Well, at any rate, that was the consensus amongst my bookshelves. All of the books I own suggested that you need a breadmaker or a Kitchenaid to handle the wetness of ciabatta dough. But I figured that ciabatta loaves were around before electricity so it must be possible, it just might be a bit sticky to get the dough right.
And this was a fair assessment. The bread was made and devoured (with minestrone, in case you were wondering) and it was excellent and I want to make it again very soon. But I would suggest that if you haven't made bread before, this might not be a good starting place.
The sloppiness of the dough could fool you into thinking you've done something wrong when, in fact, you're doing it all perfectly. Easier options would be a basic sandwich loaf (with herby additions!) or some boyfriend-approved brioche buns. Or beer bread. Mmm, I wish I was eating beer bread right now. Why am I typing this up before dinner? What sort of stupid idea is that??
Anyway, it begins as bread recipes invariably do: with yeast, salt, flour, and water.
And, as usual, flour is dumped in a large bowl. Salt goes on one side, its nemesis, yeast, on the other. And then we pour in the olive oil.
I agree that neither of those instructions really had to be chaperoned with a descriptive photo, but I just love shots of things being poured.
But things get craaaaazy when we add the water. No, really, craaaa-aaaa-aaazy. Because we add a lot and make a mess. Which is why I got my Mum to take photos of me attempting to un-traditionally knead the dough in my hands.
And before you say it, I ALREADY KNOW:
My personal style icon is, worryingly, Tom Cruise circa his 1980s classics. #rainman #cocktail #topgun
— Rebecca Di Mambro (@rebeccadimambro) March 24, 2013
He might make a better cocktail but I'll be damned if his bruschetta bar snacks use ciabatta better than my homemade version.
Then the dough is dumped in a square container to rest and rise. It's quite important to find a square-ish container because this helps provide some shape to the loaves - I used an oiled 8x8 inch square baking pan and it worked well. The dough sits in here for an hour or two and then, MORE CONTROVERSY, we don't need to punch the air out of the dough. In fact, the whole point is to keep it as aerated as possible. So the dough is gently tipped from the square pan onto a (very) floured surface and divided into two loaves as neatly as possible. Then, with much swearing and brow-furrowing and frustrated sighs, the dough makes it onto a floured baking pan to prove. See?
Did you know that 'ciabatta' means 'slipper'? Sorta looks like one there, doesn't it? (Don't think about that while you're eating it though)
I made this loaf, photographed, on a cold day. So there weren't many warm places in the house to let it rise to its full potential. It sat on the downstairs loo for a while, because that's a small room so the radiator was able to heat it at least a tiny bit. But, generally, I'd like it to have risen somewhere warmer and for longer to get bigger air bubbles.
p.s. Not that this impairs the flavour in any way. Probably makes it better for dipping into soup/ holding bruschetta toppings. So really I'm a genius and you should try this out. Done.
Adapted heavily from Paul Hollywood's How To Bake, because I disagreed with his breadmaker-only instructions and did this by hand.
- 500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
- 10g salt
- 10g instant yeast
- 45ml (3 tablespoons) olive oil
- 400ml lukewarm water
- Fine semolina flour for dusting (optional)
- Begin by oiling whichever square tub it is you want to use to let the dough rise in.
- Then, in a large bowl, add the flour. Add the salt and yeast at opposite sides of the bowl. Add the olive oil and all of the water and begin to mix with your hands until the dough begins to come together. You'll need to knead for at least 10-15 minutes but the consistency of the dough should change eventually, becoming noticeably smoother, silkier, and stretchier.
- Tip the dough into the prepared tub, cover with a tea towel or clingfilm, and leave until at least double (or even trebled) in size - 1-2 hours or longer.
- Put two baking trays into the oven and preheat oven to 220°C/ 430°F, warming the baking trays.
- Dust your work surface heavily with flour - add the semolina too, if you have some. Carefully tip out the dough (it will be very wet) onto the work surface, trying to retain a rough square shape. Rather than knocking it back, handle it gently so you keep as much air in the dough as possible. Coat the top of the dough with more flour and/or semolina. Cut the dough in half lengthways and, if you want, divide these in half lengthways too to create four loaves in total (I made one large and two small loaves - pictured here is one of the smaller loaves). Stretch each piece of dough lengthways a little and place on floured parchment paper.
- Leave the ciabatta to rest for a further 10 minutes. While you're waiting, pour water into a large roasting tray and place this at the bottom of the oven - the steamy atmosphere this creates inside the oven will make the bread crustier.
- Bake bread for 25 minutes or until the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the base. Cool on a wire rack.