Monday, November 24, 2008

Sourdough Ciabatta

~1-7/8c. bread flour and ~1c. water (100% hydration)

~2 tbsp. (about 8% of flour weight) very-wet rye/white starter (maybe 150% hydration)

~1 tsp. (about 1.5% of flour weight) salt


Very messy to handle. This will take about 10-12 hours.

You mix the flour, water and starter in a bowl until it's incorporated,

then turn out on a table and smear it bit by bit firmly between your hands and the surface. You do this. You do this until the dough seems of reasonably consistent makeup.

Then you autolyse (i.e. rest) the dough for 20 minutes, for the chains of gluten to grab one another and prepare to be manipulated into layers of sheets of chains of delicious.

It's time for the yeast and lacto-bacteria to begin to think of their place in the world.


This is a strange thing in front of you. It doesn't hold quite together. It's not napalm, though it clings to your body and the wooden table in the house you pay to live in.

Wet your hands. It makes a layer between you, so you don't get so close that the fibers wrap around the trough of your fingerprints. Stretch it to one side and fold it over from the bottom, 2/3 of the way across. Stretch it from the other side and wrap it like a package. You'll find that it clings to itself. Now rotate 90º and do it again. And again. And again. Don't tear the dough too much. If you just feel abusive and tear-happy, you should put the dough down and come back to it when you've had time to think about what you're doing. Add the salt during the folding, bit by bit. Yeast and salt are mortal enemies, and salt always wins, so you want to make sure the yeast can hide in gluten caves before you introduce the salty dogs of war.

You're not going to get to a point where the dough is that same silky baloon you're used to. It's always going to be a wad of wet flour. But it should cohere at least enough to fold. If it doesn't, add more flour and let tha
t rest a spell with your already dough, so it too can deeply bond with it's brothers.

If you have a dough scraper, you will be happy.

Let it all rest for a couple hours.


See, what I did was go to sleep, and wake up every couple of hours to do a bit more folding while the being proofed. It's okay if you fall asleep for three or four hours. Just get back to folding it again.

You can do this folding thing as long as you want, as long as you kick the air out of the dough-mass a couple times, and it still keeps rising—I mean, it's so wet that it's more just that bubbles are getting trapped in the dough than a straightforward rise, but you get the point. The volume will at least double later in the process, when your folding has made enough semi-sheets of the glute.

The longer you do this, the more flavor the bread will get. I did it about 10 hours.


Don't punch the air out of the dough the last time. Preheat your oven towith both the baking surface (I use a baking pan, because that's the only baking surface we have right now, but a baking stone would be ideal. If you have a linen and peel, all the better—you'll probably get a better texture than I did, but you can make do with whatever you have) and a recepticle to create steam. I've heard that a pan full of rocks in the bottom of the oven is the best, because the rocks retain a lot of heat, and boil whatever water you put in there. I just put a metal pot in, which does the trick well enough for now.
Take out the preheated pan (30 min is a good amount of time to preheat the oven to 550º with this stuff. I've heard of people doing it much longer, but is good bread worth our country's natural gasses? Yes and no.) and put some cornmeal or your favorite floury non-sticking substance (oil, I'm guessing, would oxidize and stick, so don't use that—I think some people use non-glutenous rice flour.) on the pan. Turn your dough onto the pan (or use your peel to get it there), trying to flip the dough upside down from it's proofing side, so the bubbles from proofing don't carry your crust to other lands. Dust the top with flour, throw the whole shebang in the oven, and toss 1/4c. of water into the pot that's been pre- heating in the bottom, to create the "steam inferno." Turn the oven down to about 450º. Add more water every 2 or 3 minutes, into the pot, or directly onto the floor of the oven, or sprayed onto the sides of the oven, to maintain a consistent steamy atmosphere.

Don't spray your lights in there. You will have bread in shattered-glass sauce.

After the first 10 minutes, stop adding water, and take your pan of water out. The dough should have had a nice oven spring by now, so admire it and fantasize about its flavor.

Bake until the crust is as dark as you like it. You can use an instant read thermometer to get the right temperature (btw. 200 and 210ºF). Usually I like to take the bread out of the pan after there's a little bit of color on the loaf, just to get an evenly done crust.

When it's a nice rich-but-not-burnt brown, pull it out of the oven and set it on a wire rack. Let it cool so it's just a little warm to the touch, so you don't release all the moisture when you cut into it. Also, you'll get to listen to the c(r)ackle of the bread while you wait.

Serve with honey-cornmeal butter. Or olive oil and balsamic. Or yogurt cheese and strawberry jam with cracked pepper and mint. Or tahini, agave nectar and fennel-seeds.

It's not a very sour bread.