Diana's Desserts - www.dianasdesserts.com

The Very Lightest Ciabatta

Servings: Makes 1 loaf
We love this recipe. It yields an extremely light, air pocket-riddled loaf, wonderful for dunking in soup or splitting lengthwise, to make a sandwich. Ciabatta literally means "slipper" in Italian, and the name refers to the shape of the bread -- a flattened oval, kind of like a comfortable old bedroom slipper you just can't bear to throw out. However, Ciabatta has come to mean, at least in this country, any airy, dimpled loaf dusted with flour, of just about any shape. We like to remain true to the original spirit of the loaf, and shape it into a rough oval.

This bread begins with an overnight sponge, which means the finished loaf has just the barest of sour tangs. As the sponge ferments, it creates certain acids that not only give the bread flavor, but affect the gluten, making the bread chewier. The use of a sponge will also increase the loaf's shelf life.

Carol Field, in her wonderful book The Italian Baker, claims that this dough is one that simply can't be kneaded by hand; it's just too sticky. Keep this in mind when you're preparing the dough. During the winter you'll need to use the greater amount of water in the range indicated below. In the dog days of August, when your flour's been in a humid kitchen all summer, you'll use the lesser amount. Your goal is a dough that is very sticky, but holds its shape; when you scoop it out onto your work surface, it will settle into a flattened mound that is best approached with oiled hands and a bench knife or bowl scraper.

For the Sponge
1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (or any other brand of unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

For the Dough
Sponge (from above)
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (or any other brand of unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon nonfat dry milk
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil

For the Sponge:
Mix the sponge ingredients, in a small bowl OR in the pan of your bread machine, until well combined (program the machine for Dough, then cancel it once the ingredients are mixed, after a couple of minutes). Let the sponge rest overnight, covered, or for up to 15 hours.

Stand Mixer Method:
Place all of the dough ingredients into the bowl of your stand mixer, and beat it at medium speed, using the flat beater, for 5 to 8 minutes. The dough will never completely clear the sides of the bowl, though it'll begin to acquire some shape. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours; it will get very puffy.

Bread Machine Method:
Place all of the ingredients into the pan of your bread machine, program the machine for Manual or Dough, and press Start. Examine the dough about 10 minutes before the end of the second kneading cycle; it should be very tacky, but should be holding its shape somewhat. Adjust the dough's consistency with additional flour or water, as necessary. Allow the machine to complete its cycle.

Transfer the dough to a well-oiled work surface. Lightly grease a large cookie sheet, and your hands. Using a bench knife or your fingers, divide the dough in half. Handling the dough gently, stretch it into a log about 10-inches long, and place it on the baking sheet. Flatten the log with your fingers till it's about 10-inches long and 4 to 5-inches wide. Repeat with the remaining piece of dough. Lightly cover the dough with heavily oiled plastic wrap, and allow it to rise for 1 hour; it'll become quite puffy. Oil your fingers, and gently poke deep holes all over the dough. Re-oil the plastic wrap, re-cover the dough, and allow it to rise for an additional hour.

Dust the dough very lightly with flour. Bake it in a preheated 425°F (220°C) oven, throwing four or five ice cubes on the floor of the oven as you put the bread in. Allow the ciabatta to bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until it's golden brown. Turn off the oven, remove the ciabatta from the baking sheet, and return the loaf to the oven, propping the oven door open a couple of inches with a folded-over potholder. Allow the ciabatta to cool completely in the oven; this will give it a very crisp crust.

Makes 1 oval shaped loaf.

Nutrition information per serving (1 slice, 1/4 of loaf, 98g): 187 cal, 3.5g fat, 5g protein, 33g complex carbohydrates, 1g sugar, 1g dietary fiber, 406mg sodium, 78mg potassium, 5RE vitamin A, 2mg iron, 91mg calcium, 53mg phosphorus.

Source: King Arthur Flour
Date: June 1, 2003