Machine-prep poolish for ciabatta
One of the nicest things about learning the "rules" of bread-making is that you get to find out which ones you're breaking when you bake.
After too many years of trying to make crusty, chewy artisan bread with nice big pockety bubbles in the dough, and trying every set of rules I could stumble on, last week I had a breakthrough with ciabatta. My breakthrough came by applying one of the rules I made up baking regular loaves in my bread machine. This meant breaking all the rules I'd acquired through the years.
I make ciabatta from poolish, but because I'm doing all the mixing and kneading in the bread machine, I put all the water and all the yeast into the poolish, and in the dough stage, all I add is flour and salt. So, for a 1/2-pound-of-flour ciabatta, I put 148 grams each of water and flour (King Arthur's Sir Lancelot) together with 2 grams of yeast into the bread machine, turn on the Dough cycle (being careful to scrape down the sides while it mixes). I let the machine run through one cycle of mix and knead. Then I turn the machine off and add the rest of the flour (80 grams) and 5 grams of salt on top of the unfermented poolish. Using the Dough cycle, I set the timer to 10 hours (longer would be nice, but 10 will do), press Start. Come back 10 hours later and I have my dough.
I still do the shaping by hand and bake the bread on a stone in a hot oven. It takes about 8 minutes to prep the dough, and 7 of those minutes are waiting for the Dough cycle to mix and knead. The measuring all happens in one bowl, so there's almost no mess (well, I do have to clean the scraper, too).
We have a first-rate commercial artisan bakery in our area called Farm to Market, and when we ate our first machine-prepped ciabatta last weekend, we couldn't tell the difference. I've been using these 100%-water-flour-yeast poolishes in my bread machine for regular loaves for over a year, and the local Bread Police have pretty much left me alone.
I suppose some of the romance is out of the process this way. But I have to say that as much as I enjoyed the romance all those years, the bread wasn't great. I'll take the great loaf without the romance.