The Fresh Loaf

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First Time Pain à l'Ancienne Ciabatta (ABE Recipe) Challenges

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vink's picture

First Time Pain à l'Ancienne Ciabatta (ABE Recipe) Challenges


Last night, I baked a loaf of Ciabatta for the first time. I am using Peter Reinhardt's "Artisan Bread Every Day", and I am fairly new to baking (two three months now, and probably 15 loaves).  For those not familiar with the book, it uses a method of mixing the entire dough and retarding, rather than a two stage process.

I made the dough two days ago, and proofed it yesterday on a sheet plan lined with Parchment, and baked it in the convection setting at 425 degrees.  The  bread came out very tasty, but still needs a lot of improvement.

- The dough was very wet. PR says that this is the highest hydration dough in the book, but I don't know enough by feel yet to know if it was a bit too wet. It was quite difficult to handle. When proofing, it looked like a "blob" rather than a loaf.

- The seam under the loaf was still visible after baking. I guess the seam didn't really pinch. I have not had that issue on any of the other breads I've made. 

- I had trouble dividing the dough (I need to get a pastry scraper, I only have a silicone one and that didn't do a good job cutting the dough.)

- I did the "poke" test for proofing, and it seemed to spring back fine

The final loaf ended up looking rather flat, and although it had some air bubbles, didn't look that great. I think that I didn't do the final proofing/handling quite right. I have half the dough still sitting in the fridge, and would like to try and bake it tonight.

Any tips on things I could do better with this very wet dough, especially in shaping and proofing the loaf?

Thanks in advance. 

richkaimd's picture

My experience working as a newbie (many years ago now) with high hydration doughs was immensely enhanced by working with someone who'd done it many times before.  I'd been making low hydration doughs for decades before I tried and failed countless times with French/Italian breads.  It was my immense luck to be given the gift of a class in the making of baguettes by Dan Leader.  I learned there that all my moves, learned with low hydration doughs, were wrong for high hydration doughs.

You might not have to take a class if you've someone in your neck of the woods who's good at what you want to learn and is willing to teach.  Use TFL to find such a person.  Post your desire and location.  You never know.

My class (in Manhattan) was 4 hours long.  It changed my (baking) life.


vink's picture

I didn't realize I was venturing into difficult territory, so I think I was being foolish rather than brave :-)

I live in the SF bay area, and I am sure there are classes I can find in the city .. but for now, this is a fledgling hobby, I have to see when I get serious enough to take a class. Maybe a few more foolish mistakes and I will be ready. 

rjerden's picture

I make a 90% hydration ciabatta all the time based on Jason's Cocodrillo method, which you can look up on this site. Basically it mixes the gloop at high speed to overdevelop the gluten, which allows the dough to really get a good oven spring. Instead of the direct method used in the recipe, I make a 12 hr poolish with 400 g of the flour and add the other ingredients later.

Other tips:

  • Use a high gluten flour. I use Gold Medal bread flour and add 1 tablespoon of vital wheat gluten. Trader Joe's white flour works great by itself.
  • Use semolina as a bench flour. It will make the dough easier to handle. I use a fine durum (Golden Temple No. 1 Fine Atta) which I find at a local IndoPak grocery store.
  • Fold the dough before dividing using a Hammelman fold. Don't use your hands on the dough until you have folded it. Instead of a dough scraper, I use two cheap 10" black plastic spackling knives I bought at Home Depot/Lowes (paint section) to fold the dough. Spray them with a little oil to keep them from sticking to the dough. Once it is folded, it will have a lot more surface tension and will get at lot more oven spring.
  • Flour the folded dough and pat it until it doesn't stick. Pinch all the seams with your hands.
  • You should now have a square piece of dough. Divide in half with the spackling knife to get 2 rectangles. Pinch the cuts closed and flour.
  • Dimple the loaves to remove the large bubbles. Place each loaf on a piece of parchment paper (you'll be able to reuse it).
  • After proofing, put the loaf on your bread peel and place another piece of parchment paper on top of the loaf. Holding your hand on the top piece, flip the peel upside down and lower the loaf (now flipped over) onto your work bench. Peel off the top piece of parchment paper. You should now have a nice pattern on top of the loaf and any large bubbles will be on the bottom of the loaf instead of on top. Adjust the shape of the loaf and let it rest for 5 minutes before putting it in the oven.
  • The oven should be very hot (500F or 450F with convection) to get excellent oven spring. Turn down the heat to 450F (400F with convection) as soon as you put the loaves in the oven so the loaves don't get too dark before they are done.
  • I get better results with convection.
  • I find that steam isn't necessary with 90% hydration loaves. In fact, it seems to inhibit the oven spring for me. However, I use a small countertop oven, so the loaves themselves may provide enough moisture.
  • I get even better results using a mix of bread flour and the durum flour mentioned above (400g of bread flour and 100 g of durum).
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vink's picture

Thanks for all the great handling tips. As I read through your description as well as the description by PR in his book on how to do the shaping/proofing, I think I missed the importance of several steps, and most importantly, the necessity to handle the dough very gently and carefully. I handled it much more carefully for the 2nd loaf, and that came out better, but still has lots of room for improvement.  I will try the several steps you suggest. Thanks very much! 

mwilson's picture

I gotta say, I think that Jason's Cocodrillo Ciabatta is truly awful! I certainly couldn't recommend it. It's an excercise in thrashing dough and using as much water as possible only for the sake of it.

Ciabatta really isn't ciabatta without a traditional biga stater. This is a firm dough, 50% hydration using 1% or less yeast and given a long cool ferment at 16C (60F) or less for 18hrs or more. It's this type of starter that creates the characteristic nutty taste. It also contributes a great deal of strength and it's this strength that allows for a wetter final dough.

I prefer to use weaker flour, sometimes even pastry flour, as tradtionally Italian flour is quite weak and it's because of this that the biga starter was first developed.

Streching and folding the dough during bulk fermentation is the key to success. You need the dough to be bubbly before you shape (you should be able to shape the dough - if not, you've not got it quite right). Dust the shaped loaves and bake on a stone once they are 50% bigger and have lines in the flour topping. When baking they should swell like a baloon. good luck.