The Fresh Loaf

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Ciabatta from 1992 NYTimes article: Sarah Black Tom Cat Bakery

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Nickisafoodie's picture
Nickisafoodie

Ciabatta from 1992 NYTimes article: Sarah Black Tom Cat Bakery

I found an old newspaper clipping from the New York Times 2/12/92 issue on Ciabatta.  The column by then Food Editor Florence Fabricant was called De Gustibus, a weekly feature in the food section. 


This article features Sarah Black of Tom Cat Bakery in Long Island City, NY.  There are two recipes: 1) Food Processor Ciabatta and 2) "Classic Ciabatta".  Sarah became intrigued by reading about it in "The Italian Baker" by Carol Field (1985).   I recall the "no knead food processor version" to be rather unique at the time this was published.


I remember clipping the article when published in 1992.  It is yellowed but newly found still inserted in one of my old cookbooks.  I was going to scan it directly but on a whim googled the title and the text below appeared without picture.  I scanned the picture from the folded article. Picture (with creases!!), article and recipes follow.  Enjoy!


 




DE GUSTIBUS; So What if It Looks Like an Old Shoe? Ciabatta Is Loved


By FLORENCE FABRICANT


February 12, 1992


CIABATTA means slipper in Italian. It is also the name of a light and crusty bread from the Lake Como region in northern Italy.


The bread is called ciabatta (pronounced cha-BAH-ta) because its flattened oval form resembles a well-worn slipper. The crust encloses a simple, rustic bread with an extremely porous texture, making for an unusually inviting combination of chewiness and lightness.


"Ciabatta is not an elegant slipper, but the kind of old slipper you slouch around in," said Jean Salvadore, who lives at Villa d'Este, a hotel in the town of Como, and who wrote the hotel's cookbook. "In the Como region, they come in all sizes. I've heard that they are becoming popular in other parts of Italy but I don't think you'll see them in the south."


But if, like many people from that region of Italy, Mrs. Salvadore considers Florence to be in the south, her information is out of date. Ciabatta was recently sighted in that city. And in England, of all places, ciabatta has become so popular that it is sold in supermarkets.


And now, ciabatta has made its debut in New York. Sarah Black, who owns a baking company called Campanio, is making ciabatta at the Tom Cat Bakery in Long Island City, Queens. Tom Cat distributes the breads to Dean & DeLuca, Positively 104, Marche Madison and Murray's Cheese Shop in Manhattan, and Bon Appetit Foods in Princeton, N.J.


Ms. Black's delicious ciabatta is made in a large domed oval (it would be a slipper only for Big Foot) instead of the traditional flattened slipper shape. It is richly browned outside and full of holes within. She has never been to Italy, but said she became intrigued with the bread about a year ago after reading about it in "The Italian Baker," by Carol Field (Harper & Row, 1985). "I'm fascinated with breads made with very wet doughs," she said.


The dough for ciabatta is so wet and sticky that in her book, Mrs. Field warns that it is "utterly unfamiliar and probably a bit scary." She goes on to say that "the shaped loaves look flat and definitely unpromising," but urges the baker on, because the recipe produces an excellent result.


Ciabatta, like other old-fashioned country breads with moist, gummy doughs, is slow-rising and calls for relatively little yeast. Ms. Black is not the only one who has become fascinated with it.


George Balasses, who owns Balasses House Antiques in Amagansett, L.I., and who has been baking bread for decades, came upon a recipe for ciabatta in The Observer while he was in London in November. He tried it when he returned home.


"My first attempts, following the recipe in the paper exactly, fell short of my expectations," he said. "I think the dough was too runny; it needed some more flour." He experimented a few times and once he felt he had gotten it right, what especially pleased him was that the dough could be made entirely in a food processor. "It's not a kneaded bread but it tastes like one," he said.


One complaint he had with the recipe was that the loaf was quite small. "It's not a lot of trouble to make, but if you're going to bother at all you might as well have something to show for it," he said. Now when he bakes the bread, he increases the recipe by half.


Mr. Balasses added that in England, the bread is usually made in the flattened slipper-shape. The Observer traced the origin of ciabatta in England to a chain of shops called La Fornaia, which it said was started in London in 1985 by an American, Peggy Dannenbaum.


Ciabatta is excellent with some cheese or salami, and it's convenient to split in half horizontally and use for sandwiches.


Mrs. Field's recipe is more complicated than Mr. Balasses', but the finished breads, four little slippers, have a craggier texture, a crisper crust and a somewhat earthier flavor.


The recipe calls for making a starter or "sponge," a mixture of yeast, flour and water that first must be allowed to rise. A little more yeast, plus flour, salt, water and olive oil are combined with the starter to make the dough, which is best mixed in an electric mixer.


Instead of merely dumping the sticky mass of dough onto a baking sheet, shape the dough into loaves and wait for it to rise again. Most of the effort in this recipe involves waiting for the dough to rise, not attending to the ingredients.


These are not recipes for people with a microwave mentality. The rising times are long and slow, a factor that contributes to the flavor of ciabatta. It's the kind of cooking, as in making a good baked potato or a tender pot roast, that requires the passage of time, but no great effort, to produce its reward.


Food-Processor Ciabatta Total time: 6 to 24 hours, depending on rising times 2 cups unbleached flour 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 cup lukewarm water Oil and flour or cornmeal for baking pan.


1. Combine flour with salt and yeast in a food processor fitted with a plastic blade. Pulse a few times to mix.


2. With the machine running, pour in the olive oil, then all but about 2 tablespoons of the water into the food tube. Mixture should not be stiff enough to be gathered into a ball, nor should it be runny like a batter. It should be elastic and resilient, about the consistency of melted mozzarella cheese. Add a little more water if it is too stiff.


3. The dough can be left to rise in the food processor. Replace the cylinder to close the feed tube. Or transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise.


4. Allow the dough to rise at least three hours. It can be left to rise as long as 24 hours.


5. Oil a nonstick baking sheet and dust it with flour or cornmeal. Using a spatula, scrape the dough out of the food processor or bowl and onto the baking sheet, allowing it to fall in an oval shape about twice as long as it is wide. Pile the dough so it mounds up to about 2 inches high in the middle. Set aside to rise until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Alternately, the dough can be piled into an oiled, floured, nonstick pie or cake pan, 8 inches in diameter.


6. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Dust the top of the bread lightly with flour. Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool completely before slicing.


Yield: 1 small loaf.


Classic Ciabatta (Adapted from "The Italian Baker" by Carol Field; Harper & Row, 1985) Total time: At least 12 hours, depending on rising For the starter: 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast 1/4 cup warm water 3/4 cup tepid water 2 1/2 cups unbleached flour For the dough: 1 teaspoon active dry yeast 5 tablespoons warm water 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons tepid water 3 3/4 cups unbleached flour, plus flour for dusting work surfaces 1 tablespoon salt Cornmeal.


1. To make the starter, stir the yeast into the warm water and let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.


2. Stir in the tepid water. Then add the flour, a cup at a time.


3. Beat by hand, in an electric mixer or in a food processor, to form a sticky dough. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a cool place to rise until tripled in volume, 6 to 24 hours. Starter can be made in advance and refrigerated until ready to use.


4. To make the dough, mix yeast with warm water in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set aside 10 minutes.


5. Add oil and the prepared starter and a little of the tepid water. Start mixing at very slow speed, adding the rest of the tepid water gradually until these ingredients are well blended. Mix flour with salt, add them, and mix for 2 to 3 minutes.


6. Attach a dough hook to the mixer and mix for 2 minutes at slow speed, then 2 minutes at medium speed. Scoop the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead briefly. The dough should be very moist and elastic.


7. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The dough should still be sticky but full of air bubbles.


8. Place dough on a well-floured work surface and cut into four equal portions. Roll each into a cylinder, then stretch the cylinders into rectangles about 4 by 10 inches.


9. If you can bake the bread on stones, generously flour four pieces of parchment paper and place each shaped loaf on a sheet of the paper, seam side up. Otherwise, oil a baking sheet, dust it with flour and cornmeal and place the loaves on the baking sheet. Cover loosely with damp tea towels and allow to rise about 2 hours, until doubled.


10. Preheat oven to 425 degrees with a baking stone in it if you have one. Dust the stone with cornmeal. Gently roll the breads from the parchment onto the stone so the seam is down and the floured side is up. Otherwise, simply place the baking sheet with the breads in the oven. Bake until the breads are golden brown, about 30 minutes, spraying them with water a few times during the first 10 minutes. Cool on racks.


Yield: 4 small breads.


Photo: Ciabatta, a light and crusty bread from northern Italy, made by Sarah Black. (Rebecca Cooney for The New York Times)

swtgran's picture
swtgran

Thank you.  I find all these older recipes interesting.

spsq's picture
spsq

Isn't it amazing?  By the sounds of it, in '92, barely anyone had even heard of ciabatta.  You know you've come into fashion when every majorgrocery chain has their own imitation of it.....

EvaB's picture
EvaB

the first time I saw cibatta was in Costco in about 1995, it was made into buns, and right tasty ones for commercial bread.


Have never tried making any for eating yet! But certainly might be interesting.

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

Carol Field's "The Italian Baker" is a book well worth reading that offers some truly wonderful recipes that work.  When I first read the book many years ago I too found it inspiring and my opinion has not changed.  It is one great book and as a side note, Carol Field was writing about breads like ciabatta long before anyone else.  I still use the book today.


Jeff