My love affair with ciabatta bread has significant history. As freshmen in high school, my closest friend Christine and I worked foodservice at the Oregon Zoo (jobs we were offered when on site filming a freshman English music video based on Romeo and Juliet, which is another story for another time). With what, at fifteen years of age, felt like unprecedented large cash flow, Christine and I decided to eat out at fancy restaurants in Portland, OR. Each week we picked a five-star spot from newspaper reviews, dressed up in black and grey business suits and fake eye glasses to look older, drove my 93 Isuzu Trooper down Lovejoy into town and then tried to act at least twenty something by pretending to ponder the wine list and by ordering a $20 cheese platter to begin. We spent a week’s paycheck in two hours’ time, and it was so worth it. These evenings were my first ciabattas. Every restaurant, Fratelli, Georgio’s, Opa, all the fancy Pearl District bistros served ciabatta. I became obsessed. I insisted that we eat ciabatta from QFC at home. I preferred to dip it in olive oil and balsamic, something I learned one does with ciabatta on evenings out with Christine.
I never imagined I could make ciabatta for myself. Surely, one thinks, in the desperate sort of way one thinks of true happiness, making ciabatta will be too difficult—ciabatta will be a craft beyond my skill set. A luxury to be enjoyed when one has expendable income or when one is a freshly employed freshman in high school and wants to appear mature and knows nothing of the pressure of a proper savings account. Not so. And as it turns out, true happiness is just as simple as flour and water and a pinch of salt. And a bulldog.
Christine, this loaf is dedicated to you and the blush of our early teens, which is exactly what I taste whenever I dip ciabatta in oil and vinegar.
Biga (which means Sponge in Italian)
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp instant or rapid rise yeast (I use sourdough starter method—see post on Uighur naan for instructions
1 ½ cup water
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp instant or rapid rise yeast
2 tsp salt (I use sea salt)
1 ½ cups water, at room temperature (some people, I read, use pale ale, which I might try next time, didn’t have any on hand)
Make the biga 8 – 24 hours in advance of the dough. When ready, add to dough and knead for 10 – 15 mins. Let rise for one hour. Fold dough in on itself 8 times around the bowl. Let rise 1 more hour, cover liberally with flour and fold in on itself again. Let rest for 1 more hour. Remember autolysis? This folding business is called turning (VERY IMPORTANT). Divide. Form loaves by pulling the dough out upon the parchment, it will be wet and sort of tongue-like.
Heat oven to 500, warm baking stone for 1/2 hour before sliding parchment with loaves into oven. Bake for 20 mins with steam and then take the loaf off the parchment paper, flip it over and brown the bottom for 10-15 minutes. Test for doneness at 205 – 210 degrees.
No question, 5 stars. And, at least for me, something of a fountain of youth effect. Enjoy.