Peasant breads are hot. In fact, it’s more common than not these days to find a restaurant’s bread basket filled with rustic rolls and good country loaves. These artisanal breads, as they are often called, are mixed, kneaded and baked with care, according to tradition rather than technology.
Ciabatta, also known as “slipper bread” because of its flat, rectangular shape, is one of the breads of the artisanal basket. For the recipe, we turned to Pamela Fitzpatrick of the Corner Bakery in Chicago. Fitzpatrick knows her bread, having begun her career under the tutelage of the noted Nancy Silverton at the La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles.
Here, Fitzpatrick shares her recipe along with several tricks of her trade. The dough requires more folding than it does kneading, making it simple and relatively quick to prepare. And the resulting porous loaves are ideal for sandwiches, of course — or for a dinner-party bread basket of your own.
This flavorful Italian loaf begins with a biga, the Italian term for “starter dough.” Make the biga a day before baking the bread.
- 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon room-temperature water (75°F to 80°F)
- 1 1/4-ounce package dry yeast
- 3 1/3 cups bread flour
- Place water in processor. Sprinkle yeast over. Let stand until yeast dissolves, about 8 minutes. Add 1 cup flour; process until blended. Scrape down sides of work bowl. Add 1 cup flour; repeat processing and scraping. Add remaining 1 1/3 cups flour. Process until small moist clumps form. Gather dough into ball (dough will be firm); place in large bowl. Cover; chill overnight (biga will soften, resembling thick oatmeal in texture).
- Biga (starter dough; see above)
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons room-temperature water (75°F to 80°F)
- Pinch of dry yeast
- 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons semolina flour
- 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
- Additional semolina flour
- Pull biga into walnut-size pieces; place in a clean large bowl. Add water, yeast and 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons semolina. Using 1 hand, squeeze ingredients together 2 minutes. Work dough 4 minutes by scooping sections from sides of bowl and pressing into center, blending into very soft, shaggy mass. Using spatula, scrape dough from sides of bowl into center. Let dough rest in bowl, uncovered, 10 minutes.
- Sprinkle salt over dough. Using 1 hand, knead dough by rotating bowl 1/4 turn at a time, scooping dough from sides and folding down into center until dough starts to come away from sides of bowl, about 5 minutes. Scrape dough from hand and sides of bowl. Cover bowl with towel; let dough rest 20 minutes.
- Rotating bowl 1/4 turn at a time, fold dough over onto itself 6 times; turn dough over in bowl. Cover with towel and let dough rest in bowl 20 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 425°F. Sprinkle work surface with additional semolina. Turn dough out onto semolina. Using pastry scraper or large knife, cut dough in half; keep halves separated. Let stand, uncovered, 20 minutes.
- Sprinkle 2 large baking sheets with additional semolina. Transfer each dough half, semolina side up, to 1 sheet. Stretch each dough half to 16×4-inch rectangle. Press fingertips into dough in several places to dimple surface (characteristic of this bread). Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Cool. (Can be prepared 2 weeks ahead. Double-wrap in aluminum foil to freeze.)
Source: Bon Appétit, January 1999