OMG I made a loaf of sourdough ciabatta bread that was so delicious it almost made me cry! This is significant (miraculous) because I am not a baker. The last cake I baked was over a decade ago for some friends’ engagement party. (Of course it was a beautiful confection of a thing topped with sugared pansies I grew myself). My bread machine has been gathering dust in the basement for at least 6-years (since Dr. Atkins but the cursed-fear of carbs into me). Also, back when I used to eat bread, I tried making sourdoughs with my own starters and they always came out more like bitter doughs (yuk).
Nonetheless a number of seemingly unrelated events have occurred over the last few months to stir up a bread baking fixation. First, I met Randy and Dan at a party and we chatted about my blog and their sourdough starter (named Herman). Then there is our basement renovation which means all the stuff in the basement needs to find a new home. I hauled the bread machine up, cleaned it up, and thought “hmmm, let’s see if this thing still works.” And now with our coming up trip to Provincetown; I am looking forward to sandwiches from Relish on their delicious ciabatta bread. Bread-obsession-bread-obsession-bread-obsession… and did a little recipe research online. Keep in mind that this is not an immediate gratification recipe; the starter itself is at least a weekend project and the bread takes about 4-hours for all the rising it need to do. …but Lordy is it ever worth it.
Now on to the recipes.
For starters, there is the starter. My online research came up with basically the same process; simply flour and water mixed together and left out to collect wild yeast and beneficial bacteria. This mixture is then “fed” additional flour and water 8- to 12-hours intervals. Keep in mind that your geographic location, the time of year, temperature/humidity all play a factor in the quality, or should I say the “personality” that develops in your starter. You’ll also need a container for your starter to “live” in while it is stored in the refrigerator. I use a mason jar with a clamp-down glass lid because it is very aesthetic. But any glass or plastic container with a lid will work (no metal, it can react adversely with the acid in the starter.) The container needs to be at least a quart-size or larger. The starter expands and rises as it does its thing.
Ingredients 2 cups bread flour (or all-purpose flour)2 cups warm water. One clean container
Mix two tablespoons of flour with two tablespoons of warm water in your container. Cover with a dish towel or cheesecloth. Set aside at room temperature for 8- to 12-hours.•
“Feed” your starter another 2 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons warm water and let sit covered for another 8- to 12-hours. Sometime after this feeding you should see bubbles starting to form in your starter and it should have a pleasant yeasty/beery smell to it. •
Feed it again with another 2 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons warm water and let sit covered for another 8- to 12-hours.•
By this time, my starter was bubbling away and filled ¾’s of the jar and smelled deliciously sour. If yours is doing the same, stir in a full cup of flour and a cup of warm and let sit another 6- to 8-hours and then it is ready to use. If yours is not so active, continue with another 2 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons warm water. Depending on the time of year, warmth/humidity in your home your starter may take more or less time to get started.•
That’s it. Your starter is alive and well and ready to make some fantastic bread. You should store your starter in the refrigerator. You need to continue feed your starter about once a week by stirring in a ¼ cup flour and a ¼ cup water.
A few notes on your starter.
Hooch – You may see a clear or light brownish watery liquid form on top or your starter. This is normal and is the alcohol produced of the yeast/bacteria. The research I’ve done says you’re not supposed to drink it (of course I did!) It tastes like sour, flat beer. So, you can either stir it back in at the next feeding or for a milder sour flavor, just pour it off. I’ve been opting to pour it off.
Using your starter – Before you use your starter take it out of the refrigerator and feed it a ¼ cup flour and a ¼ cup warm water. Allow it to sit for 4- to 6 hours to warm-up and get it active again.
Sourdough Ciabatta Bread
Many sourdough Ciabatta recipes can be found online. I chose this one because the recipe is sized for a bread machine. I let the machine do the kneading and I just have to form the loaf and bake it in the oven. The recipe can be found at: http://whatscookingamerica.net/Bread/Ciabatta.htm.
1 1/2 cups bread flour*
1/2 cup semolina flour (or unbleached all-purpose flour)
1/2 teaspoon diastatic malt (optional)**
1 teaspoon instant yeast (I use Red Star Instant Active Dry Yeast) 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F.)
1 cup sourdough starter, room temperature
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
* This bread will end up being a very sticky, wet dough. Do not add any additional flour to the dough.
** Diastatic malt contains active enzymes which help break starch down into sugar. The extra sugar feeds the yeast in the dough, helping the bread to rise, and also gives the bread a browner crust.
Place all ingredients in bread pan of your bread machine. Select dough setting and press start.
When dough cycle has finished, dough will be very soft (between a batter and a runny dough).
Remove dough from pan and place into a oiled large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in at room temperature approximately 1 1/2 hours or until tripled in bulk (dough will be sticky and full of bubbles).
On a baking sheet, place a sheet of parchment paper. Sprinkle parchment paper with flour or cornmeal. Turn the risen dough onto parchment paper. Pat dough (do not punch down) into a rectangle and dust with flour. Press fingertips into dough in several places to dimple surface. Cover dough with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until doubled in bulk.
At least 45 minutes before baking, place baking stones on lowest oven rack in oven (optional) and set the temperature to 500degF. Allow the oven to heat for 30 minutes.
Remove the plastic wrap from the dough and brush the top of the dough with an egg wash (or water) and sprinkle with course salt.
Lower oven temperature to 400degF. If using baking stones, transfer loaf (with parchment paper) to the hot stones. If not using baking stones transfer baking sheet and all and bake 15 minutes or until pale golden. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Makes 1 loaf***
***I tried dividing this recipe into two smaller loaves. Though the flavor was great, the loaves were thin and difficult to cut for sandwiches. The single loaf is much more satisfying.