks perfect. I need a little taste. Woody said he'd get me a slice.
I thought your hands looked very affirmative. Well...I would have been scared of you if I was the dough.

Marie said...

I'm glad the dough is scared of me, since no one else is. I've always wanted to inspire fear. Tell Woody to wait until you're eating bread again--then you can send him.

メル友 said...
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Flo said...


I found your blog via Rose Levy's and I have to say I love it!
The pictures are very good, plus you explain things easily and oh, thanks so much for sharing the recipes, which is something I don't do in my blog (plus I went private) for fear that I might be violating copyrights and such.
I'll visit again!
Cheers from Chile (yep, the wine country).

Marie said...

Welcome and thank you! I always have the copyright worry myself, although I think that writing about good recipes probably increases cookbook sales, even if you do give the recipe. That's my defense anyway.
Chile sounds very exotic--I'll bet you have an interesting story about how you ended up there.