Michael Ruhlman is running a series on bread baking over on his blog, trying to get folks to bake bread. Of course, I’m a sucker for bread, having baked for nearly 20 years (including my mad scientist days when I was in law school and had multiple types of sourdough starter sitting in my kitchen). When I saw one guest blogger post a story and recipe about ciabatta, I knew I had to make it. First, I love ciabatta, with its rustic shape and straight-forward flavors. Second, this recipe comes from a bakery — Two Sisters — in one of my favorite places in the world, Homer, Alaska (also home to the best pizza in Alaska, Finn’s). This recipe is of the “no knead” variety, which I typically like because of its simplicity, but which I usually don’t love, because the full flavors you desire aren’t usually completely developed. This recipe was a bit different — it was a two-stage process, where a dense starter with a minimal amount of yeast sits on the counter for at least 12 hours. Then warm water is added, and you break up the starter into small clumps before adding more flour and yeast. It’s a very wet dough, but it’s perfect for the rectangular “slipper” shape of a ciabatta.
And, quite frankly, it was the best bread I’ve ever made. I’m already craving this bread and hope to make it again very soon. Thanks to Carri Thurman of Two Sisters Bakery and to Michael Ruhlman for publishing her recipe (and allowing me to reprint it). I’ve made a couple of minor changes, based on what I had in the house on Saturday.
Recipe by Carri Thurman
To make the starter:
- 1 tablespoon whole wheat flour
- 1 tablespoon rye flour
- 3 cups/14 ounces/400 grams bread flour (I used King Arthur, but unbleached all purpose flour is OK)
- 1 cup/8 ounces/240 grams tepid water
- ¼ teaspoon/1 gram active dry yeast dissolved in 1 cup warm water (set aside)
- Combine the flours and tepid water in a medium sized mixing bowl.
- Add 1 teaspoon of the yeasted water (that’s correct, just 1 teaspoon — discard the rest)
- Mix it into a firm ball, kneading it just a bit.
- Cover the bowl and let it rest at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours
To make the dough:
- 1 teaspoon/4 grams active dry yeast
- 3 1/4 cups/15.5 ounces/430 bread flour (or unbleached all purpose flour)
- 1 tablespoon/.4 ounces/11 grams salt
- Cut the dense starter dough into 6 or 8 pieces and put them in a large mixing bowl. Pour 2 cups/450 grams warm water over it and let sit a few minutes to soften. Break it up more with your hands. Don’t worry about small-sized chunks.
- Add the additional flour, salt and yeast, and using a wooden spoon, beat the mixture together well. It will resemble a stiff pancake batter and appear quite rough, but still don’t worry about those chunks of starter dough. Let the dough sit, covered lightly, in a warm spot.
- Come back to it every 20 minutes or so and pull the dough away from the sides of the bowl and into the center using a rubber spatula or dough scraper. Do this four times. After the last turn you will be able to see that the dough has become smoother and more uniform, now cover and let it finish rising for another hour and a half. Total rising time for this period should be 2 ½ to 3 hours.
- Scrape the dough out onto a well floured surface and fold together lightly. It will be fairly wet. Divide into two equal loaves and either pull apart into a flat focaccia style or fold the two ends into the center, like folding a letter, to form rectangular mound.
- Place loaves on parchment paper lined sheet pan side by side for final rise, 30 to 45 minutes.
- Prep your oven by preheating to 450 degrees F/230 degree C and putting a baking stone or a cast iron griddle on the middle rack. If no stones/griddles, just back on the sheet pan.
- When ready to bake, lightly flour the tips of your fingers and deflate some of the bubbles; don’t worry, it’ll bounce back in the oven.
- Cut the parchment paper between the loaves to separate, and slide each loaf right onto to the stone or griddle. Or keep it on the pan. Whatever. Spray the loaves and oven with some water from a spray bottle to create some steam. Bake until dark-ish golden brown and internal temp reaches 200 degrees F, approximately 25 minutes.
Makes two 1-3/4 pound ciabattas