I started off my bread journey last week by making several white loaves, which were achieved without too much difficulty. I have discovered that kneading bread is a very therapeutic process and also incredibly satisfying when what was once a sticky mess comes together into a smooth, springy ball of dough.
I have since ventured out further to try my hand at ciabatta ….in search of that perfect chewy, spongy texture and those elusive air bubbles.
My first attempt used a recipe taken from the book How To Make Bread by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou. His book teaches a kneading method whereby the bread is kneaded little by little throughout the long proving time. This is a particularly useful method when working with ciabatta dough which is very wet and cannot easily be kneaded in the conventional way.
The finished bread was ok, although the loaves needed to be in the oven for much longer. There were some large air bubbles, but not nearly as many as should be to give the ciabatta it’s unique texture.
I decided to try again with a different recipe.
I found this one online. It uses a different kneading method where you stretch the dough upwards out of the bowl and smack it back down onto itself which helps to create more air bubbles, a real work out for the upper arms. As you can see from the photo above this did result in a more open crumb structure (sounds like something Paul Hollywood would say!) and the loaf had a beautiful chewy crust and a soft springy inside. The one thing I did notice however was that the large bubbles were not spread throughout the loaf. The ends were nice and holey, but the centre was quite close.
At the same time as the second batch I decided to have another go at the Emmanuel Hadjiandreou recipe. These things take quite a long time to prove so why not save time and do two different methods at once!
As you can probably tell by the third attempt, I’m getting better at shaping the loaves :)
I was quite disappointed with the results. The loaf was dense (still soft though) and did not even look close to what a ciabatta should look like neither did not have the lovely springy texture of batch 2.
So I decided to go for batch number 4. Five stars for perseverance.
This recipe, from the brilliant website The Kitchn, uses a starter which is made the night before. A starter is a simple dough, which is left to ferment for a long period of time (usually between 10-12 hours) and is then incorporated into the bread dough. Because the yeast is allowed to work for a much longer time the use of a starter can create better flavour in the bread and also, with ciabatta, is meant to help with the texture as well. The starter used for Italian breads is called biga and is much drier in consistency than the French poolish, often used for making baguettes and other French artisan breads.
Using a starter definitely helped the proving process, after only 1.5 hours the dough was tripled in size and bursting with huge air bubbles. But again, as you can see from the photo of the finished bread, the air bubbles are mostly concentrated towards the top of the loaf. This definitely was the best out of the 4, it had a lovely flavour and an incredibly soft, spongy texture, but just no air bubbles. Maybe I’ll just call it Italian bread and leave it at that…
I saw a Youtube video of a woman making ciabatta who turns the dough upside down before baking to redistribute the bubbles. Perhaps that’s what I need to try, but for now I am moving on to the next challenge and shall revisit ciabatta sometime in the future.