This is quite possibly my favorite bread ever to make…
and eat of course.
The key to flavorful crusty bread is the pre-ferment step. Called anything from a poolish, sponge, or biga they all simply mean fermenting a portion of the flour with water and a small amount of yeast before making the complete recipe. Think of it as adding flavor much like sourdough but without having to maintain a starter. The longer the natural and added yeast eat away at the carbohydrates in the flour the more sour it will become.
This ciabatta’s pre-ferment is called a biga. Biga means “chariot” in Italian. Maybe this “chariot” carries the flavor to the bread?!
This recipe is adapted from a recipe Strudel and I learned how to make at Cook Street School of Fine Cooking in downtown Denver.
I have discovered these two tools are VERY important when making crusty artisan breads.
You will see why later!
1/4 t. active dry yeast
1 1/4 c. warm water
1 3/4 c. all purpose flour
In your stand mixer bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water and let sit for a few minutes until it is creamy. Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined.
Cover with a shower cap and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 16 hours or refrigerate for several days for a sour taste.
2 t. active dry yeast
1 1/4 c. warm water
4 to 5 c. all purpose flour with 1 T. vital wheat gluten added (or 4 to 5 c. bread flour)
2 t. salt
Dissolve the yeast into the warm water and let sit for a few minutes until creamy.
Add yeast to the biga and then mix in flour on low speed with your stand mixer and dough hook attached.
Add salt last. Salt will decrease the activity of the yeast so never add the salt directly to the yeast.
Knead in the stand mixer for about 5 minutes. Dough will still be sticking slightly to the bowl.
Scrape dough into an olive oiled bowl with your white bowl dough scraper.
Cover with a shower cap. Turn the dough with the dough scraper 3 to 4 times throughout a 4 to 5 hour period (longer is OK).
Cut the dough into two pieces (with your metal dough cutter) and handle it as little as possible as you loosely form it into a slipper. Let rise for 30 to 60 minutes.
Bake at 500 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes in a steamy oven. I create steam by placing a pan of water on the bottom rack of my oven and also spraying the loaves with a spray bottle filled with room temperature water. After 10 minutes, turn the oven down to 475 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes.
Let cool completely before cutting.
Serve with olive oil seasoned with salt and pepper.